After poaching leaders from rival parties in several states, the All India Trinamool Congress seems to have turned its radar over Kerala.
The Mamata Banerjee-led party, which is on an ambitious expansion plan ahead of the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, has approached a few leaders in the southern state with a request to join it.
Democratic Congress Kerala leader Mani C Kappan, MLA, and disgruntled Congress leader A V Gopinath are among the Trinamool's (TMC) prime targets in Kerala.
Sources close to Kappan and Gopinath himself have confirmed to Onmanorama that they have been approached by the West Bengal-based party. Sources close to Kappan said the TMC is keen to have him in its fold as the party would get an MLA in Kerala.
“We have been directly contacted by the top leaders of the TMC from Kolkata,” a leader of the Democratic Congress Kerala told Onmanorama.
Kappan floated the party after he quit the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ahead of the assembly polls earlier this year. Kappan moved out of the NCP after it became evident that the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) was planning to allot his incumbent Pala seat to the Jose K Mani-led Kerala Congress (M).
Kappan contested the election from Pala with the support of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and defeated Jose K Mani. The UDF is yet to formally induct Kappan's party into the alliance.
The leader close to Kappan said some people who claim to be TMC leaders in Kerala have been trying to play intermediaries between his party and the Bengal party. “The fact is that the TMC does not have any committee in Kerala now. We have been contacted directly by the party's central leadership,” he said.
Another source aware of the developments in Kappan's camp said he is not keen about the TMC invite now as the party is not in good terms with the Congress at the national level. It is evident that Banerjee, who founded the party after quitting the Congress in 1997, is looking for expansion at the cost of Congress. She delivered a body blow to Congress recently by poaching its prominent leaders namely Luizinho Faleiro (former Goa CM) and Sushmita Dev.
Mamata's strained relationship with Congress would make it difficult for the TMC to be a part of the Congress-led UDF in Kerala even if it succeeds to have Kappan in its fold. Kappan is unlikely to disturb his relation with the Congress for TMC.
Gopinath weighing his options
Gopinath said he was contacted by the top leadership of the Trinamool Congress a month ago. Gopinath, who enjoys a mass support in parts of the Palakkad district, had announced that he was resigning from the Congress in August. However, the party is yet to accept his resignation.
“I was contacted by several parties after I announced the decision to quit Congress. Trinamool Congress also approached me. I have told them I would take any decision only after discussing it with my followers. As of now, I'm with the Congress,” Gopinath said.
The former MLA, decided to quit the Congress following the appointment of the District Congress Committee presidents after K Sudhakaran took charge as the party's state chief. It was speculated that Gopinath would be accommodated in the KPCC as he has a cordial relationship with Sudhakaran. However, it did not happen.
TMC on a poaching spree
The TMC, which hopes to play a predominant role in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, has been on a poaching spree of late. Leaders from various political parties have been joining the Mamata Banerjee-led party in the past few months after it registered a thumping victory in the West Bengal assembly polls, trashing the BJP's dreams there. Riding high on the confidence infused by the hat-trick win in Bengal, Banerjee wants to project herself as an alternative to PM Narendra Modi and her party as the lead player of an opposition front at a time when her parent party, the Congress, is in its weakest stage. Reports say political strategist Prashant Kishor is behind the induction of other party leaders into the TMC.
Senior Congress leaders Rajesh Pati Tripathi, Lalitpati, Kirti Azad and Ashok Tanwar and former JD(U) MP Pavan Varma Tripathi are among those who joined TMC recently. Five BJP legislators in West Bengal have also joined the TMC.