As the pre-election campaign for state assembly polls in Tripura and Meghalaya warms up, new entrant Bengal-based Trinamool Congress (TMC) faces unexpected challenges. For a state-based party still chasing a ‘national’ status, the priority for the Mamata Banerjee-led outfit is to win a respectable number of seats in both states. Senior TMC leaders have explained to party workers currently engaged in the Northeast the importance of emerging at least as the runner-up party in one state. To do well in the Northeast, elections have acquired greater importance in the context of the TMC’s earlier abysmal failures in the Goa Assembly polls and the Tripura Civic elections, some time ago. Political prestige aside, TMC leaders acknowledge they would not get many more opportunities to expand their organisations beyond Bengal, after the proposed March elections in the Northeast. Altogether nine major states including Haryana, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana are scheduled to go to polls next year. But the TMC will hardly be a factor in those. Participating in Tripura and Meghalaya polls in 2023 would enable most outfits and groups opposing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with a preparatory run-up for the Lok Sabha elections coming up in 2024, too.
As in West Bengal, the hallmark of the TMC’s political campaigning in the Northeast so far has been the party’s continuing stress on what has come to be called propagation of its ‘freebies’ culture for the poor. There is only a token mention by TMC leaders addressing rallies, etc., of future development programs or economic-asset building. Typically, for women in Meghalaya, the party has promised a monthly handout of at least Rs 1,000 to empower them economically.
In Goa a sum of Rs 5,000 was promised on this head – whereas in Bengal itself, only Rs 500 a month is the going allowance for women. Such widespread discrepancy has not gone unnoticed in West Bengal and has led to caustic comments. An additional problem is that much of the money intended to help the relatively poorer women in Bengal also goes to the more affluent segments, there being no criteria to separate the haves from the have-nots!
This is not to suggest that the TMC has not picked on local issues of importance to highlight in its NE campaign. In Meghalaya, party Supremo Mamata Banerjee herself strongly attacked the BJP-ruled government of Assam headed by chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma for the killing of six persons in November this year. The incident occurred near the Mukroh village in Meghalaya’s West Jaintia hills. More recently, the TMC has followed this up by targeting the BJP again over the recent controversy over the disclosure of a recent circular from the Special Branch of the Assam police. However, the chief minister has issued a denial of the so-called SB directive, which had been circulated without official approval. It had no validity. On the other end, the TMC campaign in Tripura has just gotten more difficult, with the BJP-ruled Tripura government announcing a 12% increase in their Dearness Allowance payments for the state government employees. It remains to be seen how the TMC counters the BJP’s advantage in Tripura in dealing with such issues during the ongoing no-holds-barred campaign.