New Delhi: Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, bent on expanding her party’s presence, was candid about refreshing her pan-India political network on Wednesday. Her journeys, she said, will take her to Varanasi — PM Modi’s Lok Sabha constitution — and the big opposition hub of Mumbai.
The big hint was on the space the Congress might occupy in her plans. Asked about her meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Ms Banerjee said there was none, since “they are busy with Punjab polls”. Later, she added, “Why should we meet Sonia every time? It is not constitutionally mandated”.
Her comment came amid a major expansion spree of her party – most of it at the cost of the Congress.
Over the last weeks, a number of leaders have changed camp — among them Luizinho Faleiro in Goa, late president Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit Mukherjee, Sushmita Dev, the former Congress MP from Silchar and daughter of late Congress stalwart Santosh Mohan Dev.
Mamata Banerjee was known to share a good equation with Sonia Gandhi, but it has not extended to the next generation. The antipathy of Congress leaders from Bengal towards Ms Banerjee has driven a further wedge between the two parties.
The Trinamool chief, whose victory in the April-May assembly elections in Bengal had set off a buzz about her spearheading the opposition challenge to the BJP in the 2024 general elections — said she was willing to cooperate in the coming Uttar Pradesh elections.
“If Trinamool can help defeat the BJP in UP, we will go… If Akhilesh (Samajwadi chief Akhilesh Yadav) wants our help we will give,” she said. But there was a rider: “We have started in Goa and Haryana… but I think some places, let regional parties fight. If they want us to campaign, we will help”.
The Trinamool chief also said she would visit Mumbai on December 1 “for some business summit” where she will meet Chief Minister Udhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar.
Ms Banerjee, whose party finished a row of inductions from other parties yesterday, also said she planned to go to Varanasi, since “Kamalapati Tripathi’s family is now with us”.
Rajeshpati Tripathi and Laliteshpati Tripathi — the grandson and the great-grandson of former UP Chief Minister Kamalapati Tripathi – had joined Trinamool in October. Rajeshpati Tripathi is a former MLC while Laliteshpati Tripathi is former UP Congress vice-president and an ex-MLA.
Yesterday, Ms Banerjee’s party made three key acquisitions – that gave her a toehold in at least two states – Haryana and Punjab. Besides Team India batsman Kirti Azad, former Rahul Gandhi aide Ashok Tanwar, and Rajya Sabha MP Pawan Verma for Janata Dal United, who fell out with his boss Nitish Kumar.
All of it is expected to push her a few steps further towards the national stage.