The fledgling Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) will be a non-starter in Bengal, the home state of one of the alliance’s principal backers — Mamata Banerjee.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M), an important partner in the anti-BJP grouping, has decided that its Bengal unit will field candidates against the Trinamool Congress in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
CPI(M) leaders from Bengal told the party’s central leadership that they will never join hands with the Trinamool even to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is viewed as a ‘common enemy’ by both the parties.
“We voiced our views very firmly at the last central committee meeting. We said that after the Trinamool formed the government in the state (by defeating the CPIM-led Left Front), our cadres were attacked and killed, their families driven out of their homes and our party offices burnt by a vengeful Trinamool. We can never forget that,” a central committee member from Bengal who did not want to be named told Swarajya.
“Even in the recent panchayat polls in Bengal, we came under vicious attack from Trinamool cadres. Our candidates were prevented from filing nomination papers, our cadres were threatened and intimidated and the Trinamool rigged the polls. We cannot join hands with such a party and reach a seat-sharing agreement with them,” said the CPI(M) leader.
Bengal’s Marxist leaders also contended that the Trinamool’s “disastrous policies” are leading Bengal to ruin.
“We have to fight Mamata Banerjee’s policies and misgovernance. We cannot concede the Opposition space to the BJP by becoming an ally of the Trinamool. We should become the principal opposition party in Bengal, and for that we need to fight the Trinamool tooth and nail. We have to ultimately unseat Mamata Banerjee from power,” a CPI(M) politburo member, who was a minister in the Left Front government in the state, told Swarajya.
He added that his party cadres would “never forgive” the leadership if the latter decides to have any electoral understanding with the Trinamool.
“There is also a very practical reason why an alliance with the Trinamool will not work at the ground level. Our cadres have fought against the Trinamool all their lives, and many have suffered terribly also. How can we expect them to suddenly become friends with the Trinamool goons who inflicted so much pain and suffering on them and work together during election time? That won’t happen at all,” the politburo member said.
Also, the CPI(M)’s voters will not transfer their support to the Trinamool and vote for Trinamool candidates even if party (CPI-M) leaders urge them to do so. “We have a large committed voter base and they will never vote for the Trinamool. They will abstain from voting and we don’t want that,” he added.
Strong interventions by Bengal CPI(M) leaders against an alliance with the Trinamool Congress in Bengal led the CPI(M) top leadership to concede that the national alliance of various parties (INDIA) will not work in Bengal.
Such is the animosity of the CPI(M)’s Bengal leaders towards the Trinamool that they even told party general secretary Sitaram Yechury that sharing a stage with Banerjee and exchanging pleasantries with her makes bad optics and demoralises party cadres in Bengal.
“At a time when our cadres are fighting the Trinamool tooth and nail in Bengal, it looks bad if our top leaders share a dais with Banerjee and exhibit any bonhomie towards her. That should not happen. Our cadres get confused and ask us if there is an understanding between the leaderships of both the parties,” said a Bengal state committee member.
Yechury is learnt to have acceded to the wishes of the Bengal leaders. He told central committee members in New Delhi last week that the ground reality in Bengal is quite different from other states since the CPI(M) is a strong adversary of the Trinamool Congress in Bengal.
Hence, said Yechury, the CPI(M) in Bengal will be free to field candidates against the Trinamool in all constituencies.
“If our Bengal unit can reach an understanding with the Congress, as had happened in the panchayat polls, we will encourage it. But an understanding with the Trinamool Congress is ruled out,” a CPI(M) politburo member from Kerala told Swarajya.
CPI(M) leaders are now urging the state Congress leadership to impress on their party’s central leadership that an alliance with the Trinamool Congress in Bengal will not work.
Will Congress follow suit?
Bengal’s Congress president Adhir Ranjan Choudhury is a critic of Banerjee. His views against any tie-up with the Trinamool is well known.
Choudhury told Swarajya: “We are still far away from any alliance and seat-sharing. So there is no point in speculating”.
But other Congress leaders who are in the know told Swarajya that Choudhury has already taken up this issue very strongly with his party’s ‘high command’ (meaning the Gandhis).
“He (Adhir Choudhury) has said very persuasively that the Congress-CPI(M) alliance in Bengal should stay. He said that if the Congress in Bengal is forced to contest the 2024 polls in alliance with the Trinamool as a constituent of the national anti-BJP alliance (INDIA), the BJP would benefit because all anti-Trinamool votes will go to the BJP,” said Congress leader Sukumar Ghosh.
The state Congress leadership has also made a similar argument as the CPI(M) state leadership against a seat-adjustment or alliance with the Trinamool in Bengal.
“We have suffered a lot at the hands of the Trinamool which is always trying to break our party and sideline us. We won the Sagardighi Assembly by-elections in alliance with the CPI(M) earlier this year, but the Trinamool lost no time in enticing away our MLA. The Trinamool has time and again shown that it is anti-Congress. So an alliance with the Trinamool would amount to political suicide for us. What will we tell our workers who have suffered so much?” Ghosh added.
An indication that the Congress central leadership may be inclined to allow the Bengal unit to go its way and fight the Trinamool is provided by the recent responsibilities given to state Congress leader and former MP Deepa Das Munshi.
Deepa Das Munshi, widow of former Union Minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi who had very good ties with the Gandhi family, is also a very strong critic of Banerjee. She had been lying low for the past few years.
The Congress central leadership recently gave Das Munshi, who also served as a junior Union minister in the UPA-II regime, responsibility as a key observer for Telangana.
“This signals her strong comeback in politics. She will start playing a major role in the Bengal Congress from now on,” said Ghosh.
With both Adhir Ranjan Choudhury and Deepa Das Munshi being critics of Banerjee, it is certain that both will argue strongly against any alliance between the Congress and the Trinamool in Bengal.
“We are waiting for the Congress to make a decision. We are getting indications that our alliance with the Congress will remain in the next Lok Sabha elections and we will fight the Trinamool and the BJP together in the state,” said the CPI(M) leader, who is very close to Adhir Choudhury.
The state Congress leadership feels that the party is on a comeback trail. “An analysis of the recent panchayat polls results reveals that we are recovering ground in the state. People have started reposing faith in us and despite all the intimidation, rigging and violence by the Trinamool, people voted for us. Our alliance with the CPI(M) is a winner in Bengal and we can corner all the anti-Trinamool votes in future and thus defeat the Trinamool,” said the Congress leader.
The Trinamool, on its part, said that it does not need the help of the Congress and the CPI(M) to win elections in Bengal.
“If other parties join us, well and good. But Banerjee is enough to win elections in Bengal,” said senior Trinamool leader and state Agriculture Minister Sovandeb Chattopadhyay.
The BJP holds that the Lok Sabha polls are not about the state, but the country.
“Prime Minister Modi’s appeal overrides everything else. We will sweep the polls irrespective of the CPI(M) and Congress aligning with the Trinamool or not,” BJP state spokesperson Shamik Bahttacharyya said.
But if the alliance (INDIA) does not work in Bengal, it will have repercussions at the national level. And the BJP is sure to take advantage of and highlight the cracks in the alliance.
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