The Congress and the Trinamool Congress engaged in a verbal duel after the grand old party's lone MLA in West Bengal crossed over to the state's ruling party, and accused one another of working against Opposition unity ahead of the 2024 general elections.
The Congress lashed out at the Trinamool Congress, saying such "poaching" is not designed to strengthen Opposition unity and only serves the Bharatiya Janata Party’s objectives. The TMC hit back, accusing the Congress of breaching trust on Opposition unity.
The spat between the two parties assumes significance as it comes at a time when efforts are underway to forge a united Opposition to take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress lost its lone MLA in the West Bengal assembly, Bayron Biswas, as he crossed over to the ruling TMC on Monday. Biswas joined the party in the presence of its general secretary Abhishek Banerjee.
In a sharp attack on the TMC, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said, "Three months after he was elected as a Congress MLA in a historic victory, Bayron Biswas has been lured away by the TMC in West Bengal."
This is a complete betrayal of the mandate of the people of the Sagardighi assembly constituency, Ramesh said on Twitter.
"Such poaching which has happened earlier in Goa, Meghalaya, Tripura and other states is not designed to strengthen Opposition unity and only serves the BJP's objectives," he said.
On Ramesh's remarks, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, "We (Opposition parties) are all together at the national level. All parties should understand that state parties have their own obligations. We have contested only Meghalaya and Goa but when the Congress contested Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, we did not disrupt. Instead of disrupting, we supported them."
"That is why I don't have any comments (about Ramesh's remarks). Anybody can say anything. Yes, one MLA joined...you (Congress) are a national party, BJP is a national party, it is not just about winning elections but it is also for vote percentage, through which we may become a national party," she said at a press conference in Kolkata.
"So we want that we have a presence in three-four places so that we have national party status. Why should they only have national party status and not us," the chief minister asked.
Hitting back at Ramesh, TMC MP Derek O' Brien said, "'Despite Mamata Banerjee's support Congress vows to fight Mamata Banerjee in Bengal' Statement from Congress two weeks ago. Congress breaches trust on Opposition unity and then expects bouquets of roses! And about strengthening BJP? Grow up please."
Senior TMC leader Sukhendu Sekhar Roy said the Congress has to decide who they want to fight.
"They can't claim that they are fighting against the BJP at the Centre by opposing the TMC in Bengal. This double standard has to stop. The policy of Kerala, where the CPI-M and the Congress are at loggerheads but are allies at the Centre, won't work in West Bengal," he told PTI.
The CPI-M and the Congress have allied in West Bengal and are jointly fighting against the TMC and the opposition BJP in the state.
The TMC's deputy leader in Rajya Sabha claimed that Biswas joined the party as he felt "it is the only force which can fight against the BJP in Bengal".
"We don't need lessons from the Congress about how to fight against the BJP. In Bengal, the Congress has aligned with the CPI-M and has been fighting against us to help the BJP," he said.
At the function to join the ruling party in Ghatal, Medinipur, Bayron claimed the Congress played no role in his victory and that he won because of "my goodwill"
Bayron, a local bidi magnate, had won the Sagardighi seat earlier this year in a by-election, beating his TMC rival, much to the consternation of the ruling camp.
The desertion of the MLA does not come under the purview of the anti-defection law as he is the lone representative of the Congress in the assembly and his joining the TMC means a merger of the Congress legislative party with the larger TMC legislative party.
On Monday, Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury also lashed out at Biswas for his desertion, saying, "If we had not been there with you (Bayron Biswas), you would not be what you are (an MLA) today."
Chowdhury had said the TMC was petrified after losing the Sagardighi by-polls and had used everything at its disposal to poach the Congress MLA.
He also blamed TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee and her nephew and MP Abhishek Banerjee for luring MLAs from other parties.