THE CPM central leadership Monday gave its West Bengal unit the go-ahead to enter into a tactical seat-sharing agreement with the Congress for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. However, the Congress’s insistence on contesting from two seats currently held by the CPM has emerged as an obstacle. Sources said the two sides will meet Tuesday in Kolkata to find a way out.
After a meeting of its Central Committee, the CPM decided that there will be “no mutual contest in the present six sitting Lok Sabha seats, currently held by Congress and the Left Front” in Bengal. Sources said the CPM is not likely to field candidates in at least seven to eight more seats, but the details of the arrangement will be worked out by the state unit. The Left front in Bengal is meeting on March 8.
The decision in the CPM Central Committee, however, was not “unanimous”. “There was an overwhelming majority,” CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said. The Kerala leadership had been opposed to any pact with the Congress.
The six seats are Raiganj and Murshidabad, held by the CPM, and Baharampur, Jangipur, Maldaha Uttar and Dakshin seats of the Congress. The CPM wants Congress to not field candidates in Raiganj and Murshidabad and in return the party would not contest in the sitting Congress seats.
In 2016, the CPM central leadership had concluded that the Bengal unit’s decision to ally with the Congress for the Assembly polls at the time was “not in consonance with the Central Committee decision not to have an alliance or understanding with the Congress”.
Today, it broke from the past and announced the “no mutual contest” formula. But the seat-sharing pact may not be smooth. Sources in the Congress said its state unit is keen to contest in both Raiganj and Murshidabad. But CPM sources said the Congress high command has indicated that it would be willing to cede the Raiganj seat, held by CPM politburo member Mohammed Salim. He had defeated Congress’s Deepa Das Munshi by a margin of just 1,634 votes in 2014. Yechury is said to have spoken to Congress president Rahul Gandhi, sources said.
Bengal Congress sources said Munshi is keen to contest this time as well. “The process is going on. Tomorrow, I am going to Kolkata. There will be another round of talks with the CPM,” Congress’s state co-ordination committee chairman Pradip Bhattacharya told The Indian Express.
Sources said the Congress had suggested that the understanding be extended to the 2021 Assembly elections as well, but the CPM wants it to be limited to the Lok Sabha elections.
The CPM has also asked for one seat each in Maharashtra and Bihar. In Maharashtra, discussions are on with the NCP for contesting Dindori or Palghar seats and in Bihar, talks are being held with the RJD for contesting the Ujiarpur seat in Samastipur district, the CPM said.
“In order to ensure the maximum pooling of anti-BJP votes, state level electoral tactics are being worked out. In states where the direct contest is between the Congress and BJP, the CPI(M) will contest one or two seats and campaign generally for the defeat of the BJP,” the CPM said.
Meanwhile, there are reports of efforts at seat-sharing between the Congress and TMC although both parties have denied any official arrangement. Sources said the TMC is willing to leave four seats for the Congress — two in Murshidabad, one in Malda and one in Uttar Dinajpur.
“For Trinamool, there is not much gain in terms of numbers but it is a good deal for the Congress because their numbers could increase from four to maybe six. The Congress has a committed 6-7 per cent voteshare in the state and that could help stop the BJP in seats where the division of votes would help them. That is the only advantage right now,” said sources. —(With Abantika Ghosh)