Mamata all set to take the battle to BJP in UP polls

The TMC, fresh from its resounding victory in West Bengal, is renewing efforts to mark its presence in the country’s most populous state as well as politically crucial elections before the Lok Sabha battle in 2024, reports Virendra Singh Rawat.

Exactly three weeks after demonetisation was announced on November 8, 2016, Trinamool Congress president and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had addressed a rally in Lucknow, where she had likened the drastic step announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Emergency.

The rally, on November 29, held in the run-up to the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections, was attended by then ruling Samajwadi Party ministers and leaders. In fact, then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had received Mamata at Lucknow airport the previous night, indicating growing closeness between them.

However, the Bharatiya Janata Party went on to win 325 of the 403 UP assembly seats despite the much-hyped pre-poll alliance between the SP and Congress, which was marked by a joint roadshow in Lucknow by Akhilesh and Rahul Gandhi.

Now with the UP elections less than eight months away, the TMC, fresh from its resounding victory in West Bengal, is renewing efforts to mark its presence in the country’s most populous state as well as politically crucial elections before the Lok Sabha battle in 2024.

Besides, the pre-and post-poll verbal diatribe in West Bengal between TMC and BJP leaders is another factor why Mamata’s party is eagerly looking to expand its base in UP. Since Modi, who represents the Varanasi constituency in Parliament, and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath were among the main campaigners in West Bengal for the BJP, which had gone all out to dislodge Mamata from power, a riled TMC is now upping the ante to take the battle to UP in 2022.

The TMC is working to expand its base in all the 75 districts of the state. Currently, the party has a presence in 45-48 districts, TMC UP president Neeraj Rai said.

Now with the coronavirus curfew being relaxed in UP following a marked reduction in the number of active Covid-19 cases, the party is gearing up to accelerate its membership drive in the state.

A native of Ghazipur district, Rai had been involved in social and farmers’ movements in eastern UP before joining the TMC three years back.

“Owing to the pandemic, we could not carry out our membership and mobilisation campaign in UP since last year. At the same time, the state unit was actively involved in the West Bengal assembly elections, since the state has a sizable population from UP,” he added.

During the West Bengal polls, Rai had created a war-room in Lucknow to assist TMC poll managers with facts and information about Uttar Pradesh to counter the narrative laid out by the BJP leaders during their high-octane canvassing.

Meanwhile, Rai said the TMC was getting a “good response” from the people willing to join the party. “We are looking at inducting leaders who are socially active and as also those who are feeling sidelined in their current parties due to ideological or leadership issues. We are in the process of restructuring different wings of the party, including women, traders, and students. Soon, the core committee of the state unit will be constituted,” he said.

The acerbic war of words during the West Bengal polls had also seen TMC leaders resorting to controversial terms such as “outsiders” for top BJP leaders, apart from alleged verbal attacks on Hindi-speaking people. The BJP will raise these issues if Banerjee decides to canvass for the candidates of her party or of alliance partners.

However, Rai is unfazed, claiming these were merely allegations and canards spread by the BJP to polarise a section of West Bengal voters. “The outsider pitch by the TMC was to dare the BJP to announce its CM face for West Bengal, since their star campaigners, including Modi and Yogi, were not contesting the polls themselves. The fact is the Hindi-speaking population has been living peacefully in West Bengal for generations now without any discrimination,” he said.

The best performance yet of the TMC in UP was when its candidate Shyam Sunder Sharma won the Manth assembly by-election in Mathura by defeating Rashtriya Lok Dal nominee Yogesh Choudhary by about 6,600 votes. The SP candidate had finished third. However, Sharma joined the Bahujan Samaj Party in June 2016.

Political commentator Suresh Bahadur Singh feels the TMC, despite its tall claims and a grandiose action plan for the coming UP polls, had little bandwidth to make any real difference on the ground.

“The TMC had made similar plans in the 2017 elections and 2022 will be no different. However, Didi could yet play a role in galvanising the opposition parties against the BJP with her rallies in alliance with other smaller outfits. She could also confront the saffron party on the issue of polarisation of voters by narrating her decisive victory by thwarting the BJP game plan,” he said.

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