'The decline of the Congress party and its inability to play the lead role in Opposition politics has created a space for the TMC to expand.'
Ambassador Pavan K Varma, retired diplomat, author and former Rajya Sabha MP from Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United, joined the Trinamool Congress on November 23.
He was welcomed into the party fold by TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee along with Congress leaders Kirti Azad and Ashok Tanwar.
Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf spoke to Ambassador Pavan Varma about why he decided to join the TMC and what role the TMC can play in Indian politics.
Why did you join the Trinamool Congress?
TMC with its current leader Mamata Banerjee, not excluding its allies, can become the principal Opposition party in India.
I feel in a democracy there is a need for a strong Opposition party which can hold he government accountable and answerable for its policies and actions.
TMC led by Mamata Banerjee is the most viable option to play this role, especially because Mamata Banerjee has unrelenting fire in her belly to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party. She has proven her track record and credentials by her emphatic victory in the 2021 West Bengal assembly elections.
Is Mamata Banerjee trying to play the kind of role in 2024 which Jyoti Basu wanted to play in 1996 but was denied to him by the CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist) leadership?
I don't believe that we wish to repeat history. The TMC as a party will transform itself into a national party. It will spearhead the Opposition to the BJP. The 1996 moment was in a particular context (that you cannot compare in 2024).
TMC has only 20-plus MPs. Can you become an all-India party by 2024?
TMC is already the third largest Opposition political party in India. It has the potential to transform into a national party. It has a strategic plan for most states of India. It will progressively gain strength (in coming days).
Also, don't forget that there is space for the TMC to expand. The decline of the Congress party and its inability to play the lead role in Opposition politics has created a space for the TMC to expand.
After 14 Congress MLAs quit in Meghalaya to join the TMC and the way various Congress leaders are abandoning the party, it looks like Amit Shah's dream of a Congress mukt Bharat will be fulfilled by the TMC, isn't it?
We are not working, allied or against the Congress, but we cannot help it if people in the Congress want to join a more effective Opposition platform.
It is our estimation that given the decline in the Congress, more and more Congressmen will themselves wish to join the TMC for a more effective, credible, organised and grass-rooted alternate political party.
The Congress was in second position in 175 parliamentary seats in 2019. Do you feel the TMC can grow so big by 2024 that they will have a presence in these many seats?
No party can live on past laurels. The Congress has demonstrated that except for five elections since 2012, they have lost all elections till date.
They are not showing signs to re-invent themselves. They have not been able to transform themselves. It is the beneficiary of its past legacy.
TMC will emerge as the real Congress party.
Rahul Gandhi has been relentlessly attacking Modi's policies -- be it on Rafale deal or repealing the three farm laws on which he was proved right. Why then is he not able to connect with voters as Mamata Banerjee does?
This question you should ask Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party. We know the leadership at the Congress, which is currently constituted, is unable to convert its votes into electoral victory.
As you said, nine years and only five election victories since 2012. Do you feel this is a long stagnation period for the Congress?
The Congress has learnt no lessons from its abject defeat in 2014 and 2019.
However, politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Today, there is an increasing vacuum and space for a principal pan-Indian Opposition party. The TMC is well poised to fill that space.
Are you saying this because there are 10 BJP chief ministers in 12 states where the principal Opposition party is the Congress?
There are many states where regional parties are successfully holding the BJP at bay. Parties who are against the BJP are our natural allies.
Do you see a federal government in 2024 with these regional political parties with Mamata Banerjee as PM?
Mamata Banerjee will happily consult and ally with like-mind parties in order to build an effective national opposition to the BJP.