Lok Sabha polls: Post-Wayanad, as rift widens, Congress, CPM may struggle to hold on to seatshttps://indianexpress.com/article/explained/lok-sabha-polls-post-wayanad-as-rift-widens-congress-cpm-may-struggle-to-hold-on-to-seats-rahul-gandhi-5657297/

Lok Sabha polls: Post-Wayanad, as rift widens, Congress, CPM may struggle to hold on to seats

West Bengal’s 42 seats will vote over seven phases between the first (April 11) and last (May 19). The ruling Trinamool currently holds 34 seats, and the BJP, with 2, is fighting hard.

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Congress president Rahul Gandhi at an election rally in Malda, West Bengal. (Express Photo by Subham Dutta)

AS THE ripples from Wayanad, Kerala, are felt all the way in West Bengal, both the CPM and Congress are likely to find it tough to hold on to the six constituencies they won out of the 42 in the state last time.

The talks between the two parties had already sputtered to a halt before the Congress announced that president Rahul Gandhi would contest from Wayanad apart from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. While the Kerala CPM questioned the move given “the common agenda” to defeat the BJP and accused the Congress of “having lost the plot”, the Congress decision is a bigger blow to the Bengal CPM, that has long been pressing for a larger understanding with the Congress.

On March 15, the Left Front had announced a list of 25 candidates for Bengal as the seat-sharing talks with the Congress dragged on. Efforts at reconciliation have failed since, and the Wayanad development may bury them once and for all, though for now the Left has not fielded candidates in Maldaha Uttar seat as it was won by the Congress in 2014, while the Congress is yet to name nominees for Asansol, Bankura, Tamluk, Jadavpur, Kolkata Uttar and Ghatal that may fall in the CPM’s kitty.

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West Bengal’s 42 seats will vote over seven phases between the first (April 11) and last (May 19). The ruling Trinamool currently holds 34 seats, and the BJP, with 2, is fighting hard.

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The Left Front (including the CPM, CPI, RSP and Forward Block) has accused the Congress of not sticking to the idea of retaining candidates in the seats they had won respectively in 2014, with no contest. While the LF had won Raigunj and Murshidabad then, the Congress had got Maldaha Uttar, Maldaha Dakshin, Baharampur and Jangipur.

In all six the going looks tough for both now. The constituencies fall in three districts with sizeable Muslim population — Malda (51.27 per cent), Murshidabad (66.28 per cent) and Uttar Dinajpur (49.92 per cent) — whose votes will now be divided between the Trinamool, Congress and CPM.

In Maldaha Uttar, its traditional stronghold, the Congress is already on slippery ground owing to late A B A Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s niece Mausam Noor joining the Trinamool and fighting on its ticket.

Raigunj seat too had been a Congress stronghold till 2014, when Md Salim of the CPM won by a narrow margin of 1,634 votes. The nomination of Deepa Dasmunsi, wife of late Union minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi, from here by the Congress has left the CPM angry. The BJP has made inroads in the seat following the death of two in police firing during a protest here over lack of teachers in September 2018, while the Trinamool too has a strong candidate in the seat.

In Murshidabad too, the CPM’s chances are wobbly with the party having won the seat by a margin of less than 2 per cent votes against the Congress in 2014. The Trinamool had bagged 22.44 per cent votes, and has fielded a popular leader, Abu Taher Khan, formerly in the Congress, from here now.

From Baharampur, a seat that the Congress won in 2014, the RSP has fielded a candidate from the LF side.

The Congress and CPM had reached “a seat adjustment” for the Bengal 2016 Assembly polls. While the Trinamool had won an overwhelming 211 seats, the Congress’s tally of 44 and the LF’s 32 was seen as respectable given the Trinamool supremacy. The Congress was seen to have gained more than the LF, and the alliance was seen as the reason for the BJP getting only 3 seats.

With the CPM strongly attacking the Congress after the Wayanad announcement, the Bengal Congress too has hit back. PCC chief Somen Mitra said, “I think they have lost their mind. Do you think we will remain silent after their recent remarks on our national president?”

Bengal Congress leader Amitava Chakraborty said, “Rahul Gandhi chose to contest from Wayanad as a message that we are against the BJP in not only North India but also South… Our candidates will explain to the people why a seat adjustment could not take place and we will not spare the Left.”

A senior CPM leader said, “We always wanted a seat adjustment with the Congress. We wanted to take on both the BJP and Trinamool. But the Congress did not accept the simple fact that we should not field candidates against each other where we had won. Whatever has happened only benefits the BJP and Trinamool.”

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CPM state committee member Rabin Deb said, “Now it is too late. Our fight against the Trinamool, BJP has suffered a jolt, we cannot deny this.”