The "detention" of election strategist Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee) team in Tripura seems to have come at a right time for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC). The party is looking to expand its base in Tripura which is also called West Bengal’s 'sister state'. Besides, the Northeastern state also has a huge Bengali-speaking population which is certainly an added advantage for Banerjee and her party.
What is the I-PAC row?
Keeping in mind the 2023 Tripura Assembly elections, the I-PAC team had gone to the state "for some research-related work" for the TMC. However, the Tripura police "detained" the 23-member team at Hotel Woodland Park in Agartala.
Manik Das, Superintendent of Police, West Tripura, claimed members of the I-PAC team are being questioned as part of a routine check-up. "The outsiders-- around 22 persons-were roaming around in various places. Since Covid restrictions are in place, we are enquiring to verify the reasons behind their arrival and stay in the city. They all underwent Covid tests on Monday, the reports are awaited," Das told reporters.
However, President of the Tripura unit of TMC, Ashish Lal Singha termed it as an attack on democracy. "It's an attack on democracy. Being a resident of Tripura, I am shocked. It's not Tripura's culture. BJP has panicked following the overwhelming response and support to TMC due to the misrule of the BJP led government in Tripura." The I-PAC team has been under detention since Sunday night in a hotel. However, the police are saying it's a part of routine checkUP," Singh told news agency PTI.
He said the I-PAC team, comprising 23 members, had reached the state a week ago and also visited several places to conduct a survey at 'ground zero'. They had discussions not only with TMC members but also with the other parties and the team is assessing the political situation and the prospect of the party in the next assembly election in 2023, he said.
Mamata Banerjee's nephew and National General Secretary of TMC, Abhishek Banerjee, tweeted: "The fear in BJP Tripura before even AITC officials stepped into the land, is more than evident!" He added: "They are so rattled by our victory in Bengal that they've now kept 23 IPAC employees under house arrest. Democracy in this nation dies a thousand deaths under BJP's misrule!"
Later, the I-PAC team obtained COVID-19 negative results. However, according to news agency ANI, they were reportedly warned by the police not to leave the hotel except for going to the airport to leave the state.
In the meantime, the TMC supremo decided to send party MPs to Tripura. With West Bengal Education Minister Bratya Basu and Law Minister Moloy Ghatak already in Agartala, party MPs Derek O'Brien and Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar visited the state on Thursday. Besides, Abhishek Banerjee is scheduled to visit on Friday.
After visiting Tripura, MP Derek O' Brien said the TMC is ready to take on the BJP head-on in the Northeastern state. He also alleged that 'threatening and bullying' is the only kind of antics Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah know.
TMC's political history in Tripura:
In 2016, the TMC had emerged as the principal opposition party in Tripura after six Congress MLAs switched sides and joined the Banerjee-led party. However, with Mukul Roy leaving the TMC and joining the BJP, the party's prospects suffered a setback in the Northeastern state.
In the 2018 polls, the BJP won 36 seats and the IPFT eight, while the CPI-M's tally was reduced to 16 and the Congress and the TMC drew a blank.
Now, following the landslide victory in the West Bengal Assembly polls, the TMC has decided to revive its fortunes in Tripura. The party is hoping that Roy's return and Prashant Kishor's guidance will work in its favour in the 2023 Tripura polls.
Mamata Banerjee for Prime Minister?
The TMC supremo is currently in the national capital. Other than meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Banerjee has met Congress Interim President Sonia Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and many others. She is also slated to meet Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar. She had also spoken with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Banerjee's Delhi visit and her meetings with opposition leaders, certainly looks like a part of her efforts to cobble up a national front against the BJP. She is apparently seeking to take up a larger role in national politics prior to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and she has even spoken about it on a few ocassions. "Poore desh me khela hoga. It's a continuous process...When general elections come (2024), it will be Modi versus country," Banerjee said on Wednesday.
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