Assembly polls

Congress-Left alliance gathers steam, but remains faceless

Rahul-Bengal-polls Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and West Bengal Congress President Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury (L) raise their hands with Congress and Left joint candidate Santosh Pathak (R) during an election campaign rally in Howrah | PTI
  • The LF-Congress leaders are hoping to corner a sizable chunk of the nearly 17 per cent votes bagged by the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014

Marxist cadres chanting "Rahul Gandhi laal salam", enthusiastic Congress workers crowding CPM veteran Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's road show and the red flag fluttering alongside the Congress tricolour—scenes hitherto unthinkable are now common in West Bengal.

That's not all. Erstwhile sworn enemies—former state Congress president Manas Bhunia of Sabong and CPM State Secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra of neighbouring Narayangarh—became comrades as they campaigned for each other and the Marxist party's symbol—hammer & sickle and star—hung from trees bound to the Congress "hand" symbol.

Formed with the single-point agenda of ousting the Trinamool Congress from power, the Left Front-Congress tie-up seems to be gathering steam through vigorous joint campaigns and rallies, with the poll arithmetic making it a formidable foe of the ruling Trinamool.

But on the flip side, confusion remains over the nature of the relationship with various Left leaders speaking in different voices. The failure to officially announce a chief ministerial candidate translates into a faceless Left and there is palpable anger among a section of LF partners at the CPM cosying up to its new friend by snubbing time-tested allies.

Also of immense interest is the Congress and LF spearhead CPM's ability to transfer votes to each other.

The propelling force for the alliance was the 2014 Lok Sabha vote-share in the state. The Congress and Trinamool, which contested the 2009 Lok Sabha and the 2011 assembly polls in alliance, fought separately in 2014. While the Trinamool got 29.3 per cent of the votes, the LF and the Congress received 29.5 per cent and 9.6 per cent respectively. The sum of the votes obtained by the latter two was 39.1 per cent, tantalisingly close to the Trinamool.

The LF-Congress leaders are also hoping to corner a sizable chunk of the nearly 17 per cent votes bagged by the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014.

"No rational mind will bet on the BJP getting more than five per cent votes. With the BJP becoming insignificant, the opposition votes would consolidate with the Congress-CPM combine," state Congresss general secretary Om Prakash Mishra said.

Political analyst Udayan Bandopadhyay, however, pointed to the un-uniform vote share of the Congress in the state to prick the equal-vote-share theory.

"The alliance is very strong in North Bengal, where the combined LF-Congress vote was numerically much ahead of the Trinamool. But in South Bengal, the Congress is generally weak, except in Murshidabad and fringe pockets. Here, the vote percentage of the Trinamool is much more than the alliance," Bandopadhyay said.

But what is the exact nature of the relationship?

According to LF chairman Biman Bose, there was neither a front nor an alliance with the Congress, but only seat adjustment.

Kshiti Goswami, state secretary of LF partner Revolutionary Socialist Party, corroborated Bose, "In the LF we never discussed or passed any such proposal of an alliance."

But state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was categorical that an alliance has been forged and it will form a coalition government on the basis of a common minimum programme.

For CPI-M politburo member Mohammed Salim, it was a "people's alliance" sans any formal announcement.

"It's a people's alliance, a bottom-up alliance, and not the usual top-down one. The oppressed have come together, they have formed the alliance for their own survival and victory. This is a novel experiment, not only in Bengal, but even in the national context," Salim said.

Bandopadhyay felt the alliance would be able to transfer votes.

"So far they are doing well. They are hitting the streets together, taking out joint rallies and drawing graffiti together. I feel they'll be able to transfer votes.

"Hundred per cent vote transfer is never possible. There'll always be fringe elements. For instance, is it possible that 100 per cent of those who voted for the Trinamool in earlier elections will vote for that party this time also?"

But Goswami's RSP is angry with the Congress for fielding candidates in seats where LF constituents are in the fray.

"The Congress nominated candidates for nine seats where my party is in the fray. This is undesirable. Our local leadership is now questioning the rationale for the tie-up with the Congress.

"They are angry with the CPM as their local leaders support the Congress in some of the disputed seats," Goswami said, adding that all these developments have led to a crisis in the LF, formed way back n 1977.

But the biggest weakness of the alliance, according to Bandopadhyay, is the absence of an official chief ministerial candidate. Some Congress leaders like Manas Bhunia and Om Prakash Mishra have declared Surja Kanta Mishra as the face of the alliance. But the state Congress chief, said to be nursing chief ministerial ambitions, has said the decision would be taken after the polls.

"Personality based politics is a media creation. In our system, people don't choose a leader. Rather, it is chosen by the elected representatives. We have a lot of capable leaders. Once we win, the legislators would elect a leader in five minutes," said the MP from Raiganj.

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