Understanding the complex CPM-Congress ‘tactical understanding’ in West Bengal

The CPI-M remains the dominant party in the Left Front, which has found itself out of power for the first time after 30 years of uninterrupted supremacy.

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal | Kolkata | Updated: March 18, 2016 11:27 am
west bengal assembly polls, west bengal polls, west bengal elections, bengal news, tmc, west bengal tmc, congress CPM bengal, kolkata news File photo: A protest rally organised by Congress in connection with independent MLA Debojyoti Roy, Councillor of Kandi Municipality, Murshidabad district who was allegedly kidnapped before a vote of confidence in the civic body (Express photo by Partha Paul)

The Congress has released it’s first list containing 75 seats. But no names. The Left, releasing a list of 116 candidates, has termed any ‘understanding’ with the Congress, as just that: a ‘tactical understanding’. CPM added categorically that “the sickle and hammer can’t become one with the hand”. The Congress, far more candidly, promised to fully support the Left, where they can. But in this list of 116 CPM candidates and the Congress’s ‘nameless’ list, the outline of this murky understanding and the inevitable fault lines are becoming clearer.

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While announcing the CPI-M list, party veteran Biman Bose remained evasive and spoke of an “understanding” with the Congress and secular parties. The parties would release separate manifestos, but “not hesitate” to come together in the event of violence, he said while quickly adding that such a “coming together” would be “flag less”.

The CPI-M remains the dominant party in the Left Front, which has found itself out of power for the first time after 30 years of uninterrupted supremacy. But, with their backs to the wall, they have been forced to concede the need for the Congress’s aid. But the Left Front’s other allies – particularly the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) and the Community Party of India (CPI) – aren’t convinced.

Bose, who is also the Left Front chairman, announced only three of the 22 seats at Murshidabad — where the Congress is at loggerheads with RSP — and just one of the 9 seats at Malda — where an AIFB MLA and heavyweight joined TMC in December — citing the “possibility of an unholy alliance” as his reason. A similar situation prevails in Uttar Dinajpur and South Dinajpur where the Congress’s continuing influence has become a tactical problem for the Left Front.

The RSP, for instance, has argued that without the support of the CPI-M’s cadre the party would simply disappear, losing to Congress whose influence in the area has been dependent on its unwavering traditional voter. Similar arguments have been made by other members of the Left Front, who were far more comfortable deciding candidates for seats in Hooghly, North and South 24-Parganas and Burdwan, where the Congress presence, is feeble, at best.

Consequently, Bose’s clarification, that there will be no “platform sharing” and that the ‘understanding’ is simply a united fight against two common enemies — Modi at the centre and Mamata at Kolkata — could simply be a tactical political move to assuage the fears of their allies, said some party leaders.

But this has unsurprisingly left the Congress fuming. Biman Bose’s evasion was countered by Congress state president Adhir Chowdhury stating that where there is no Congress candidate, voters will be asked to “vote Left”. The Congress president also hinted at the possibility, of what he called a ‘friendly fight’, at Hariharpara and Domkal in Murshidabad. The Congress’s displeasure is not difficult to understand. Although, the CPI-M has renominated Anisur Rahman his influence has dropped significantly in the seat that he won first in 1991 and has remained a Left bastion since 1977. Congress leader Soumik Hussain, who lost by the barest of margins in 2011, has refused to concede the seat to the Left.

Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee has deemed this understanding “an unholy alliance”, one she promises will be “given its just reply” by the people of Bengal. But while the relative sanctity of this understanding remains to be seen, further crises of faith among the two parties are perhaps unavoidable.