Congress leader Kirti Azad is expected to join the Trinamool Congress this evening, in what will be a significant move – Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s first foray into Bihar politics.
A member of India’s 1983 cricket World Cup-winning squad, Kirti Azad is a three-time Lok Sabha MP from Bihar’s Darbhanga. He was earlier with the BJP, but was suspended after openly targeting then Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley over alleged corruption in the Delhi cricket association.
In addition to Mr Azad, the Trinamool is also expected to welcome former Congress leader Ashok Tanwar, who quit the party in 2019 – just two weeks before the Haryana Assembly election.
Mr Tanwar, who was removed as chief of the state unit shortly before he left the Congress – had claimed in a letter to Sonia Gandhi the party was “going through an existential crises… because serious internal contradictions”. In February he launched his own party – Apna Bharat Morcha.
Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee, her nephew, are both in Delhi this week, as the party seen by many as the most likely challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP in the 2024 general election preps for the winter session of Parliament.
Poll strategist Prashant Kishor – whose I-PAC helped Ms Banerjee record a statement win over the BJP in April-May elections in Bengal – is also at the Chief Minister’s Delhi residence.
Mr Kishor’s I-PAC is also working with the Trinamool ahead of elections in Tripura in 2023.
Ms Banerjee is in Delhi till Thursday, and is expected to meet with opposition leaders to chalk out a strategy to take on the BJP during the winter session of Parliament, which begins next week.
Much of the focus during this session will likely be on the repeal of the controversial farm laws, which PM Modi said last week would be repealed. Passed last year, the laws triggered furious protest by farmers nationwide – protests backed by opposition parties including the Trinamool.
She may also meet Prime Minister Modi; the two are expected to discuss issues like outstanding dues to the Bengal government and the centre’s contentious increase of BSF jurisdiction.
Post the Trinamool’s emphatic win in the Bengal election, Ms Banerjee has emerged as a driving force in calls for the opposition to unite against the BJP. She has also emerged as one of the more likely prime ministerial candidates, although Ms Banerjee has been quick to play this down.
Since then, the Trinamool has been testing waters outside Bengal, with Abhishek Banerjee in Tripura (which votes in 2023) and the Chief Minister campaigning in Goa (which votes in 2022).
Among the Bengal Chief Minister’s calls for opposition unity was a speech to top opposition leaders ahead of her visit to Delhi in July.
That speech was attended by the Congress’ P Chidambaram, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, the Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi and the Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav, among other leaders.
Ms Banerjee also met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi was also present for those talks, seen then as significant as the two parties sought common ground ahead of the 2024 polls.
Any meeting with the Congress in this visit, however, will come after the two parties fought the Bengal election on opposite sides, with the Congress opting not to heed Ms Banerjee’s calls for unity.
With input from PTI