THEY ARE bitter rivals, locked in a violent turf war in Kerala, sparing no opportunity to display their contempt for each other on every forum across the country. But in pockets of West Bengal, where the panchayat polls will be held on May 14, saffron and red are quietly sharing space to face a common enemy — the blue of Mamata Banerjee’s TMC.
In Nadia district, 130 km north of Kolkata, election graffiti on walls have the lotus symbol of the BJP and the hammer-and-sickle of CPM on the same side along with the names of candidates and a common appeal. One such image at Mollahad village in Karimnagar seeks votes for Sumitra Mondol of CPM in the gram panchayat, and Bikas Mondol and Ajit Roy of BJP for the panchayat samiti and zilla parishad.
It’s not just graffiti. In Burdwan’s Purbashali, BJP leaders claim that local CPM leaders have even invited them to take part in “small joint protest rallies” against the Trinamool. On April 28, at a protest rally in Ranaghat’s Majhergram village, CPM MLA Rama Biswas and party workers were seen walking with BJP workers and leaders. “It was a spontaneous protest rally by people. Apart from BJP and CPM, Congress workers too were present,” said Biswas.
In Nadia, BJP and CPM leaders admit that some of their workers are “joining hands at the grassroots level”. They say this is needed to counter “Trinamool’s terror”, especially when the polls have been postponed once following allegations of violence by the ruling party.
“For people at the grassroots level, it is practical for all parties to join hands against Trinamool’s terror. Since the BJP has emerged as the biggest opposition, many are coming to us from different parties, including CPM. In Purbasthali, CPM leaders are calling us for joint protests. This time, despite the terror and attacks, we have been able to file nominations in over 25,000 gram panchayat seats and around 30,000 seats overall,” said Sayantan Basu, BJP state secretary.
“Our party line is clear. We are maintaining equal distance from the Trinamool and the BJP. But it is true that in a few pockets, our people are joining hands. We are trying to talk to them and make them understand. But this is because of the unprecedented violence and reign of terror by the ruling party. In seats where we do not have candidates, we are supporting independents. Overall, the BJP and Trinamool are playing a game in Bengal, creating space for each other,” says Sujan Chakraborty, CPM central committee member.
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury dismissed suggestions of unofficial links with the BJP as “motivated rumours, canards and lies… being spread by TMC which has a deal with BJP on communal polarisation and on saving its corrupt”.
Reacting to a report, Yechury posted in a series of tweets Tuesday on his official handle: “We categorically deny any such understanding and remain opposed to both the BJP and TMC… BJP and TMC are two sides of the same coin…”
But local leaders on both sides say that apart from pockets in districts like Burdwan, East and West Midnapore, this unusual affinity is clear in Nadia — in areas like Karimpur, Tehatta, Ranaghat and Mahisbathan. In Karimpur block, out of 144 gram panchayat seats, BJP did not field candidates in 37 where CPM and independent candidates submitted nominations.
“At the grassroots, it is a fight for survival. Therefore, political ideologies have taken a backseat. It’s not just the CPM, the Congress too has joined hands with us. In our protest rallies, CPM and Congress workers are seen together. This is because all the opposition supporters and leaders and their rallies are being attacked by Trinamool workers. Should our workers worry about ideology or survival?” said Jagannath Sarkar, BJP’s Nadia district president.
According to Congress leaders, there is a separate “tacit understanding” between their party and the CPM, including in Malda and Murshidabad — both Congress strongholds.
“It is true that in many places, CPM, BJP and Congress workers have entered into an understanding. This is apart from the unofficial understanding between the Congress and the CPM in a majority of the districts,” said Abdul Mannan, leader of the Congress Legislative Party in the West Bengal Assembly.
The TMC is not amused. “At the national level, the CPM and Congress target the BJP every day. But in Bengal, they have joined hands to thwart Mamata Banerjee’s development agenda. In the last Assembly polls, the CPM and Congress held hands. Now the BJP has joined them. But they will not be successful, the people are with Mamata Banerjee,” said Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee.
West Bengal’s panchayat polls were originally scheduled to be held on May 1, 3 and 5, before Opposition parties approached the Calcutta High Court alleging violence by the Trinamool. Following directions from the court, the state election commission extended the last date of nominations by a day to April 23 and rescheduled the polls to be held in a single phase on May 14.
Official figures show that 20,076 of the 58,692 seats, or 34.2 per cent, have already gone to the Trinamool because it was the only party to put up candidates there.