The CPM central committee on Saturday stamped its approval on an alliance with the Congress to fight the assembly elections in West Bengal next year, while the two parties will face off in Kerala around the same time. Though a formal alliance is a first, the CPM and Congress had a tacit understanding to take on Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in the 2016 assembly election and the 2019 general election. On neither occasion did the alliance make a dent in Trinamool’s showing. Besides, the BJP seems to have emerged as the principal opposition to the Trinamool in West Bengal. The Congress and CPM will need more than just an alliance to radically alter the political scenario in West Bengal and be of some consequence in the assembly polls.
After two terms in office, Mamata Banerjee has lost some of the lustre that fetched her a substantial majority in the last two assembly elections. The CPM and the Congress were her primary adversaries in the last two elections, which were fought on secular governance issues such as land ownership. The rise of the BJP has transformed the nature of the contest and the party is now controlling the narrative in the state with a new form of identity politics — its spectacular ascent is reflected in the BJP winning 18 Lok Sabha seats and over 40 per cent of the votes in 2019. The challenge before the Congress and the CPM is to reinvent the alliance as an alternative to both the Trinamool and the BJP. That calls for the alliance to discard the lethargy induced by the loss of office and be at least a vibrant Opposition in the street and the assembly, offer a counter to Mamata’s governance agenda and patronage politics as well as the BJP’s identity politics. The tried, tested and failed leadership of these parties seems hardly in a position to present a new agenda and capture the narrative. The Congress and the Left in West Bengal have revealed the same predicament that its national leadership suffers from — out of office, they are at a loss in setting the electoral agenda. Both the Congress and the CPM have lost the ambition and skill to reimagine their vision, introduce new leaders and mobilise people: They have opted to wait for voters to return after exhausting trust in the incumbent party. Such a strategy can work for them in states where politics is bipolar, but it is likely to further diminish their influence when new players enter the contest.
West Bengal, clearly, is poised to see a three-cornered contest. Together, the CPM and Congress had gathered over 32 per cent votes in the 2016 election, which is substantial in a multi-polar polity. The alliance will need a powerful message and action-plan to improve upon this vote-share and offer itself as a contender for office.
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