Two of the oldest political parties in India have a very millennial problem. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress, at least in West Bengal, just can’t DTR — define the relationship. The latest episode in the will-they-won’t-they saga centres around elections to three municipalities — Raiganj, Domkal and Pujali — to be held on Sunday. The CPM insists that its arrangement with the Congress is not something as formal as an alliance and “can’t be called seat sharing”. The state Congress, however, is less demure — the relationship is definitely at the “seat sharing arrangement” stage.
There is a strong sense of deja vu, bordering on exasperation with the Congress-Left saga in Bengal, and beyond. Their relationship status has been “complicated” since last year’s assembly elections. Then, as now, there was the alliance that wasn’t, and it proved no match for Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress (TMC). The CPM, which once led the longest-serving democratically elected communist government in the world in Bengal, was reduced to third place in the state legislature.
Why, then, are the parties repeating a failed experiment on a much smaller scale? In politics, as in life, loneliness is an investment with diminishing returns. Banerjee is still a formidable opponent, and the BJP is gaining ground in the state — it came in second in the bypoll election to the Kanthi Dakshin assembly seat held last month. The CPM and Congress seem to realise that they are better off fighting together than letting the BJP waltz into the anti-TMC space in the state.
The problem with young people and old parties, though, is the same. They can neither let go of the past nor commit to the future. Political alliances, like good romances, require more than just being thrown together. The CPM needs to let go of the anti-Congressism that has defined it for long if it wants the (non) alliance to work. Without chemistry and commitment, political arrangements, like young romances, end up being a flash in the pan.