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Sunday, May 16, 2021

A losing hand

Adhir Chowdhury has spoken of Congress debacle in Bengal. Party high command needs to listen in.

By: Editorial |
Updated: May 5, 2021 8:23:13 am
For the first time since Independence, the Congress will not be represented in the West Bengal assembly — it had 44 MLAs in the outgoing House.

Speaking to this paper, the Congress’s face in West Bengal and its leader in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, has been candid in his assessment of his party’s predicament as highlighted by its dismal performance in the just concluded round of assembly elections. For the first time since Independence, the party will not be represented in the West Bengal assembly — it had 44 MLAs in the outgoing House. The Congress high command would do well to listen to Chowdhury’s forthright analysis.

Chowdhury has summed up the Congress position today: “We have been decimated by Mamata Banerjee regionally, we have been decimated by Modiji nationally… So where should we go.” Of course, he also sees an opportunity in the emerging post COVID situation if the party is able to quit the comfort zones of social media and “hit the streets in support of common people”. As the BJP converted the Bengal election into a bipolar contest, the Congress allowed itself to be pushed out and eclipsed, it failed to maintain its presence. The party may need to ask itself if it made the wrong call by staying with the Left Front, knowing well that its social base overlapped with that of the Trinamool Congress, which has successfully claimed the parent body’s secular legacy. The Congress’s chances were further crippled by the inability of the alliance, as Chowdhury points out, “to offer a proposal, plan or vision to the common people”. On paper, it had the potential to deepen a middle ground in Bengal, a feature of Congress politics elsewhere, if it could strategise and mobilise intelligently. It shied away from the challenge, unlike the TMC which was willing to fight the formidable BJP election machinery led by the prime minister, by marshalling all its resources.

Recent poll results show that the pushback to the BJP’s ambitious plan for complete domination of the political space has come from strong regional leaders, who occupy the centrist space once claimed by the Congress. The Congress has retained this character wherever it has leaders with grassroots connect and cadres willing to slog it out — Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh are examples. It lost in Kerala, Assam and Puducherry, where it had a chance to win office, because its rivals had smarter leaders who were also backed by more cohesive and better-prepared organisations. Chowdhury has identified some of the factors that cost the Congress its space in West Bengal. He and his colleagues now need to hit the streets, if their party wants to retrieve lost ground.

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