Ahead of the state assembly elections to defeat Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool,the two parties are considering forming an alliance. However their rivalry in Kerala could pose a problem.
A politics of compulsion is steadily pushing the Congress and the CPI (M) closer as Bengal elections are near. The growing clamor has now reached Delhi for a pre-poll alliance between the Congress and the CPI (M)-led Left Front against the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) .
In Bengal, Rahul Gandhi Congress Vice President recently met with party leaders to hear their views on a possible alliance. In order to fulfill their demand most of these leaders are now camping at Delhi to lobby the party high command. In consultation with the Congress Working Committee perhaps Sonia Gandhi, is expected to make a final decision soon.
Meanwhile, On February 17-18 the CPI (M) central committee-the party’s highest policy making body has convened a meeting in Delhi to discuss the alliance issue. Prior to this on February 12-13 the party’s state committee will meet in Kolkata and the party’s state committee will meet in Kolkata.
The party’s former general secretary, Prakash Karat has said that for Bengal the central committee will finalize the electoral strategy after the state committee makes its position clear, but the decision will be taken in conformity with the party line.
Choices of CPI (M)
According to a media report, Ahead of a formal decision being reached at the impending meetings CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury ruling out any pre-poll alliance with the Congress in the state, creating some confusion among the rank and file. Although party’s state committee members have strongly denied Yechury making such comments.
On condition of anonymity, a state committee member that when and central committees and the party’s state were meeting soon it is unlikely that the general secretary would pre-empt that. On January 17, 2016 the committees are banking on a politburo statement issued that:
The CPI (M)’s electoral tactics will be in accordance with the political tactical line adopted at the 21st Party Congress. The politburo and the central committee will take a decision at an appropriate time regarding electoral tactics in each of the states.”
The problems of the CPI(M) is two-fold : party wants to focus on building a strong all-India Communist Party by rallying the ‘Left and democratic forces’ and at the same time the party line is to fight against the ‘pro-big capital’ Congress and Hindutva BJP.
Thus, the Bengal comrades find the party line is open to interpretation; the Left needs to forge a broad-based united front of democratic and secular forces, to fight against communal forces, and the entry of the Congress into this united front can be encouraged through an alliance in Bengal.
The desperation in the Left’s repeated appeal to the Congress to join hands is palpable. The Congress and the Left have had a long, hostile relationship in Bengal. Jyoti Basu, former chief minister had often accused the Congress of murdering 1100 party cadres during the national emergency. On the other hand, the Congress alleged that the Left especially the CPI (M), unleashed a reign of terror in rural Bengal during their 34-year rule.
In Singur and Nandigram, in the aftermath of its misadventures, In the state there was an upsurge opposition against the Left Front government with the TMC’s Mamata Banerjee becoming the face of this opposition. Congress, weak in strength and morale, remained almost invisible in the state.
CPI (M) became a powerful member of the UPA government after 2004 general elections. Soon after when Karat led a Left walk out from the UPA over the nuclear deal issue, With UPA as a partner Congress fought the 2009 general elections with the TMC followed by an alliance in the 2011 state assembly elections.
After Mamata came to power, the TMC began an aggressive turf war, with the CPI(M) becoming its major target. According to the CPI (M) state committee, thousands wounded owing to the violence unleashed by armed TMC workers and more than 171 of its cadres and sympathizers were killed.
A few thousand had to live under degraded conditions in makeshift shelters provided by the party in other districts and to flee their rural home. Many were thrown into prison. In power for 34 years. Left leaders and workers were accustomed to getting police help. Although the police continued to play its role as before, the beneficiary was now the TMC, they soon realized it.
A central committee member said that “We never realized that the police would not only turn away from us, but also go against us with hostility. So, we had to keep low,” when he was asked why the CPI (M) did not resort to street agitations on issues like the Saradha Ponzi scam.
CPI (M) had around 23,000 party members in Bengal in 1978 when it first came to power, rising to over 3, 00,000 by 2009 more than 90% of the present members have joined the party since 1978. The party started retreating on all fronts due to relentless attacks from the ruling TMC. The Left lost to the TMC in successive elections party’s representation decreased from its highest-ever 38 in 1980 to only 2 in 2014.
The Siliguri model
TMC; Mamata’s party started attacking Congress workers in Burdwan, Birbhum and Nadia districts and Congress is also feeling the heat of the turf war unleashed against it them by its one time alliance partner. Congress has a solid support base (all four MPs are from these districts) in Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur, TMC initiated horse-trading and lured away a number of MLAs and district-level leaders.
CPI (M) and Congress have realized that unless they do something to protect polling booths from being captured by TMC workers they won’t make any headway in Bengal. High-handed governance, the TMC will continue to be in power and that no matter how much public discontent may be brewing against the Mamata government for its partisan attitude and corrupt.
Thus, the ‘Siliguri model’ was born; Left and Congress together resisted the TMC’s bid to capture polling booths during Siliguri Corporation election in October last year, with the Left defeating the TMC to form the board. The Siliguri Mahokuma Parishad election was followed by a similar victory. The idea of coming together to form an alliance ahead of the May assembly elections germinated in both camps with these successes.
In Delhi, West Bengal and Kerala however, one pressing problem remains at the forefront for the leaders of both parties will go to the polls simultaneously, along with Assam and Pondicherry. The Left and the Congress are the main contenders in Kerala. In Bengal, If they form an alliance they might have to face many uneasy questions from voters in Kerala. In West Bengal the solution to this riddle might lead both the parties to a new phase.