Partly cloudy, read the weather forecast for Delhi on June 18. But the Bengal unit of the CPI(M) knew the three-day central committee meeting in the capital would be a stormy affair, with heated debates over its decision to ally with the Congress for the assembly election in April-May. The alliance failed to defeat Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress. Instead, the CPI(M)'s vote share fell, from 29 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls to 25 per cent. The Congress's vote share, however, increased from 9 per cent to 12 per cent.
At the party congress last year, the central committee had accepted the Bengal unit’s demand for a tactical adjustment with secular forces. But what it had not bargained for was a joint campaign or forming a front with the Congress. So, the committee took a harsh stance and termed the “adjustment between the CPI(M) and the Congress in Bengal not in consonance with the party line”. The Bengal unit's decision was also questioned by leaders from Kerala at the recent Polit Bureau meeting. Secretary of the Bengal unit Surjya Kanta Mishra was a main proponent of the alliance. He had argued that the party was facing the Trinamool Congress's “cruel onslaught”, and “if we don’t take the lead role in uniting the secular and democratic forces in the state, we would be totally obliterated.” A section of leaders stressed that the central leadership had also joined hands with secular forces in Delhi, but the impression in Bengal was that the CPI(M) had formed a front with the Congress.
In the run-up to the polls, Mishra had announced that there would be a left democratic front, and not a left front, in Bengal. That didn't go down well with the left parties. Prabodh Panda, secretary of the CPI in Bengal, said, “Time has come for us to save the Left Front and strengthen it. We should not set up another front including the Congress.” The Revolutionary Socialist Party threatened to quit the front. “I think the situation is very grim,” said Kshiti Goswami, its state secretary. “The CPI(M) would have to decide on the left front now. If it is not serious about the Left Front, we would have no option but to quit.”
The Bengal unit's decision was also criticised at the state committee meeting, which was held a week before the meeting in Delhi. Differences over the alliance within the party had come to the fore long before the polls, with Left Front chairman Biman Bose categorically saying that seat adjustment could be a part of election tactics, “but sharing platform is not. And we will in no way share platform with the Congress.” But it was clear his words went unheeded when former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee shared the dais with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in Kolkata.
At the central committee meeting, Mishra and other Bengal leaders, however, got an earful from senior leaders, not just from Kerala but also Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Bihar. Defending Mishra, senior central committee member Gautam Deb said, “It [the alliance] was totally misconstrued by leaders who were identifying the present Congress in Bengal as a class enemy. In fact, the entire Congress we fought against has today switched over to the Trinamool Congress. We are continuously fighting against the hooligans of Trinamool who are burning our party offices and killing comrades or putting them in jail with false cases. How could we stay silent?”
Leaders from other states demanded clarifications from party general secretary Sitaram Yechury over the state unit's violation of the party line. A central committee member from Kerala told THE WEEK: “The biggest mistake of the Bengal unit was that it did not wait for another party congress to fix the issue. They accepted the last party congress resolution but then deviated from it. It was not accepted by majority of members.” Around 60 members showed their displeasure over the alliance, and Jagmati Sangwan, secretary of the women's wing of the party, walked out of the meeting, a first in the party's last 50 years. “I have no choice but to resign from the party,” she said. She was expelled from the party.
Congress MP Pradip Bhattacharya, however, said, “The late Jyoti Basu had conceded that the CPI(M)’s decision not to form government with Congress support in the 1990s was a historic blunder. If they spoil the alliance between the Congress and the CPI(M) in Bengal that would be historic blunder number two.”
Though the central committee rejected the alliance, it recognised the state unit's attempt at unification of democratic parties in Bengal. But, for the first time, the Polit Bureau has been asked to sit with the state committee to undertake major course correction. Yechury, however, would have to take a call on the party's alliance with the Congress before the next party congress in 2018, a year before the Lok Sabha elections. Leaders from Bengal said they would be better prepared to get the clearance for the alliance then.
Meanwhile, Mishra is planning fresh agitations against the state government with the Congress's support. He told the central committee that like the central party was working with the Congress to counter the BJP in Parliament, the state unit would have to work with the Congress in Bengal to fight the Trinamool.