Courting Congress: Bengal unit gasps for breath as Left Front is caught in a bind

Afflicted with a terminal disease, the Left Front seeks an immediate antidote, but as is the case in the curious world of CPM leadership, a visit to the doctor too must be preceded by hair-splitting prevarication.

Simply put, the way political fortunes have played out in West Bengal since 2011, when the Trinamool Congress came to power, the Left Front has no hope in seven hells to even mount a challenge to Mamata Banerjee if it does not go in for a pre-election alliance with Congress.

But if the state unit is ready to cast aside its congenital allergy of "neo-liberalism" and get into the bed with Congress, the party apparatchiks in New Delhi and Kerala still appear undecided whether to adopt ideological pragmatism or stick to ideological fundamentalism.

Since 2011, the landmark year when TMC unseated a 34-year-old Left-front regime in Bengal to storm the bastions of power, CPM has been facing serious erosion in its support base which culminated with the BJP polling in an unprecedented 17 percent vote share in the 2014 general elections.

Courting Congress: Bengal unit gasps for breath as Left Front is caught in a bind

Sitaram Yechury. File photo. AFP

While the Trinamool secured 39.3 percent of the votes, the Left Front and the Congress had 22.5 percent and 9.6 percent, respectively. The writing was very much on the wall. The Narendra Modi-led BJP's rise came at the cost of Left Front.

Just about a year later, however, when 91 of Bengal's civic bodies went to polls, the results made for interesting reading. While the ruling TMC bagged a staggering 70 seats amid widespread allegations of electoral malpractices and violence, the BJP failed to cash in on its 2014 rise when it was riding the Narendra Modi wave.

It fell third in pecking order with 15.37 percent votes in the Kolkata Municipal polls. The Left Front was at 18.72 percent and the Congress at 6.54 percent.

The result showed two things. One, the BJP was yet unprepared to take on the mantle of chief opposition force in Bengal owing to infighting and a lack of credible face, and two, a door was still open for the Left to fill in the gap.

That the party, which lorded over Bengal for 34 years and had leaders such as Pramod Dasgupta and Jyoti Basu — who came mighty close to becoming the Prime Minister — now needs a Congress crutch to stay alive in its own backyard is a sobering thought.

But since survival is the name of the game in politics, it is in this context that we must put the recent clarion calls from Surya Kanta Mishra, who heads the CPI (M) in Bengal, and former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya repeatedly asking the Congress whether or not it is ready to join hands "in the larger interest of ousting the 'Ma, Maati, Manush' sarkar.

Call of desperation

First, during the 27 December rally attended by 500,000 people at Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata following the 'Plenum', leader after leader carefully avoided criticizing the Congress.

Second, during a rally in Singur last Saturday, the cradle of Left Front's stunning electoral debacle, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya kept no space for doubt.

For the first time in the history of India's Left Front politics, Singur saw a Marxist leader appealing to Congress to make it clear whether or not they are interested in a pre-poll alliance — not once but thrice. "Apnara kon dikey? Apnara kon dikey? Ei loraitey, apnara kon dikey? (Which side are you on? Which side are you on? In this battle, which side are you on?)

“What is the Congress leadership thinking today? We are not alone. Come and join us. Every opposition party should come and join hands to dislodge this undemocratic government.”

Bhattacharya, who apparently was skeptical about joining hands with the Congress having spent much of his long political career fighting against it, was perhaps left with no other option faced with a groundswell of support from the grassroots.

Buddhababu's call was repeated by state unit chief Surya Kanta Mishra, who clearly sought to pressurize the Congress.

"Now, the Congress has to decide what it will do. They have to talk to their high command. It may take time. (But) the sooner they take the decision, the better," he said.

But if everyone in the Bengal unit of CPIM is in favour of courting Congress, where lies the problem?

Left Front's dilemma

Forever affected with procrastination, indecisiveness and opacity, the Left Front central leadership this time too has been caught speaking in different voices.

Its problem has been compounded with the situation in Kerala where CPI (M) is in a direct slugfest with the grand old party and has a much better chance in displacing the Congress-led UDF, boosted by the results of the recent panchayat elections and growing anti-incumbency. Having any truck with the Congress therefore automatically dilutes its stand.

The CPI (M) politburo, which showed signs of recognizing the changed political realities and appeared to accept the idea of an alliance with the Congress during the plenum in Kolkata, has since gone back to quoting the 'Political-Tactical Line' (P-TL) that was adopted at the 21st party congress at Visakhapatnam earlier in 2015.

The P-TL stresses on "class and mass struggles" and rules out any tie-up with the Congress, a line since reiterated by the party's general secretary Sitaram Yechury

“Electoral alliances are now not on the agenda,” he told The Indian Express. To a specific question whether there was a possibility of an alliance with the Congress, he said, "no front or alliance with the Congress."

Does that mean the Left Front is officially ruling out an alliance? Here, too, the answer is not clear.

Yechury said an "appropriate decision" would be taken at the "appropriate time" whether or not to go to with an alliance in five states going to the polls.

Isn't this a snub to the Bengal unit of CPI (M)? Party leader and MP Mohammad Salim doesn't think so.

"What Buddhababu, Biman Bose or Surya Kanta Mishra have said is in keeping with the party line. We are discussing a dynamic situation, we have flexibility...In our battle against the TMC, we need to find out who are for, or against Mamata Banerjee's oppressive regime," he told Firstpost.

On Congress remaining steadfastly silent despite Left's clarion call for an alliance, the CPI (M) MP said: "We have not yet sent any invitation to the Congress for an alliance. The Congress needs to clarify which side it is on. Let them come out and commit. Based on that and keeping in mind our ground realities, we shall take a decision."

Much ado about nothing, comrades?

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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2016 15:32:06 IST

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