(Congress President Rahul Gandhi (R) and CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury)
The prospect of an electoral adjustment between the Congress Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal for the 2019 poll does not come as surprise but it has a refreshing look of realism and pragmatism, nonetheless. The top leaderships of the two parties have been working together and the proximity at personal level that has come to exist between Rahul Gandhi and Sitaram Yechury played a big part in their tie-up in West Bengal. But, importantly, the state units of the two parties are in unison in favouring such an informal electoral tie-up.
There was some resistance to the idea amongst the dogmatists within the Left Front in West Bengal who are weaned on “anti-Congress” dogmas, but the CPI’s gravitation toward the CPM stance tilted the scale lately. Again, a large body of opinion within the CPM is allergic to having any truck with the Congress but Yechury is brilliant at tight-rope walking.
What is in the making in West Bengal is borne out of a realistic assessment by Congress and the CPM that on their own steam, neither has the capability to take on the juggernaut of the Trinamool Congress. The fact remains that Mamata Banerjee remains a charismatic leader and strides West Bengal’s political landscape like a Colossus. Simply put, the Trinamool’s claim that in the upcoming poll it may even exceed its 2014 electoral tally of 34 parliamentary seats (out of 42) from West Bengal cannot be brushed aside as bravado. (The party polled 5% votes more in the 2016 assembly election to touch a record level of 44.9%.)
The Bharatiya Janata Party threatens to poach into the CPM and Congress’ electoral base. In certain ways, West Bengal scene draws comparison with the situation in Kerala where also the rise of the BJP is changing the established alignments.
But the similarity ends there because the BJP’s resurgence in West Bengal is a likelihood unlike in Kerala where demography checkmates Hindutva politics. Even something like the Sabarimala agitation couldn’t ultimately help the BJP break through the glass ceiling. (Ironically, Sabarimala agitation may have helped the Congress to revive in Kerala.)
Suffice to say, the real significance of the Congress-CPM tie-up in West Bengal may be that the two parties: a) live to fight another day; and b) prevent the BJP from winning seats that would have otherwise compensated for the losses BJP might suffer in the north Indian states. Indeed, the tactical arrangement serves the larger purpose of keeping the BJP out of power at the national level.
However, assuming that the Trinamool is likely to do well in the upcoming parliamentary poll, Congress-CPM tie-up in West Bengal may only have a short shelf life. Congress cannot but keep reminding itself about the Trinamool’s potential role / participation in any future non-BJP coalition government in Delhi after the April-May poll. On the contrary, for CPM, Trinamool will remain an existential rival for the conceivable future.
The realignment in West Bengal reminds one of the need for a rethink on the part of the communists toward Congress. It has become an imperative need today. A close working relationship with the Congress is the only way the communists can ever influence India’s national policies, while it is also in the larger interests of the Left that Congress remains a progressive force in Indian politics. The UPA-1 era testifies to it. The UPA-2 era showed, on the contrary, that Congress also loses without the sobering check and balance of a common minimum program with the communists.
With an abysmally poor showing expected from the southern states for the BJP (no matter the party’s typical bluster), the Congress-CPM tie-up in West Bengal becomes an added setback for the BJP. Clearly, the state-level electoral alliances are causing nervousness to the BJP.
The big question is whether a similar “adjustment” or tactical “tie-up” as in West Bengal is still possible in Uttar Pradesh between the Congress on one side and the BSP-SP alliance on the other side in Uttar Pradesh. If such a thing were to happen, BJP’s prospect in the 2019 poll will suffer a devastating blow.