As the Lok Sabha election results rolled in, the CPM office at Alimuddin Street and Congress headquarters in Entally, barely 2 km apart in Kolkata, wore a desolate look. In May last year, the state Congress had proposed that the two parties join hands again —- after tying up for 2016 Assembly elections —- to fight the BJP and Trinamool Congress. After a year of planning and negotiations, the alliance fell through in March, days before the election. The alliance, both parties now say, could have staved off the BJP’s advance in West Bengal.
A major stumbling block was the CPM fielding sitting MP Mohammad Salim as the alliance candidate in Raiganj and the Congress insisting on fielding Deepa Dasmunshi there. Both lost to TMC, with Salim coming third and Dasmunshi a distant fourth.
One of the two architects of the alliance, state Congress vice-president O P Mishra, said that two types of votes were cast in West Bengal this election —- the TMC vote and anti-TMC vote. “The idea was to give the people an alternative to these two parties. Instead, the Congress and CPM vote was split. In 2016, the TMC vote share was 44.91 per cent. The Congress-Left Front alliance vote share was 38.64 per cent. If the alliance had happened, the scenario would have been reversed, with the BJP having been squeezed out of the equation,’’ he said.
CPM insiders said the party got wind of the situation, but a little late. “Bengal became a repeat of Tripura. Unless you have the potential to win an election, why would the voter vote for you? We did not have the potential to win by ourselves and we knew that,’’ said the CPM insider.
The CPM vote share is now around 6 per cent, the party’s poorest performance in the state yet. It did not get the runner up slot in any constituency. The Congress was reduced to 5.48 per cent. Politburo member Salim said, “The result would have have been entirely different if the alliance had worked. There was a very high anti-incumbency factor and anti-Mamata Banerjee sentiment, especially since the panchayat polls. The TMC further polarised the electorate on religious grounds, allowing the BJP a foothold, then momentum.”
The only Congress candidate to lead in this election was the other architect of the alliance, Behrampore candidate and sitting MP Adhir Ranjan Choudhury. “I have always maintained that we should have carried on the alliance,” he said.
This is the only constituency where the Left front did not field a candidate, and its dedicated vote went to the Congress, CPM leaders said.
Mishra said the Congress’s only option now is to join hands with the TMC to fight the BJP in West Bengal.