Hyderabad/Kolkata: Taking his initiative of forming a non-Congress and non-BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) front forward, Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao will reach Kolkata to meet his West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee on Monday. Rao had earlier begun meeting retired senior government officials, after publicly announcing that he is ready to play a part in national politics.

On 3 March, at a press conference, Rao attacked the centre for not “cooperating" with the state government and said both the Congress and the BJP had not done enough for the country. A day later, he claimed that Trinamool Congress chief Banerjee and former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren had also welcomed his decision to play a key role in national politics.

On 6 March, Rao’s office, in a press release, announced that he had begun meeting senior retired Indian Administrative Services, Indian Police Service, Indian Foreign Service and Indian Revenue Service officers and also expressed interest in meeting retired defence personnel and officers. It added that Ajit Pramod Kumar Jogi, leader of the Janata Congress Chattisgarh, had also telephoned Rao and expressed interest in joining him.

A senior Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) MP, who was unwilling to be identified, said other than the meeting with Banerjee, nothing concrete has been established by Rao so far on the matter of forming a third front. “We will know soon after this meeting. But right now it is too early," he added. Another TRS office bearer, who was also unwilling to be quoted, said that Rao is seriously pushing for an alternative third front.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi had said last week, in an interview with Mint, that the Congress will look to build a grand coalition of parties opposed to the BJP, and he had named TRS and TMC as potential constituents. The TRS has, however, said that it wants to be part of a non-Congress front. It may be recalled that Rao was earlier a Union minister under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government as part of an alliance from 2004 to 2006.

Banerjee is clearly warming up to a potential alliance with the Congress: she lent support to Singhvi as a candidate for the Rajya Sabha from West Bengal. Banerjee has said repeatedly that forces opposed to the BJP must come together.

Congress’s Singhvi said electoral contests between forces opposed to the BJP such as the Congress and the TMC in West Bengal will lead to vote division and benefit the BJP and admitted that Banerjee has emerged as an important leader, whose strength in the next Lok Sabha could go up to 42.

Clearly, Banerjee cannot ally with the BJP though the TMC has in the past been part of the NDA. So she remains important to all political forces opposed to the BJP, irrespective of their stand on the Congress.

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