In a dramatic move that has left a large section of the opponents of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fuming, the Trinamool Congress has announced that it will abstain from voting in the upcoming election to the post of Vice President of India. Addressing a press conference on July 21, Abhishek Banerjee, the all-India general secretary of the party and Lok Sabha MP, said: “The question of supporting the NDA candidate Jagdeep Dhankhar does not arise, and the way the opposition candidate [Congress leader Margaret Alva] was decided without proper consultation and deliberation with the party that has 35 MPs in both the Houses [Trinamool], we have decided unanimously to abstain from the voting process.” The election is scheduled to be held on August 6.
Lashing out against Jagdeep Dhankhar, who, until his nomination as the vice-presidential candidate of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was serving as the Governor of West Bengal, Abhishek Banerjee said: “All the [Trinamool] MPs felt that Dhankhar, in his capacity as Governor of West Bengal, had acted in a partisan manner under the direction of one particular political party. We have seen how, for the last three years, he constantly attacked the people of Bengal.... We all decided that there was no way that we will support the NDA candidate.”
The only alternatives left before the Trinamool was either to support Margaret Alva or to abstain. According to Abhishek Banerjee, 85 per cent of the Trinamool MPs who were present at the meeting chose to abstain as they resented the manner in which the opposition parties had selected the vice-presidential candidate “at the last moment and without any deliberation”. Ironically, when asked at the same press conference whether Trinamool’s decision would affect the “opposition unity” necessary to take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, he said, “To maintain opposition unity, one needs to rise above one’s ego and self-interest.”
In West Bengal, both the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front and the Congress accused the Trinamool Congress of having entered into a secret understanding with the BJP. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha and West Bengal Pradesh Congress president, said: “Mamata Banerjee claims that she wants to unite the opposition parties against the BJP, but at a time when the Centre is targeting Sonia Gandhi, and all other parties have voiced their solidarity and support with the Congress, Trinamool has been silent. As I have been saying, Didi [West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee] is acting as an agent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Today, Modi and Didi—BJP and Trinamool—are two flowers of the same plant.”
Earlier in the day at the Trinamool Congress’ annual Martyr’s Day rally, Mamata Banerjee had launched a scathing attack on Narendra Modi and the BJP government at the Centre, claiming that the BJP will not be able to get a majority in the Lok Sabha in the 2024 elections. Addressing a massive gathering in central Kolkata, Mamata Banerjee said: “We want a Prime Minister who works for the poor, not a Prime Minister who works for the rich.... This government has nothing to offer to the poor.” She accused the Centre of freezing the funds meant for the State and threatened to “gherao Delhi” if the funds were not released.