West Bengal elections: Left and Congress may join hands to defeat TMC

Left and Congress May Unite to Oust TMC

Left and Congress May Unite to Oust TMC

In 2011, Trinamool Congress dislodged the Left Front government that ruled Bengal for 34 long years, a record for any democratically elected Communist Party in the world. That was a major achievement that came on the rebound of people’s frustration with Left policies that left the state in economic shambles.

Ma, Mati, Manush

Mamata Banerjee of TMC offered a better alternate with her slogan ‘Ma, Mati, Manush’ that struck a chord across West Bengal, cutting across caste, religious and class divides. Bengal chose Mamata Banerjee-led TMC to rejuvenate the state back to its earlier days of glory that existed before the Left Front took over.

2016 is going to be the test to see whether Mamata Banerjee has lived up to those expectations or is she just an old wine in a new bottle. But one that is certain, she continues to exercise total control of the political strings, at the grass root level across the state, and does not hesitate to wield her political muscle at every opportunity.

Her foot soldiers, who once worked for the Left Front, are now working for TMC and continue to carry on with their earlier role of exerting muscle power to push party agenda. And the Left party cadres are bearing the brunt of what was their own creation.

With nowhere to hide, remaining loyal party cadres have been forced to maintain a low profile, there is now a growing realization within the party that the Left cannot take on the TMC alone, and the only viable option is to seek a tie-up with INC, since BJP is ruled out on ideological grounds.

Call to join hands

Local party leaders realize that any frustration of the electorate with TMC is likely to benefit BJP rather than translate to any votes for the Left. Speaking for the first time at Singur since losing power, ex-CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya spoke of the need to join hands with the Congress if the Left was to pose any serious challenge to the ruling party. The sentiments have since been echoed by several other party leaders as well.

Voices from members of the state Congress unit too have been speaking out for the need to join hands with the Left. West Bengal prospered under Congress rule till the Left took over in the 70s, leaving Congress politically weaker, as the local Bengali fell to the romanticism and allure of socialism and Marxism.

Rudderless Congress

After Siddharth Shankar Ray, Congress has failed to produce any leader that could match his charisma or leadership skills. They simply had no one who could inspire the masses in West Bengal, whereas, the Left had a highly educated and respected leader in Jyoti Basu, who held the party and state together.

After Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, there has been no other local leader from Congress who enjoys popular support across the state and therein lies Congress’s biggest dilemma. After the Left, TMC’s biggest challenge should have come from the Congress but it is BJP that is swiftly growing in popularity as a possible challenger to TMC. As a result, party leaders at the state level favour a tie-up with the Left to take on both TMC and the BJP.

High command vs local unit

The problem for both parties is that at the central level, the respective high command have their own agenda and are not always on the same page with those at the state level. In a party meet at Visakhapatnam last year, the CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury spoke of the need to introspect on the reasons for the party’s falling popularity, and one of the reasons agreed upon was that the Left invariably ended up joining hands with the Congress to fight either local political parties or have supported them at the national level, many times against their own central party ideology. He spoke of the need for party cadres to rise and fight elections on their own ideology and grass root strength.

In response to rising calls from the West Bengal state unit, Sitaram Yechury once again reiterated the need for the Left Front to come together and fight local elections independent of the Congress, and thereby, effectively ruled out any pre-poll alliance with the Congress. The sentiment contradicts the position taken by local CPI(M) leaders who want an alliance.

Officially, CPI(M) can’t be seen joining hands with INC as it is fighting a bitter battle against them in forthcoming elections in Kerala. So, whether the party high command finally gives in to local leaders’ call to join hands with INC remains to be seen.

Can the Left-INC alliance really make a difference?

In 2011 Assembly polls, TMC won 184 seats, CPI (M) 40, Forward Bloc 11, CPI 2, and INC won 42, amongst the major parties. In 2016, BJP is going to be a factor although at the state level, the party is yet to gets its act together. Even if the Left ties up with INC, it is unlikely to dent the TMC bastion in a major way. If TMC loses seats, the most likely gainer is expected to be BJP.

However, the Left cannot be ignored altogether. While TMC retains its control over party cadres, there is a growing dissatisfaction against TMC among voters in several pockets. In 2011, TMC was the exciting hope but 2016, it will be held responsible for what it promised and what it finally delivered.

In Singur, where the Left met its nemesis, local villagers are yet to get back the land that Mamata promised to return. Furthermore, there has been little by way of industrial development and job creation in the area. In Salboni, under the Left rule, the Sajjan Jindal group had promised a Rs 35,000 crore investment in a greenfield steel project. That has since been shelved.

Last month, after much prodding from the ruling party, the group committed an investment of Rs 850 crore in a cement plant. Mamata Banerjee has gone to town using that as a sign of industrial revival in West Bengal but is that enough with elections just a few months away?

Sensing the shifting mood, ex-chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya visited Singur to launch his journey from Singur to Salboni, in an attempt to revive Left Front cadres. One will have to wait till elections to see if Bengal would like to extend Mamata another term or whether the state has had enough of it.