The Opposition unity to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party seems to have run into rough weather as the Trinamool Congress and the Congress are at daggers drawn over the recent instances of 'poaching' by the Mamata Banerjee-led camp, with the grand old party finding itself in a tight spot.
Despite a show of bonhomie during the August 20 meeting convened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the camaraderie fizzed out as the TMC, which is taking long strides to expand its footprint across the country, left no chance to vilify the party for its alleged failure to take on the saffron camp.
According to sources in the TMC, party supremo Mamata Banerjee, who has emerged as the doughtiest Opposition face after winning one of the toughest elections of her career, apparently seeks to take up a larger role in national politics, possibly of the leader of the Opposition coalition, a position held by the Congress since the BJP stormed to power in 2014.
Lashing out at the ruling camp in Bengal, Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, Adhir Chowdhury, said, "I have been stating this from the very beginning that Mamata Banerjee is the trojan horse of the BJP. TMC's activities indicate that her main aim is to weaken the Congress and help the BJP. But mind you, no one has ever succeeded and no one will ever succeed in wiping out the Congress."
The issue of the Opposition leadership and TMC's zealous efforts to establish its presence nationally, even if that happened at the expense of the Congress, seems to have thrown a spanner in the process of building a united Opposition front.
According to sources in the TMC, assertions by a section of senior Congress leaders like Salman Khurshid that the party is still in a position to win at least 120-130 seats in the next Lok Sabha elections in a direct contest with the saffron camp did not go down well with the Banerjee camp.
Since then, gloves in the Opposition camp seem to be coming off, with the two parties firing salvos at each other on multiple occasions, as BJP leaders watched the show, probably with a chuckle on their faces.
In a deviation from the past, the TMC has decided against engaging in any form of floor coordination with the Congress during the upcoming winter session of Parliament, the sources said.
"The Congress has done nothing to fight the BJP in the last seven years. It is the TMC that put up a battle against the BJP. We have never talked of stitching an opposition alliance without the Congress. But the Congress has to realise that its big brother attitude will no longer be accepted. The party is having an existential crisis in many states," Kunal Ghosh, the general secretary of Bengal's ruling camp, said.
The TMC has not just termed the Congress as an 'incompetent and incapable' party in the past but also hit out at Rahul Gandhi over his defeat in Amethi in the last parliamentary polls, while emphasising that Banerjee, and not Gandhi, was the face of the Opposition.
It has been going all out to gain foothold in BJP-ruled states, many of which have the Congress as the main Opposition force.
The Mamata Banerjee-helmed party, with no sign of contriteness, feels that it has every right to expand nationally even if that comes at the cost of the Congress.
Several leaders of the grand old party such as Sushmita Dev, former Goa chief minister Luizhino Faleiro, as well cricketer-turned-politician Kirti Azad have joined the TMC recently.
The Congress further received a massive jolt earlier this week as it lost the main opposition status in Meghalaya with 12 of its MLAs, including former CM Mukul Sangma, switching over to the TMC.
TMC's national vice president Yashwant Sinha, still optimistic about opposition unity, however, underlined that it's too early to write its obituary.
"It is true that people now are looking up to the TMC, and the Congress has weakened in last few years Nevertheless, there is still 2.5 yrs to go before the next general election, and things may just evolve," he said.
Amid the wrangle, the BJP has almost certainly found time and opportunity to sharpen its knives, after having experienced setbacks in some states in the recent past.
"The ongoing fight for supremacy between the two parties has exposed their lack of integrity. The TMC and the Congress will end up nowhere," BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh claimed.
According to poll observers, born out of the womb of the Congress in 1998, the TMC, just like any other political outfit which are breakaway factions of the grand old party, has to keep their 'anti-Congressism' alive even when the BJP is their main threat.
"These parties -- the TMC and the Nationalist Congress Party -- were born out of the Congress. So they need to keep their anti-Congressism stance intact for survival and growth. If the Congress gets weakened nationally, these parties will try to step into its shoes. Also, after the West Bengal poll victory, the three-term as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee can be seen aspiring for the prime minister's chair," political analyst Maidul Islam said.
Biswanath Chakraborty, a political scientist, warned that the tussle between the Opposition forces may work in favour of the BJP.
"The more the TMC and the Congress engage in fights over leadership, the better for the BJP. If the Congress is cornered, it will be virtually impossible for the Opposition front to reach the magic figure in Lok Sabha. If the front manages, somehow, it won't be able to sustain as the Congress is the glue for such alliances," he stated.
Another analyst, Suman Bhattacharya, maintained that eventually the two parties will have to join hands, be it before the general election or after.
"Poaching of the Congress leaders will not impact the Opposition unity in the long run. Had that been the case, the Congress and the NCP wouldn't have been able to successfully run the coalition government in Maharashtra," he added.