By Anurag Dey
Kolkata: With the West Bengal assembly elections around three months away, a majority of state Congress leaders have been harping on the need for an electoral alliance with the Left Front to take on the ruling Trinamool Congress.
State Congress general secretary Om Prakash Mishra, who has done a detailed analysis of the vote and seat projections for the 2016 assembly polls, asserts that only a Congress-Left combine can defeat the Trinamool.
However, a section of the state Congress leadership, including leaders like Manas Bhunia, point out that party workers had repeatedly come under attack from Communist cadres during the 34 years of Left Front rule from 1977 to 2011. They fear that a majority of the Congressmen could switch allegiance to the Trinamool or sit idle in case of a tie-up with the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and it would be “next to impossible” to transfer the party’s votes to the Marxists.
Beyond the boundaries of Bengal, the Congress and the Left are political foes in Kerala and Tripura, and a tie-up in the eastern state could “dilute” their rivalry in the two other states, argue critics. In such a scenario, the BJP – which has been trying to make inroads in Kerala and Tripura – would stand to gain.
But Mishra is dismissive of such arguments.
“Electorally, we have competed against each other for over 60 years in Bengal and will continue to do so. But at the same time, we are on the same page in opposing the Trinamool’s misrule.
“We cannot allow the Trinamool another reign of terror and, as opposition parties, it is our duty to provide the people a better alternative. So it is necessary for the Congress and the Left Front to come together,” Mishra told IANS.
Contending that 40 percent of votes which the BJP polled in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections would come to the Left-Congress combine, Mishra has twice written to party president Sonia Gandhi calling for seizing the political opportunity and tying up with the Left.
“No rational mind will bet on the BJP getting more than five percent votes, the civic polls last year are an indicator of that. In 2014, BJP got nearly 17 percent of the votes at the cost of both the Congress and the Left.
“So, with the BJP losing all its popularity and becoming insignificant, the opposition votes itself would consolidate when the Congress and the CPI-M combine,” argued Mishra, claiming that the alliance could win around 170 of Bengal’s 294 seats.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, while the Trinamool secured 39.3 percent of the votes, the Left Front and the Congress had 29.5 percent and 9.6 percent, respectively.
In the last assembly elections in 2011, the Trinamool, then part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), had won 184 seats, the Left Front 62 seats, and the Congress 42 seats. The BJP did not win a single seat.
Mishra, a Jadavpur University professor, worked for over two months preparing the assembly segment-wise vote projections and claims an electoral arrangement with the Marxists will not impact his party’s opposition to the Left in Kerala, where elections will be held at the same time.
“The political dimensions vary from state to state. In Kerala we will compete, in Bengal we will cooperate. The Congress-left contest in Kerala or Tripura will not reflect in our combined effort to dismantle the Mamata government,” he said.
The possibility of a Left-Congress alliance has gained ground with Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and state CPI-M secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra and Marxist Politburo member Mohammad Salim publicly advocating such a coalition.
Chowdhury, who had been earlier insisting on the Congress going it alone, is now pitching for an alliance and has flown to New Delhi to discuss the issue with the party’s central leadership.
Mishra insists the combine would sweep the Muslim-dominated Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur districts – considered Congress strongholds.
“All six Lok Sabha seats in these three districts went to the Congress (four) and the CPI-M (two). If we combine, we can very well win all the 43 assembly seats in these three districts,” said Mishra, claiming Trinamool’s hobnobbing with the BJP has only furthered the disenchantment of the minorities against it.
“The disillusionment among minority voters has only been compounded with as many as four central ministers giving certificates of appreciation to the Mamata government,” said Mishra, referring to the recently-held Bengal Global Business Summit where union ministers, including Arun Jaitley, showered praise on the Banerjee administration.
“Both the Congress and the Left are well-regarded by the minorities anywhere in the country and when both these forces unite, the minorities are bound to root for them,” he said. Muslims comprise 27.1 percent of Bengal’s population, according to the 2011 census.
The Congress has also been making efforts to reach out to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) to forge a grand alliance a la the Bihar polls where old foes Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad joined hands to inflict a crushing defeat on the BJP.
Mishra said the effort will be to forge a formal alliance with a declared common minimum programme, a chief ministerial candidate as well as a deputy chief ministerial nominee.