MAMATA WOOING CONGRESS AGAIN
By Ashis Biswas
For the Bharatiya Janata Party in Bengal, the theme song could well be akla chalo re: Ironically, as the weakest opposition party in West Bengal, the BJP alone is not contemplating any alliance, with only a few months left before the 2016 Assembly polls.
Among other parties, the usually derided, much weakened Congress has emerged as the prime choice as an alliance partner both for the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the CPI(M). Interestingly, the Left camp remains divided over the question of political alignments. For instance, the CPI a firm ally of the Congress during the seventies, has put its foot down to any linkage with it, as have smaller parties like the SUCI or the CPI(M-L). The CPI’s logic: it points to its own remarkable decline over the years, which it sees as a consequence of its earlier reliance on the Congress.
Where the BJP is concerned, there are several reasons why it is not as market-able as it was post 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The TMC cannot approach it obviously for fear of losing its minority support. For the Left, any contact with the BJP is anathema, despite their coming together on the question of defeating the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress in 1989. As if this was not bad enough, the BJP is weak and demoralised. It cannot find a suitable state leader in Bengal, not to speak of the big setback it suffered in Bihar.
The tussle between the TMC and the CPI(M) over an understanding/adjustment with the Congress is becoming keener by the day. The initial soundings came from the CPI(M) leader, former Minister Gautam Deb. He hinted at an alliance with like-minded secular democratic parties, admitting that the Left on its own could not defeat the TMC as of now.
He was promptly contradicted by the CPI(M)’s Central leadership, without much apparent conviction. Now the party General Secretary Mr Sitaram Yechury, reputedly more flexible and approachable than his predecessor Mr Prakash Karat in political negotiations, has indicated that certain issues/decisions could well be left to the party’s state units to be addressed at the local level.
Mr. Yechury’s clarification became necessary as the Congress remains the CPI(M)’s main adversary both in Kerala and Tripura .He was addressing the committed cadres, who had fought the Congress bitterly over the years, more than making a general statement.
A CPI(M)-Congress combo could certainly make life difficult for the ruling TMC. For all the erosion, the Left has suffered under the TMC rule, under intense pressure from the musclemen at all levels of activity, with help from a blatantly partisan police and administration, its vote share has stabilised at around 22 per cent at the moment.
Observers feel it is somewhat more, because no election has been fair in Bengal since May 2011, when the TMC unseated the LF. Since then, whether in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections or the municipal polls , the by -elections to the LS or State Assembly, TMC muscle power has ruled the day, with Election Commissioners or the police hardly intervening.
So in any fairly fought election, the Left vote could certainly exceed 25 per cent or more, especially in view of the recent agitational programmes conducted by the CPI(M). These have evoked good response, alarming the TMC. The latter first reacted by attacking CPI(M) processions which are being organised at the grassroot level. However, wisdom prevailed later, seeing that such attacks brought the TMC much negative publicity. Together with the Congress’s steady 8/10 per cent share of the votes, the LF/Congress combo can certainly count on winning at least 35 per cent of the total vote, perhaps somewhat more.
The BJP’s present vote share is currently down to around 10/11 per cent from around 17 per cent it won in the 2014 LS polls. But then recent elections have not been fair. So any corresponding increase in the BJP’s share of votes could well see it edging close to its 2014 levels. Even if it wins around 14/15 per cent only, which may not bring it too many seats in the 294 strong Assembly, the combined vote share by the opposition — the BJP, the CPI(M) and the LF, could well touch or exceed 50 per cent of the aggregate.
It may appear that the TMC would still be sitting pretty if it wins close 50 per cent of the aggregate votes on its own, which is potentially possible. But then other factors have to be reckoned with in 2016. Unlike in 2011, the Muslim vote would certainly be divided between the supporters of the TMC and the followers of Mr. Abdur Rezzak Mollah’s new party. Votes normally won by the SUC, the CPI(M-L)and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, all of which went to the TMC in 2011, would go against it this time. So would the larger percentage of votes in the urban/suburban areas, where there is considerable disillusionment with the TMC.
Then, there is the major problem of dissidence within the TMC. Despite repeated warnings and threats, TMC Chief Mamata Banerjee has singularly failed to instill any discipline within her own party ranks and followers, during the last four years. Already, over 100 TMC supporters and followers have been killed in intra-party feuds, fighting over commissions to be earned from running protection rackets for investors, businessmen and contractors. Nothing short of a miracle can stop such dissidents from not putting up their own’ dummy’ candidates or sabotaging their TMC rivals if they feel their side has been sidelined in the matter of winning a party ticket!
However on the credit side, there is a near unanimous feeling that in view of the good rural development and related work in the south Bengal districts, where most of the seats are, the TMC will certainly remain several steps ahead of its rivals.
To sum up, it is easy to conclude as of now that the TMC should end up as the leading party both in terms of seats won and the percentage of votes, in 2016. TMC leaders in private conversations mention the possibility of winning between 160 to over 200 seats on their own.
It is far too early to be certain about such assessments. Much would also depend on how the CBI probe into the Sarada chit fund is conducted in the weeks ahead. There is considerable panic among the TMC leaders about this. And the surest indication that TMC leaders do not really believe that they would achieve a single majority as in 2011, lies in their party’s barely concealed efforts to work out an alliance with the Congress and Ms Banerjee’s vigorous hobnobbing with Congress President Sonia Gandhi. (IPA Service)