The Congress and CPM-led Left Front on Saturday appeared to be heading for a tactical understanding in West Bengal for the Lok Sabha elections. The Left may not contest in all the 42 seats, saying it wanted to maximise the pooling of “anti-BJP, anti-Trinamool Congress votes”. The state leadership of both the Congress and CPM has been pushing for a tactical tie-up, but the central leaders were ambivalent. The Congress high command was hoping for an understanding with the TMC, while the CPM’s Kerala unit had been opposing any truck with the Congress.
The TMC, however, was not willing to enter into an alliance with the Congress. The CPM Politburo which met here on Friday and Saturday discussed the issue. Congress president Rahul Gandhi too had a meeting with PCC presidents and Congress Legislature Party leaders from all the states on Saturday. After the meeting, West Bengal Congress president Somen Mitra said the party was willing to align with the Left “without sacrificing its dignity”.
At the CPM meeting, even the Kerala leadership appeared to have toned down its opposition to the Congress. “The BJP has to be ousted from power in the next Lok Sabha elections. And all tactical steps required for that would be taken… This the Party Congress had already unambiguously declared,” Politburo member and Kerala state CPM secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said.
In April 2018, the Party Congress, the CPM’s highest decision-making body, had defined defeating the BJP and its allies as the party’s main task, but also said this had to be done without having a political alliance with the Congress. However, it had kept a window open for West Bengal, arguing “our aim would be to maximise the pooling of anti-BJP, anti-TMC votes”.
Speaking to the media Saturday, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “In Bengal… where we or the Left front candidates are not there, our call would be to defeat the BJP and defeat the Trinamool Congress. Our theme would be to maximise the pooling of anti-BJP, anti-Trinamool Congress votes.” He said the Left Front is discussing where all to field candidates.
Sources said the Left may not field candidates in at least four seats. The Congress currently has MPs from four seats in West Bengal — Jangipur, Maldaha South and North, and Baharampur.
In return, the Congress is likely to skip seats where the Left Front is in a position to win.
Yechury underlined that there were some no-go areas for the West Bengal unit, noting the Party Congress had said there cannot be joint campaigning or alliance with any “ruling class” party. “So these are details which the Bengal unit will work out… Bengal units of all sides will put a proposal. We will decide at the Central Committee meeting (to be held next month).”
Incidentally, the CPM and Congress had reached a similar behind-the-scene understanding, without sharing of stage and joint campaigning, in the 2016 Assembly polls as well. Both the parties had fared badly, but the understanding was beneficial for the Congress, which had emerged as the second largest party with 44 seats. The Left was reduced to 33 seats.
In West Bengal, party leaders of both the parties welcomed the news with caution. Recently, the Congress high command has shown support to TMC chief Mamata Banerjee on various issues, from participating in her joint Opposition rally in Kolkata to supporting her recent dharna over the CBI action against the Kolkata police chief.
West Bengal Congress chief Mitra told The Sunday Express, “We had earlier told Rahul Gandhi about the opinion of the Bengal unit. This is an endorsement of our opinion. We explained how the Trinamool is constantly trying to weaken us in Bengal. We argued that if we aligned with the Trinamool, the Congress would virtually have no existence in the state.”
CPM Politburo and Lok Sabha member Md Salim said, “For us, the BJP and Trinamool are clandestine partners. It seems the state Congress also feels so.”
Refusing to talk about the Congress-CPM arrangement, State Food & Supplies Minister and senior Trinamool leader Jyoti Priya Mullick said he only wanted to remind them of what Mamata had said — that state Congress leaders did not matter since the national Congress leaders appreciated the role played by the Trinamool in uniting opposition forces against the BJP.
BJP state secretary Sayantan Basu said, “The Congress is a confused party, where the national leaders say something and state leaders say something completely opposite.”