The TMC’s flop show in Goa polls, preceded by the civic election debacle in Tripura a few months ago, seems to have dealt a body blow to its national ambitions and the efforts to project the party as the glue of an Opposition alliance against the BJP.
After its emphatic victory in the 2021 Bengal assembly polls, the TMC, set to spread its wings far and wide, had begun the groundwork in Goa, but despite its high-decibel campaign in the coastal state, alliance with a local outfit and induction of several leaders from rival camps, the party managed to garner just 5.21 per cent of the total votes polled, drawing a blank in the 40-member Assembly.
Having failed its litmus test, the Bengal’s ruling party is back to square one, trying to draw up a fresh strategy ahead of the polls in Meghalaya and Tripura.
"If you lose one or two elections, it doesn’t mean you are done with. It takes just one win to change the mood. Everybody talks about the seats you win or lose but no one talks about the percentage of votes garnered. We had entered Goa only a few months ago and managed to get over five per cent votes. I think that was a good start," TMC national vice-president Yashwant Sinha said.
In Tripura civic polls last year, the party had bagged 24 per cent votes but failed to clinch any civic body.
A senior TMC leader said the party's performance in Goa was not on the expected lines and that necessitated a review of its strategies.
"It is a blow to our national ambitions. We had invested a lot of time and energy in Goa, but that did not yield any result. We need to reassess our plans before we move forward in the coming days," the TMC leader, who did not wish to disclose his identity, said.
He also stated that it was unlikely that the party would venture out into other states for the "time being", barring the ones where it had already opened a unit.
Speaking on the issue of Opposition leadership, the TMC leader said, "There are many leaders in the opposition camp, but Mamata Banerjee is the senior-most one."
In an apparent bid to project Banerjee as the main Opposition face against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2024, the TMC had been inducting people from diverse geographies and political backgrounds, and cornering the Congress on every occasion, but the recent setbacks prompted the party to sing a slightly different tune.
“Neither Mamata Banerjee nor any leader of the TMC claimed that she will be the leader of the Opposition. She has called upon everyone, who is opposed to the BJP, to come together and fight against the BJP.
"Politics is a long-drawn battle. The AAP, after camping in Goa for the last two to three years, bagged just two seats in Goa. We could have done better, had we started out a few years ago. Our expansion plans are still very much in place," TMC MP and the party's national spokesperson, Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, maintained.
Echoing him, another TMC leader pointed out that "AAP had been playing a Test match, and we a T-20 match”.
"The Arvind Kejriwal-led party has been working hard for quite some time to build its base in states, whereas we have been in a hurry,” he said.
According to TMC sources, one of the biggest roadblocks in the expansion plans is the very stratagem that had ensured the party's victory in Bengal – propagation of the Bengali sub-nationalism narrative.
"We had embraced Bengali sub-nationalism to counter the BJP in assembly polls. Now we are identified as a party for Bengalis, something that is proving detrimental to our expansion plans in other states," the TMC leader added.
Earlier, too, The TMC had made attempts to expand nationally, right after defeating the mighty Left Front in Bengal in 2011, but its efforts had proved futile back then.
In 2012, it had opened several units in the northeastern states, which had to be dissolved after the party leaders switched over to the BJP or the Congress.
The recent drubbing has given rival camps another opportunity to ridicule the party’s mission.
"The TMC never had any national ambitions. Its main plan was to eat into the votes of Congress and help the BJP, which it did. In Goa it helped the BJP to win," Congress leader in Lok Sabha and state party president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said.
In a similar vein, BJP national vice president Dilip Ghosh said that the TMC's ambitions have fallen flat, yet again.
"We had witnessed TMC’s national overdrive in 2014 and 2019 as well. After its misadventures in Goa and Tripura, we hope the party will learn its lessons," he said.
Political analyst Suman Bhattacharya feels that the TMC understood that Bengal would always its omphalos, and hence packed its national working committee with members from the state.
"Mamata Banerjee has realised that Bengal will return her love more than other states do. Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha seats, and in parliamentary politics, numbers matter," he said.
Political scientist Biswanath Chakraborty was blunt in his assertion that the TMC lacked credibility nationally as it had overplayed the Bengali sub-nationalism card.
"After its defeat in Goa and Tripura, its national plans are up for a toss. As TMC has overplayed the Bengali sub-nationalism card, it would be tough for them to expand nationally," he added.