In the rural polls in June 2009 in Siliguri, there was no alliance between the Left and the Congress. Left with 4, versus the Congress with 3 formed the board, the TMC had no winners. Seven years and six elections later, this became the seed, the ‘Siliguri Model’, the foundation on which the unlikely alliance between the Left and Congress has been forged.
Soon after the June 2009 elections, the Congress and the TMC alliance got 30 seats in the municipal polls in Siliguri, the Left only 17. But victory turned sour soon for the TMC, with differences between the parties delayed the choice of a mayoral candidate. Finally, the Left, sensing the greater threat posed by an increasingly aggressive TMC, supported the Congress in their choice of a mayor.
In 2011, after the Left’s historic defeat in Siliguri, Ashok Bhattacharya is said to have wept openly at the Left party office. Bhattacharya has since then admitted that the decision to support Congress in 2009 in municipal polls was intended, to drive a wedge between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress.
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In 2013, Ashok Bhattacharya was detained after an alleged SFI led-attack on finance minister Amit Mitra had it’s impact in Siliguri, with the Left and TMC supporters clashing. But by May 2014, the distance between the TMC and the Congress had become unsurpassable.
The Congress mayor resignged after allegations of non cooperation from TMC members, with the Left constantly underscoring that their stand had always been ‘Shun TMC, Save Siliguri’ – a slogan employed by the Left ahead of municipal polls in Siliguri in 2015.
The Left and Congress first formed an ‘unofficial understanding’ in this elections – tea garden workers, CITU workers and the traditional Congress support in the area joined forces and finally Left got 23 seats, Congress 4 and the TMC recieved 17 votes. In the rural polls in 2015, the experiment was taken a step further, with the Left forming further alliances not just with the Congress, but also the GJM and Adivasi Vikas Parishad. When results came the Left won and hopes of a ressucitating the Left in Bengal began.
Many in the Left, in Calcutta, had privately deemed Ashok Bhattacharya’s experiment as “abnormal”. Left and Congress rivalry in the state has had a long and often bloody history. But as Bhattacharya himself has put it, it was a question of the “party’s survival”.
This was recognized in the December 2015 CPI-M plenum held in Kolkata after six decades. While party general secretary Sitaram Yechury had made the plea for an ‘informal understanding’ with ‘all democratic parties’ to unite against the TMC, the Kerala CPI-M had opposed vehemently. And finally, the unofficial understanding was officially approved of with the CPI-M plenum resolution said that the urgent need was to “strenthen Left unity and to forge the Left and democratic front not only as an electoral front, but as fighting alliance of forces”.
But it hasn’t been easy sailing. The CPI-M and the Congress have admitted the presence of what they have called ‘friendly fights’ at seats – where a Left front ally has decided to contest against a Congress candidate, for instance in Alipur Duar.