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Congress, TMC ditch Left for Rajya Sabha polls: West Bengal's political future will be characterised by attempts to keep BJP in check

Last July, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee ambushed the Left by suddenly announcing her party’s support for a prospective Congress Rajya Sabha candidate, who duly won. This happened while the controversy was swirling around a further term for CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury.

The Bengal unit of the CPM wanted Yechury or a consensus candidate supported by Congress. This deal was summarily scuppered. Now, Banerjee has done it again.

File image of Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

File image of Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

West Bengal is going to send five members to the Rajya Sabha. Banerjee announced the names of four party members, and, almost as an afterthought declared her support for senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi. The West Bengal Congress, especially its president, Adhir Chowdhury, is not exactly ecstatic, but that really doesn’t cut much ice.

This happened in a sort of reprise while the CPM was trying to identify a consensus candidate. Having failed, it has nominated senior party leader Rabin Deb, who has virtually no chance of winning.

The context in this instance is, however, substantially different. Last year, Banerjee, in what amounted to be a unilateral decision, had declined to accommodate outgoing speaker and Congress leader Meira Kumar, and Bengal leader Pradip Bhattacharya was nominated and won. This year, Banerjee had prepared a list of five party candidates but changed her mind when Congress put in a request for a seat, which apparently involved Sonia Gandhi herself.

These different circumstances, tells us something about a change in West Bengal politics, especially in the context of realignments in regional (and national) politics.

First, of course, is the fact that the Left Front has ceased to exist in the state and the region; its only tenuous base remains in Kerala. Is this a good thing or not? The answer would undoubtedly be contingent upon a person’s political vantage. But it seems to this writer that the existence of a parliamentary Left would be to the nation’s advantage, especially if it doesn’t pretend to be ‘communist’, entangling itself in arcane ideological calisthenics. This would mean rebranding itself as socialist welfare party, uniting across the board in a fair exercise — so bye bye CPI-M, CPI, RSP, et al, and welcome a new socialist formation.

The second lesson is the Congress' new perspective, exemplified by the events in West Bengal. In July last year, Congress was quite happy to play along with the state unit of CPM in the more-or-less futile pursuit of a ‘consensus’ candidate, until Banerjee’s sudden announcement presented it with what amounted to a fait accompli, to which it capitulated. In March 2018, it approached the Trinamool Congress (from all accounts) for a Rajya Sabha nomination, which, now granted, assures Singhvi a seat in the Upper House of the Parliament.

The obvious question here is why the matter should have been played out in such a fashion. The answer is obvious: the Left has nothing to offer to an anti-BJP front, while Trinamool Congress can contribute 35-38 Lok Sabha members. And in many other senses, a Congress-Trinamool alliance offers much greater political sense (and heft) if you investigate both recent events — the last decade and a half — and a longer historical record, say, 125 years.

In other words, an alliance between Congress and Trinamool Congress leading up to the 2019 General Elections to Lok Sabha has the force of ineluctable logic if BJP has to be stopped in its tracks, especially given the formation of alliances elsewhere, such as in Uttar Pradesh. A few observations on the ruling party are in order.

Much is being made of the BJP’s 'successes' in the North East. One feels that too much is being made of the victories in Nagaland and Meghalaya.

While the electoral success in Tripura was a genuine tour de force, the ‘victories’ in the other two states (as in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh earlier) demonstrate two things: first, the BJP’s financial muscle and, second, 'success' in choosing the right state alliance on which to piggyback. The latter is not evidence of great political sagacity given that alliances in the northeastern states usually prefer to have the ruling dispensation on their side.

The chronic instability of North East politics could easily lead to realignments in the medium term, anyway.

Even though the possibility of BJP making any serious dent in West Bengal is close to nil be it in this year's panchayat elections or the parliamentary elections next year, it does not mean that Mamata Banerjee is not worried, or even on tenterhooks.

Predictions are very much part of the psephologist’s bailiwick (or that of well-heeled corporate opinion poll agencies) and this commentator would not want to muscle into that territory. But this much is certain: a few impending elections will give us some insights into what may happen in 2019.

Polling for two important by-elections in Uttar Pradesh and three in Bihar just completed. And then we have elections in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh later this year. The results of these elections will show us how worried Banerjee and other opposition forces need to be.

Updated Date: Mar 12, 2018 15:06 PM

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