West Bengal Mamata Banerjee is expected to meet with Congress high command including chief Sonia Gandhi during her three-day visit to Delhi starting Monday, July 26. Political observers and supporters have been watching with peeled eyes as the Trinamool Congress chief minister's apparent efforts to forge a national Opposition against the ruling Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government.
But is a TMC-Congress alliance on the cards? There have been some telltale signs.
Ahead of the meeting, both Congress and TMC seemed to share bonhomie on social media.
First, Congress shared an infographic image depicting TMC's Abhishek Banerjee as a Pegasus snooping target. The All India General Secretary of the TMC and Congress's Rahul Gandhi seem to currently share the status of being potential snooping targets after their names were linked to a leaked list of nearly 300 Indians identified as the Israeli spyware's alleged surveillance targets.
Taking to Twitter, Congress wrote, "PM Modi took the adage, ‘keep your enemies closer a little too far'" . The tweet was shared by TMC’s chief whip in Rajya Sabha Derek O’Brien who wrote “Khela Hobe”, Mamata Banerjee's war-cry during the Bengal Assembly elections earlier in the year.
With eyes on the 2024 general elections, TMC has been dropping several hints for a possible coalition between the party and Congress.
Ahead of the CM's visit in which she has said she will be meeting several people including the Prime Minister and the President, TMC spokesperson Om Prakash Mishra spoke about the need for Opposition unity to defeat the "fascist" Modi government.
"The glorious leadership of Mamata Banerjee is surely going to play a significant contributory role to the evolution of a very strong Opposition, against the fascist-centred regime at the Centre. Therefore, it is natural that the TMC would be eager to have all the Opposition parties on board," Mishra said in a statement. He also added that Mamata's meetings with Opposition readers are a sign of attempts at cooperation, not dominance.
O 'Brien's tweet and Mishra's statements have further fanned speculation of a possible TMC-Congress alliance, which first came to the fore after poll strategist Prashant Kishor met with Rahul Gandhi earlier in the month.
Following the meeting, Congress lent support to the TMC on several issues during the All Party meeting on July 18, including the matter of defection relating to the 10th Schedule.
Not the first time
This is not the first time that Mamata Banerjee has tried to forge an alliance with the BJP with view of defeating a common enemy. In 2019, ahead of the general elections, TMC had attempted to forge an all-party opposition alliance or 'Mahagathbandhan' along with the Congress and other regional powers.
Despite a show of strength and support for her Brigade Parade on January 19, 2019, which saw attendance from 23 political party leaders, the Mahagathbandhan fell through. Political observers at the time saw it as the TMC and its chief's failure to instil confidence in Congress as the answer to PM Modi.
The fall-out was followed by a bitter squabble between TMC and Congress with Rahul comparing Didi with Narendra Modi. In return, Banerjee had dismissed Gandhi's attacks as the ploys of a 'choto chele' (small kid).
This time, however, the winds seem to be changing. Backed with a credible victory in the Bengal Assembly elections 2021, TMC seems to be in no mood to back down. Earlier in the month, Didi gave a call to all Opposition parties in India to unite against the common enemy. The presence of senior Congress leaders such as P Chidambaram and Digvijay Singh at her virtual rally on July 21 has added further fuel to the speculation of a possible coalition. Both TMC and Congress' common link and opposition of Pegasus is also being seen as a key point of cohesion between the two parties that can be used to destabilise the ruling BJP.
As of now, all eyes are on Mamata Banerjee, who will be starting her Delhi tour today.