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Mahagathbandhan in West Bengal? Congress and Left inch closer to a deal

Rajat Roy | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:34 IST

The deal

  • Congress & Left Front may form an alliance to take on TMC in the West Bengal elections
  • A delegation from the West Bengal Congress met Rahul Gandhi to push for a tie-up
  • CPI(M) central committee will meet later this month and take a decision

More in the story

  • Is the deal done?
  • Are there any dissenting voices?
  • What is the justification for the alliance

West Bengal is likely to witness a very different kind of Mahagathbandhan in the upcoming Assembly elections. The Congress and the Left Front may come together to take on the ruling Trinamool Congress.

On 1 February, Congress leaders from West Bengal had a 90 minute long discussion with AICC vice president Rahul Gandhi at latter's official bungalow in New Delhi.

Also read - Lose-lose situation: why Cong must avoid tie-up with Left in Bengal

The delegation led by PCC president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tried to impress upon Gandhi that the alliance with the Left would be good for the Congress.

Gandhi assured them that he would carry the state unit's message to party president Sonia Gandhi and a decision would be taken by the Congress high command very soon.

CPI(M) to take a call

The CPI(M) - the largest constituent of the Left Front - is also in the process of taking a decision on the alliance.

The CPI(M) state committee will meet on 12-13 February in Kolkata and the the politburo will meet on 16 February. Finally, the central committee, the highest decision making body in the CPI(M) will assess the pros and cons and take a decision during their meeting on 17 and 18 February.

Prakash Karat, former general secretary of the party, has said that once the state committee finalises its recommendations, the central committee would deliberate on it.

So far, state CPI(M) leaders like former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, state secretary Suryakanta Mishra and Left Front chairman Biman Bose have gone on record calling for all "democratic and secular forces" to unite against the ruling TMC.

West Bengal Congress leaders except Manas Bhunia & Abhijit Mukherjee are in favour of the alliance

Though feelers have gone from both parties, there has been no formal proposal.

A state committee member from Bengal, who does not want to be identified, said, "the Congress is yet to make up its mind. We cannot take a decision in such uncertainty".

Since the Assembly election is only 2-3 months away, hectic negotiations are going on in both camps.

Congress leaders meet Rahul

State Congress leaders came out of the meeting with Rahul Gandhi feeling optimistic.

Besides Adhir Chowdhury, the delegation included led state Congress delegation comprised:

The 3 other Lok Sabha MPs from the state: Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury, Mausam Benazir Noor and Abhijit Mukherjee.

2 former PCC chiefs: Pradip Bhattacharjee (also a Rajya Sabha MP) and Manas Bhunia,

Senior leaders Somen Mitra, Abdul Mannan, Deepa Das Munshi and Omprakash Mishra

Apparently, an overwhelming majority of the delegation pleaded in favour of the alliance. But there were dissenting voices, most prominently Manas Bhunia and Abhijit Mukherjee, who suggested that the Congress should go it alone in the state.

However, there was unanimity on one issue: there should be no truck with the TMC.

The background

It needs to be remembered that in the 2011 elections, Congress had fought in alliance with the TMC. The party was also part of Mamata Banerjee's government until the alliance broke up on the FDI issue.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, there was a significant rise in the BJP's vote share, from 4.06% in 2011 to 16.90%. Congress managed to protect its small but solid vote bank. It got 9.6% of the vote, down 0.3%.

There is also an element of setting right an old wrong. In its eagerness to teach the Left Front a lesson, the central leadership of the Congress entered into an alliance with the TMC. But in the 2011 elections, the TMC bagged all the winnable seats in South Bengal. Besides its bastions in Murshidabad and North Bengal which it would have won anyway, Congress was allocated seats it had little hopes of winning.

CPI(M) is likely to take a decision by 18 February But it's waiting for a clear signal from Congress

But the Congress' long time hostility towards the Communists was an almost insurmountable barrier.

Finally Abdul Mannan, a senior leader from South Bengal, gathered the courage and began talking about a possible alliance with the Left.

Siliguri Model

The pressure on the CPI(M) was much more.

It was bearing the brunt of the attacks unleashed by armed TMC workers. Many Left cadres began surrendering to the ruling party bosses.

It is estimated that over 170 Left Front members and sympathisers have been killed in political violence. It is said that thousands were rendered homeless and had to live in temporary shelters provided by the party far away from their villages.

In this backdrop, a number of elections were held and the Left could not even put up a semblance of a fight.

Clamour for a tie-up grew after the Left won the Siliguri corporation with Congress help

Finally, the Left entered into an informal understanding with the Congress and managed to win the Siliguri Municipal Corporation and then the Siliguri Mahokuma Parishad.

Apparently, the alliance also meant cooperation at the ground level in resisting the belligerence of TMC cadres.

The "Siliguri Model" became popular with the state CPI(M) leaders and there was a clamour for a united front.

Now leaders from both parties are looking towards Delhi, awaiting the final verdict from their respective leadership.

Edited by Aditya Menon

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First published: 3 February 2016, 10:09 IST
Rajat Roy

Journalist based out of Kolkata.