CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury seems to have backtracked on the electoral adjustment under pressure from hardliners in the party.
A striking picture of the last assembly elections in Bengal was Congress leader Manas Bhuiyan embracing CPI(M) state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra at a rally in Narayangarh. Bhuiyan declared that Mishra, who was contesting from the Narayangarh constituency, would be the next chief minister. Even the CPI(M) or the Left Front had not announced a chief ministerial candidate then. It was probably the highest moment of the ambitious electoral alliance between the Congress and the CPI(M).
The alliance miserably failed to stop the march of the Trinamool Congress. And, six months down the line, the picture is entirely different. Bhuiyan left the Congress for the Trinamool Congress, calling the Congress leaders in Delhi “jokers”. “Senior leaders in Delhi prevented direct conversation between me and Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi. It had never happened in the past,” he said.
The CPI(M) seems to be done with the alliance for now. And it is unlikely to be revived anytime soon, certainly not before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In the byelections to be held on November 19, the Left Front, the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the BJP are fielding separate candidates. And such a contest would be a cakewalk for the Trinamool.
The byelections are for two Lok Sabha seats and one assembly seat. The Tamluk Lok Sabha seat was vacated by Suvendu Adhikari, after being made a minister in the state. His brother Divyendu, the legislator from Contai East, is contesting at Tamluk, keeping the seat within the family. Their father, Sisir, is the MP from Contai.
In Monteswar assembly seat in Burdwan, which fell vacant on the death of Sajal Panja, the Trinamool candidate is Panja's son, Saikat. The Cooch Behar Lok Sabha seat fell vacant on the death of Renuka Sinha. The Trinamool might field one of Sinha’s relatives to defend his seat.
The Left Front chairman Biman Bose said the CPI(M) would contest from Tamluk and Monteswar, and the Forward Bloc from Cooch Behar. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who was earlier a strong proponent of the electoral adjustment with the Congress, seems to have backtracked on it under pressure from the hardliners in the party. And the Congress has further weakened with many of its leaders jumping to the Trinamool side.
The CPI(M) state committee has discussed the alliance thoroughly. “In this byelection we will follow the [advice] of the central committee,” said CPI(M) state secretariat member Ashok Bhattacharya. “The central committee felt that our alliance with the Congress during the assembly election was not consistent with the guidelines set during the last party congress in Visakhapatnam. So, this time we have decided against an alliance.”
Bhattacharya was an advocate of the alliance that won the Siliguri municipal election in 2015, and he persuaded the leadership to go for a similar arrangement statewide. He declined to comment on the chances of a revival of the coalition. “I cannot say whether it will happen or not. In politics everything depends on the situation,” he said.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar had mediated between the state and central leaderships of the CPI(M) when they disagreed over the alliance with the Congress before the assembly elections. He was in Kolkata after the state committee’s decision to go it alone in the byelections, and he gave a clear indication on the party's stand when he lambasted the Congress and equated it with the BJP.
The Congress, however, has not closed the door yet. “They have decided to go it alone. We have also decided to field our candidates,” said Adhir Chowdhury, party's state president. He sent a list of three candidates to Delhi and it has been accepted by party president Sonia Gandhi.
There are, however, indications that the Congress and the CPI(M) might avoid attacking each other during the campaign. “It could be termed as a friendly fight,” said a Congress legislator close to Chowdhury.
The CPI(M) seems to be more worried about the BJP than the Congress. Former MP Lakshman Seth, who was its strongman in Nandigram and Haldia, recently joined the BJP and is likely to contest in Tamluk. Though the BJP is yet to decide on his candidature, it has not ruled him out. “We will declare it at the right time,” said Rahul Sinha, national secretary of the BJP.
Trinamool Congress expects Seth to help its candidate by evoking traumatic memories of the Nandigram agitation. “But, trust me, it would be a one-sided game,” said Trinamool leader Partha Chatterjee. “We will win all the games. People are fed up with seeing the flip-flop game of the CPI(M) and the Congress.”