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'In Talks With TMC', Is Mukul Sangma Next on the List of High-Profile Exits From Congress?

Sources in the Trinamool Congress and Congress have told The Wire that the former Meghalaya CM's move to the Mamata Banerjee-led party could be announced as early as October 3.

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New Delhi: Rumour mills have been abuzz for over a week now on whether former Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma will make a move from Congress to Trinamool Congress (TMC).

Sangma, the leader of opposition in the state assembly, had left the buzz in local media unaddressed so far. However, the news hit national headlines on October 1 – coinciding with the dramatic increase in challenges that the Congress is facing within the party, with several leaders, some seen as having been close to Rahul Gandhi, leaving and other turmoil.

Sangma, as Congress chief minister of Meghalaya, challenged the Bharatiya Janata Party onslaught jointly with the state’s two regional parties – the National People’s Party (NPP) and United Democratic Party (UDP) – in the 2018 assembly polls. In this, he was backed by Rahul Gandhi who, during his campaign, found himself facing controversy after wearing an expensive jacket he had reportedly borrowed from Sangma, in the Shillong cold.

The controversy, stirred by a national media reporter believed to be close to BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma, had helped the BJP launch a counter attack on Gandhi for terming the Narendra Modi government a “suit boot ki sarkar”.

While state Congress leaders, including party president Vincent H. Pala, have not commented on Sangma yet, sources close to Sangma have confirmed to The Wire that he is “indeed in talks with TMC” and the formal announcement of his move to the party may come on Sunday, October 3.

Top sources in the TMC too corroborated this timeline to The Wire on October 1.

Also read: Amidst Exits, G-23 Raises Question of Congress’s Internal Democracy, Faces Flak

News reports have stated that Sangma, a five-time MLA from Ampati constituency in the Garo Hills, is angry with the Congress’s central leadership for naming Pala the state party president without consulting him. But this does not appear to be the sole reason behind his decision to quit the party. The Wire‘s sources in the Congress have claimed that he “was anyway looking at quitting the party as Congress coming back to power in the Northeast is difficult with BJP at the Centre.”

“With TMC now expanding in the Northeast, it is an option for him,” sources said. Lately, Sangma has been talking to local media on the Congress’s need for a “course correction”.

The buzz about his shift to TMC has also been fuelled by a number of Congress MLAs from Meghalaya visiting Kolkata in the end of September. Some news reports have also stated that Sangma met TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and party general secretary Abhishek Bannerjee recently. TMC sources confirmed Sangma’s visit to Kolkata to enter into talks with the party but claimed that the final meeting with Abhishek Banerjee is yet to take place.

If Sangma joins TMC this weekend, he will be the second top Congress politician in the Northeast to switch sides after Sushmita Dev. Dev has not only been elected as TMC member to the Rajya Sabha recently but also been given the responsibility to consolidate the TMC in Tripura, to effectively take on BJP. Dev also recently travelled to Meghalaya to meet Sangma.

Sangma is a formidable presence in Meghalaya. Under his leadership, the Congress might have fallen 10 seats short of the number needed to claim simple majority in the 2018 elections, but the party became the single largest in the 60-member assembly.

The Congress still has a formidable cadre base in Meghalaya. Sangma’s move to TMC with several Congress MLAs will, therefore, immediately raise the electoral stakes of the party in the northeastern state, thus making it a direct challenger to the ruling NPP-UDP.