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Kolkata: Sushmita Dev, who quit the Congress party on Sunday, joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Monday in Kolkata.
Dev, who was the All India Mahila Congress president and a former MP from Assam’s Silchar, had written in her resignation letter addressed to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi that she will begin “a new chapter of public service”. On Monday afternoon, Dev met the general secretary of TMC, Abhishek Banerjee at the latter’s office in Camac Street, Kolkata.
Dev is the daughter of veteran Congress leader from Assam Santosh Mohan Dev and was associated with the Congress party for more than thirty years. She served as an MLA in the Assam assembly and in 2014, she was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Silchar constituency. She, however, failed to retain her seat in 2019. She has served as the president of the party’s women wing since 2017.
Although Dev joined the TMC in Kolkata on Monday afternoon, she will be interacting with the media only on Tuesday in Delhi. As the TMC brings in more leaders from the Congress, it will be interesting to see how the Congress high command reacts to proposals of ‘opposition unity’ at the national level.
On Monday morning, Dev changed her Twitter bio to “former member” of Congress. Reacting to the development, veteran Congress leader and former Union minister Kapil Sibal rued her exit, saying young leaders are leaving and the ‘oldies’ are blamed for efforts to strengthen the Congress party.
Congress MP Manish Tewari also tweeted, saying: “If this is true, it is most unfortunate. Why sushmitadevinc? Your erstwhile colleagues and friends especially the person who was National President of @nsui when you contested your first (Delhi University) elections back in 1991 deserve a better explanation than this laconic letter?”
Dev has had differences with the party leadership for some time now. Sources close to Dev said that she intended to resign during the Assam assembly election that took place in April this year, but the leadership somehow managed a truce.
Speaking to The Wire, a source close to Dev, who did not want to be identified, said, “She was unhappy with the Congress’s decision to tie up with the AIUDF in the recent assembly election. She was also unhappy with the selection of candidates, especially in the Barak valley region.”
In an interview with the Indian Express on March 30, Dev said, “If you have to compromise your karmabhoomi, where you work, your soil… if you have to compromise and give it to others, it will hurt you. So it hurt me. But I always bow to the high command, and I did this time too. If I am not going to fight for my territory, who will?”
The source further told The Wire, “She felt her political space in the Barak Valley had shrunk because of the party’s decision. She feels that the party’s policy will jeopardise her chances of winning from Silchar in 2024.”
In the 2021 assembly election, the Congress won two of seven assembly segments which fall under the Silchar Lok Sabha constituency. The BJP bagged four and the Congress’s ally AIUDF clinched one seat.
A veteran TMC MP, who did not want to be identified, told The Wire, “She (Dev) is likely to be the face of the TMC in Assam. The party is currently in expansion mode, and many leaders from various states are getting in touch with us. Our leader Mamata Banerjee is the final person to take a call on such matters.”
When asked if Dev will also be deployed by the party in Tripura, the MP said, “The party will take that call later. Sushmita is a Bengali speaking leader from Assam’s Barak valley which borders Tripura. So if the party wants, she can be used in Tripura too.”
With Dev’s exit, the Congress party’s headache will continue. Two party MLAs – Sushanta Borgohain and Rupjyoti Kurmi – switched to the BJP after results for the Assam assembly elections were announced on May 2.
The TMC had earlier reached out to anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) activist and Raijor Dal head Akhil Gogoi. According to some reports, Banerjee urged Gogoi to merge his party with the TMC. Gogoi was offered the position of TMC’s Assam unit president. Gogoi, however, turned the offer down, but reportedly said, “We aim to form a confederation of regional forces and project Mamata Banerjee as its leader to remove the Narendra Modi government from power in 2024.”
Following the TMC’s emphatic win in the recent assembly polls in West Bengal, the party revealed its plans to expand its political footprint.
While speaking at the TMC’s annual Shahid Dibash (martyrs’ day) function, Banerjee made most of her speech in Hindi and English, signifying the intention to reach a national audience. Last month, Banerjee spent five days in Delhi, meeting several opposition leaders in an attempt to bring parties together, at least for talks, so there could be a consensus among parties to chalk out a concrete plan to defeat the Narendra Modi-led BJP.
The ‘TMC versus BJP’ battle has now shifted from Bengal to Tripura. The TMC is actively working in Tripura to expand its base. Abhishek Banerjee visited the state twice in less than ten days. In his first visit, Banerjee was attacked, allegedly by BJP-led goons. The second time, Banerjee went to rescue his workers who were attacked by miscreants.
A team of TMC leaders, comprising MPs and senior ministers of Bengal, are camping in Tripura. Seven former Congress MLAs, including former ministers, along with several workers, joined the TMC on July 29.
TMC’s West Bengal general secretary Kunal Ghosh recently met the chief of the Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) and the royal scion Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma for a possible alliance.