Days after Mamata Banerjee's "no UPA" jibe, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel on Sunday attacked the TMC chief, saying she must clarify whether she wants to make TMC the main Opposition party by fighting those in power or by taking on fellow Opposition parties.
He also said no Opposition alliance is possible at the national level without the Congress which has to be the main pillar of the bloc taking on the BJP.
In an interview with PTI, Baghel said a decision on who would be the face of the Opposition that would take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2024 general election would be taken collectively by the constituents of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that is headed by Sonia Gandhi.
His remarks come days after West Bengal Chief Minister Banerjee took swipes at the Congress leadership and said there is "no UPA", after meeting NCP supremo Sharad Pawar in Mumbai.
On Banerjee's remarks, Baghel said, "I would like to say to Mamata Banerjee that you want to become the main opposition party, it is a very good thing. If you want to move forward with a plan, harbouring a dream, it will be welcomed, but the question is whether you want to become the main Opposition party by fighting those in power or by taking on fellow Opposition parties." Asked if he believes that there is collusion between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP, Baghel said Banerjee should clarify as after meeting Pawar, she said "there is no UPA" but following her meeting with Prime Minister Modi, nothing came out as to what transpired and she later attacked the Congress.
"Why has it not come out in the open as to what she discussed with the PM," he asked.
On the TMC entering the poll fray suddenly in some poll-bound states such as Goa, Baghel said it seems that they want to help the BJP in those states.
"They don't have anything in Goa but want to fight. So they want to divide the opposition vote," he alleged.
Baghel also hit out at poll strategist Prashant Kishor for his remarks that the space represented by the Congress was vital but its leadership is not the "divine right of an individual", an apparent swipe at Rahul Gandhi.
"Prashant Kishor works for money, be it for the BJP, Congress, TMC or JD(U), for poll campaigns. He is a professional person, so he should say who he is working for now," Baghel said.
The Chhattisgarh CM said Kishor is not associated with any political party that he will make comments like the ones he did, so he should clarify whether he is working for the BJP or for Mamata Banerjee.
"(Narendra) Modi ji, (Amit) Shah ji, talked about Congress-mukt Bharat, they could not do it. Now, has that job been taken over by Prashant Kishor," he asked.
On whether any alliance sans Congress is possible at the national level to take on the BJP, Baghel said as of today it does not seem possible.
On whether the Congress would be the main pillar of the Opposition alliance at the national level, the Chattisgarh CM said, "Congress will be (the main pillar), it is a straightforward thing." "It is the Congress that has a presence from Kashmir to Kerala. Other Opposition parties don't have that kind of presence," he said.
Asked if Rahul Gandhi should be the face of the Opposition bloc to take on PM Modi in 2024, Baghel said he is "too small a person" to decide on such matters and is not authorised by the party to comment on all such issues.
However, he said, "Several parties comprise the UPA whose chairperson is Sonia Gandhi, and all parties will decide on the issue together." Baghel added that in the whole country, there is only one leader that is taking on the central government and BJP, and that is Rahul Gandhi.
He said the BJP is "rattled'' by Rahul Gandhi so it is possible that they "may be targeting him through these people (TMC, Kishor and other critics)".
The TMC and the Congress have been growing distant of late, with the Mamata Banerjee-led party poaching the latter's leaders in several states in the recent past.
The two parties have further distanced themselves with the TMC not attending the opposition meetings convened by the Congress over opposition unity in Parliament.
Baghel, who is the Congress' senior observer for Uttar Pradesh polls, also said UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is on his way out as "everyone is angry with him and he has no achievements".
On whether the Congress will be the main challenger to the BSP in Uttar Pradesh, Baghel slammed both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party to claim that the Congress would do well.
"BSP is nowhere. Mayawati ji has not come out. Akhilesh ji has come out now near the polls and was nowhere to be seen in the last four-and-a-half years. Congress is gaining. We are aiming to perform well and get a good result," he asserted.