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Receptivity and discord regarding political alliances in West Bengal

Friday, July 06, 2018
By Ranajoy Sen

With steady approaching of the general elections of 2019, there are talks of possible alliances among certain political parties in West Bengal as also elsewhere in India. At this stage, however, there are yet no convincing pointers to that purpose. But, parleys are proceeding apace among several political parties. The primary objective is to form a potentially strong alliance against the powerful BJP. Some political alliances already function. Their task is to ensure that the alliance stays, prevents any form of cracks within and tries to include other feasible political entities, within that arc, if possible. Would there be a political alliance between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Congress party in West Bengal for the forthcoming parliamentary elections?    

The response would be characterised by skepticism, currently. For, both parties, despite having several attributes which make possibilities for an alliance, have been adversaries for some time. The TMC, at present, is the unquestioned ruling party with a spread-out support base among the electorate in West Bengal. Compared to that, the Congress’s base has shrunk considerably. Furthermore, through an ironical alliance with the CPM-led Left Front in the preceded state assembly elections, the Congress has subjected itself to much criticism from the TMC. The electorate also appears to have viewed the Congress-Left Front alliance unfavourably – the outcome of the latest state assembly elections has bespoken of that.    

TMC is currently the most influential political party in West Bengal
There appears to be certain trends in the political space of West Bengal, which indicates that a section of the Congress party’s state unit is receptive to form an alliance with the TMC for the 2019 general elections. Furthermore, there has also been political stirring in the state by way of talks of the possibility of certain Congress MLA’s leaving the party and joining the TMC. Congress MLA, Mainul Haque, of Farakka assembly seat, from the state’s Murshidabad district has decided to leave the Congress and join TMC. Last week, Congress Lok Sabha MP, Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury met UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, and apparently spoke to her regarding the meeting of some senior Congress leaders with the West Bengal Education Minister, Partha Chatterjee, in an effort to seek avenues for a potential alliance with the TMC for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.  

The Congress’s West Bengal State Party President, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, is disinclined to make any definitive statement on this issue, as of now. He has stated, at present, that he would be meeting the Congress party President, Rahul Gandhi, in the coming days. He could not be expected to say more than that.

Nevertheless, Chowdhury has also alleged that the seeming and probably spectacle of some Congress MLA’s and some other leaders joining the TMC, is the aftermath of the “intimidation” and “allurement” by the TMC. What seems apparent is that, for now, Chowdhury, in his capacity as the president of the Congress’s West Bengal unit, is not willing to encourage talks of any possible electoral alliance with the TMC.  

The situation indicates certain aspects of the political scenario of the state and of trends whose affects could be felt beyond into the national political scene. First, the state’s Chief Minister, and TMC’s supreme leader, Mamata Banerjee, is the indisputable political leader of the state, at present, and her party, the TMC, the most influential in the state. There are no two opinions on that.

Second, both the TMC and the Congress
have a stake in keeping the BJP at bay from the seat of power at the centre or to try and diminish its influence and strength in Parliament than what it is now. Third, if the Congress were to go it alone in West Bengal, it might well loose even the four seats it won in 2014, given its emaciated political influence. Finally, West Bengal counts for 42 seats in the Lok Sabha. That is a notable count, by itself. It is a foregone conclusion, that the TMC is poised to bag an overwhelming number of them. Perhaps the Congress is counting on being part of a TMC-led alliance in the state, in order to retain the four seats it has, if not slightly increase them.     

Will Congress ally with TMC for 2019 general elections?    
How or what would finally take shape would be visible at the near future. But, after traversing through an odyssey of sorts, the Congress seems to be finally realising of a wrong tactical step in refusing to accept the TMC’s leadership in West Bengal politics. In politics, and particularly in Indian politics, winning elections is possibly the most important goal of most political parties and politicians – and that too, the faster the better. Possibly the Congress feels that had it stayed on within the TMC-led dispensation post-2011, it would still have been enjoying some fruits of political power, albeit through unquestioned acceptance of the TMC’s leadership.

That was not to be. It severed its alliance with the TMC around September 2012. Subsequently, it formed a coalition with the Left Front for the state assembly elections in 2016. The outcome: a spectacular win for the TMC, and a crushing defeat for the Congress-Left Front coalition. Thereafter, in the recently-concluded Panchayat elections in West Bengal, the TMC again pulled off a sensational victory.     

A section of the Congress appears keen to join in the TMC bandwagon. How it works out, if at all, and what attribute it would take, would be discerned in the days to come.

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