• mohd.shakib@smanik.com
  • February 12, 2016

The Left Front in West Bengal has warmed upto Congress overtures of forming an alliance in the state to take on Mamata’s Trinamool Congress. The Left Front which ruled the state for 34 years from 1977-2011 lost the citadel to Mamata in last state elections. And since then its graph nationally has been on a downwards trend.images (1).jpg

Why have Congress and Left expressed a desire to form an alliance?

1. Both Congress and Left facing their biggest crisis ever

The Left Front comprising of CPM, CPI, AIFB and RSP has seen a sharp drop in its fortunes. It bagged 55 seats in 2004 Lok Sabha polls recording 7.2% vote share. This fell to just 11 seats and 4.4% vote share in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. They used to rule in 3 states (W. Bengal, Kerala and Tripura). Now they are down to one. The Left ideology is facing a big survival test at this point of time.

Similarly, Congress recorded its worst performance in Lok Sabha 2014 elections bagging a paltry 44 seats with 19.5% vote share. They are in government in four big states – Kerala, Karnataka, Assam and Bihar (junior partner). Both Assam and Kerala go to polls this year and going by the trends (Kerala) and recent municipal polls (Assam) it is a high probability that Congress may lose both these states.

A win in West Bengal which is a big state will be a big morale booster for them. W. Bengal accounts for 8% of Lok Sabha and 7% of Rajya Sabha strength.

2. Arithmetic – Mahagathbandhan Style is the only hope

In a four cornered fight it is highly probable that Mamata would win or TMC may emerge as the single largest party as anti-Mamata votes get split between Left, Congress and BJP. In a triangular contest, game becomes interesting.

In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, TMC bagged 39.8% vote share and was leading in 214 assembly segments. If Congress and Left would have fought in alliance their vote share would have been equal to TMC and leads would have increased from 28 seats to 95 seats.

 

2014 LS Polls

2014 LS Polls (Cong. + Left)

 

Vote Share

Assembly Leads

Vote Share

Assembly Leads

TMC

39.8%

214

39.8%

179

LEFT FRONT

30.1%

28

39.8%

95

CONGRESS

9.7%

28

BJP

17.0%

24

17.0%

20

3. Mamata is common enemy no. 1 in the state

Mamata is hated by Left parties as she is singularly responsible for bringing them to this position today. Also so she is believed to have acquired communist tactics in the state more importantly in managing and winning elections.

Sonia doesn’t like Mamata. After all Mamata left Congress and formed TMC. She has joined UPA and ditched them a number of times. She pulled out of UPA in Sep. 2012 leaving it in a minority status and dependent upon unpredictable and fickle allies SP and BSP.

4. BJP is common enemy no. 1 nationally

Both parties are opposed to so-called communal politics of BJP and it is their enemy no. 1 at the national level. If Congress is to lead an anti-BJP national front in 2019, it needs Left by its side. Left’s relationship with ex Janata Dal constituents and regional parties will come in handy.

By aligning in West Bengal they would also manage to check BJP’s rise in the state. BJP surprised political pundits by bagging 2 seats, the same tally as CPM in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Absence of fresh faces in the Left Front and Modi factor led to this performance. BJP made major inroads among the upper caste voters accounting for 10% of population (24% in 2014 vs 9% in 2009). Modi’s impact was most prominent among the young, especially the first time voters.

5. Brings Congress in the reckoning in one state, Left in two states

Assam and Kerala are the two states where Congress is in power. In both these states it is not in great shape. This would make it 0/4 for Congress in 2016 state elections calendar considering it is not in contention in W. Bengal and Tamil Nadu (on a stand-alone basis).

Left is in reckoning in Kerala. Since 1982, the public of Kerala has alternatively given chance to Congress and Left Front to rule the state for a tenor of 5 years. Going by the trend it is the turn of Left this time to win. Oommen Chandy’s alleged involvement in solar scam has provided a boost to its chances. An alliance in W. Bengal with Congress gets it in reckoning in 2/4 states.

6. Left and Congress have done business in the past

UPA I minority government led by Manmohan Singh survived on outside support of Left Front for four years from 2004-08. It pulled the plug only after differences over the Nuclear Bill emerged between the two. In terms of ideology as well Congress has pursued left of center policies of employment guarantee, food security etc. in ten years of its rule at the center. Even during UPA II Left provided support to government on important policy issues.

So, all looks set for this alliance in Bengal. Futher, BJP may lose 10%-30% of their vote share in West Bengal going by the trend of vote shares in other assembly elections because of absence of Modi factor. So 2%-5% of BJP vote share is up for grabs. If this combine manages to get a substantial chunk of this then it may as well win the elections.

However, the biggest hindrance to this proposed alliance is the electoral dynamics in Kerala.

Congress and Left have been at loggerheads in Kerala for decades

Here Congress and Left are the two principal opposition parties and have been fighting each other since the formation of the state in 1957. They have had an acrimonious relationship. CPM was the first party to defeat Congress in state elections in India in 1957. However, Nehru dismissed the govt. and imposed President’s Rule due to law and order issue in 1959.

1. Local cadre in Kerala may oppose alliance in Bengal

Cadres of both parties may not take like this decision to form an alliance in Bengal. It will undermine their opposition against each other in the state. BJP will tease and accuse them of hobnobbing and fooling voters. There can be massive protest and some people may leave the party to join BJP.

2. Alliance in Bengal may confuse voters in Kerala

Alliance in Bengal may give confusing signals to Kerala voters. They might think voting for Communists means voting for Congress as well. They are most likely to vote out Congress because of corruption. But Left with Congress in Bengal may appear as Communists are okay with Congress corruption. “Dimag ka dahi” situation for voters.

3. And help BJP to become a principal player in the state

This confusion may help BJP in the end. With Congress not seen as major contender and indirect ally of Left, people may vote for BJP and it could become the 2nd largest party in the state ahead of Congress.  This is the biggest fear for Congress. BJP would be able to spread its influence in non-Hindi speaking southern states as well.

Dilemma for Both Parties

To form an alliance or not with Left in Bengal is a big dilemma for Congress. It gives Congress a chance to win Bengal but also gives chance to BJP (its main opposition party nationally) to get a strong foothold in Kerala. If it doesn’t form an alliance it loses Kerala as well as Bengal. If Left wins Kerala and Left-Congress combine wins Bengal, Congress may still have a say in decisions of Kerala govt. through back door. However, if there is a hung assembly then TMC may be forced to join the BJP bandwagon. One more addition to NDA.

For Left its less of a dilemma, it provides hope of making a comeback in Bengal but makes contest a bit tight in Kerala (otherwise an easy victory). BJP’s lack of organizational structure in the state and suitable candidates for each seat could negate this impact.

It’s not that this is the first time such a situation has arisen in Kerala. In 2006 state elections, Congress and Left contested against each other and Left defeated the incumbent Congress govt. At that time Left was providing outside support to Manmohan Singh govt. at the center.

Conclusion:

To form an alliance in Bengal or not is really a difficult decision to take for both Congress and Left and has far reaching ramifications. Both Congress and Left are at low points in their life cycles and in my opinion this may just prompt them to take big risks and go for it! “Ekla Chalo” may not be the best thing for them to do in Mamata’s turf. An informal understanding may not work on the ground so it has to be formal to be formidable.

Resultant implications in Kerala could be managed by putting across to voters that it is not a nationwide alliance but a state specific alliance. Additionally, Kerala is a small state compared to Bengal and hence of less importance nationally (4% of LS and RS seats).

BJP’s rise in Kerala can’t be stopped even if Left and Congress do not form an alliance in Bengal. If alliance succeeds in Bengal and all goes well between Left-Congress combine they can even think of extending the alliance to Kerala towards the end of next elections in 2021 to take on BJP.

In politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, if this alliance doesn’t work, it can be scrapped later. Interesting times ahead in Bengal as well as Kerala for the voters…

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