Leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have repeatedly insisted that the party would not ally with the Congress for the upcoming Assembly elections in West Bengal. They say a seat adjustment is in place, where the two parties will agree to field a single candidate against the ruling Trinamool Congress in several seats to prevent the anti-Trinamool vote from splitting. But even as the contours of that adjustment are being firmed up, events on the ground indicate that its workers aren’t just stopping at that. As far as party workers are concerned, a full-fledged alliance is in place.
How else would you explain what recently happened in Kolkata? One afternoon, at the T junction of Haltu Bazaar that marks the boundary between Kasba and Jadavpur Assembly constituencies, two clusters of rallyists converged. The larger cluster carried red flags and the smaller one carried the tricolour with the hand in the middle. Instead of a clash, which would have been inevitable six months ago, there was a merger. The two flags marched in step as the rally for Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate Sujan Chakravarty moved forward.
The unprecedented coordination between the once sworn enemies is not a product of a well-planned strategy. An auto-rickshaw decorated with CPI(M) and Congress flags summarises the change. It is a spontaneous convergence. At the local level, in villages, towns and district headquarters, in the streets and bylanes of in Kolkata, the Opposition is rallying to work collectively to take on the might of the ruling Trinamool Congress.
United they stand
West Bengal’s 294 constituencies will vote in six phases over seven days starting April 4. Across the state, the emerging political reality is one of an alliance against the Trinamool Congress. The CPI(M) is in shock over what seems to be a spontaneous uprising – a political revolution quite different from the one foretold in its textbooks. Doubts about how a negotiated seat adjustment would be implemented on the ground have been overtaken by eruptions of support from grassroots workers of both parties.
At the start, when the terms of what the Congress and CPI(M) thought was a seat adjustment was being decided, neither had imagined or planned for what has eventually unfolded. Then, and it seems a long time ago, the CPI(M) leader and Left Front chairman, Biman Bose, loftily declared that there would be no sharing of platforms – that is, the Congress would not be seen on the dais at a CPI(M) meeting. If the Congress felt the same way, it had the sense to keep quiet about it. In fact, the party has now invited Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders to share the stage with its vice-president Rahul Gandhi in two rallies in Bardhaman district over the weekend (April 2-3). If Left leaders do turn up, this will be the first time in years that top leaders of the two parties will share a platform in West Bengal.
The unprecedented cooperation between the Congress and the CPI(M) is what led the voters of Chowringhee constituency in Kolkata to recently witness an incredible sight – of Congress candidate Somen Mitra campaigning in an open gypsy, with the CPI(M)’s Singur candidate Rabin Deb on one side, and Save Democracy Forum stalwart retired Justice Ashok Ganguly on the other.
Similarly, the day Deepa Das Munshi of the Congress kicked off her challenge to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as the candidate for the Bhowanipore seat, the CPI(M)’s star campaigner Mohammad Salim provoked the Trinamool by addressing a meeting at the chief minister’s doorstep.
A people’s alliance?
In Birbhum, a district in South Bengal convulsed in political violence, a big rally of the Congress and the CPI(M) marched confidently through Suri town to file the nominations for Ramchandra Dom and Dhiren Bagdi of the CPI(M) and Ali Murtaza Khan of the Congress. This is Trinamool Congress turf controlled by its infamous leader Anubrata Mandal. The consolidation of the Opposition here is perhaps a necessity because anything less than an alliance will cave in under threats of violence.
In Burdwan, once a red bastion, where the CPI(M) was almost decimated in 2011, winning only nine out of 25 seats, the turning of the tide is obvious. A Congress and CPI(M) rally wound its way through the city out into the rural periphery through Bhatar and Memari. On its own, the CPI(M) may not have dared to challenge the Trinamool Congress by flaunting its colours in the open. It is also possible that on its own, the CPI(M) would not have had the strength to do so because its once famous organisation is in a shambles in Burdwan.
In North 24 Parganas, the reopening of the CPI(M)’s party offices were jointly organised, and celebrated, by the Congress and the Marxists. The message was clear – that the united Opposition is a force as formidable as the ruling Trinamool Congress, which established its domination in the area after the panchayat elections in 2008. The same happened in Cooch Behar where the Congress, the CPI(M) and Forward Block are locked in an intense contest to box in the Trinamool.
The people’s alliance that is coursing through the villages, small towns and cities of West Bengal is visible in the startling images of processions where the tricolour with the hand and the red flag jauntily move in step. It is still a phenomenon that nobody quite understands. Obviously, the slogans are not sectarian but the universalising “Bangla Bachao, Trinamool Hatao (Save Bengal, oust the Trinamool)” and “Desh Bachao, BJP Hatao (Save the nation, oust the BJP)”. Does this mean that die-hard and disgruntled Leftists and old Congresswallahs will bury their grudges and vote for each other?
Will the “fear factor” that the ABP-Nielsen Survey uncovered during its opinion poll in West Bengal cork the public’s enthusiasm? Or, will there be a winning Opposition consolidation in places where the Trinamool Congress’s area domination has grown weaker on account of internecine, bloody battles? Is this a game of bluff to rattle the Trinamool Congress or is it a real fight? Much will depend on the Election Commission’s ability to deliver free and fair elections as complaints of intimidation and violence pour in from remote rural areas.