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West Bengal Political Parties Keenly Await Bihar Poll Outcome

Any setback for the incumbent JD (U)–BJP coalition in Bihar will pose a risk for the latter in West Bengal, making things easier for other political parties, say political observers.
Bihar Poll West Bengal

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Kolkata: Political parties in West Bengal, where Assembly elections are due next summer, are currently focused on Bihar even as they are pursuing their political programmes and devoting time for initial preparations for the electoral battle ahead.

NewsClick approached several political leaders in the state who stated two distinct reasons for their keen interest in the neighbouring state. First, of course, is what will be the outcome of the Assembly elections. Second, the seat adjustment formula adopted by the Opposition Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) there under the leadership of Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav.

Ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) government’s senior minister Subrata Mukherjee is of the view that the state political parties’ inquisitiveness about what will happen in Bihar is quite natural. Mukherjee told NewsClick that the kind of support and sympathy that Tejashwi Yadav and the Mahagathbandhan have been able to generate during the poll campaign have been truly phenomenal. “Forget about the results that we will see on November 10. What is evident is that despite the Bharatiya Janata Party being a partner there, the state government’s popularity is at its lowest. The acceptability of the Opposition there has significantly improved,” he observed.

The veteran politician added, “If BJP does poorly in Bihar, Narendra Modi’s popularity will be down some notches and the party, despite its huge resources and proclaimed intention of wresting power for the first time in the state, will find the going tough. Our task will then be relatively easy; no doubt about it.”

Keeping Bihar very much in view also is Prof Subhamoy Maitra of the Indian Statistical Institute, who is a keen political observer. Maitra’s assessment is that BJP prefers power at the Centre to be able to influence national politics and pursue the saffron agenda. “Power in the states makes its bio-data stronger. Their keen interest in West Bengal is because it has not been able to form a government here. Moreover, the Sangh Parivar has seen good growth in West Bengal in the last 10 years; much of it because of the inroads made by RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh),” he said.

However, according to Maitra, any setback for the incumbent Janata Dal (United)–Bharatiya Janata Party coalition in Bihar will pose a risk for BJP in West Bengal. In that event, the 2024 Lok Sabha elections will claim higher priority in its scheme of things. They will then try hard to increase its tally in the Assembly elections as much as possible, but will have to reconcile itself to TMC forming the government again, even if with a much reduced majority.

Though “the Suvendu factor” cannot be ignored, he said referring to reports that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s transport minister Suvendu Adhikari, who belongs to a politically influential family in the Medinipur region which has 33 seats, has been disgruntled with the party. If he quits TMC, it will be a big setback for Mamata, Maitra told NewsClick.

Also read: WB: Assembly Polls Become Talking Point While State Struggles with Pandemic, Post-Amphan Recovery

Amid the state political parties’ keen interest over the past two weeks in the Bihar campaigns and the outcome of the Assembly polls there, West Bengal witnessed a significant political development on October 21 when Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) Bimal Gurung, who has been on the run since August 16, 2017, resurfaced in Kolkata with an unexpected political message – he was parting ways with BJP after 12 years; he would support Mamata Banerjee in her bid to form the ministry for the third term.

For the faction-ridden GJM, Gurung’s resurfacing has had a predictable fall-out – the pro-TMC faction led by Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa virtually ignored the GJM founder saying he was “no longer part of our syllabus”. [Gurung was last seen on 2017 I-day celebrations at Ging tea garden in the hills].

Having changed versions and tactics over the years, the GJM founder now has very low credibility. Several FIRs and charges under anti-terror laws are pending against him. His bank accounts were also frozen by the state authorities. His sudden volte face and pledge of support to Banerjee, who has been his bête noire, have given rise to suspicion whether his immediate aim is to get the bank accounts unfrozen. Be that as it may, his latest stand is of political import in Darjeeling and its surrounding areas. It will be interesting to see how Mamata Banerjee handles the fall-out to turn the situation in TMC’s favour in North Bengal.

BJP, which has set its eyes on West Bengal, is busy sorting out ever increasing factionalism and wooing the backward sections. The latest buzz is that the party is eyeing 200 seats out of 294 seats in next summer’s Assembly polls.

As All India Congress Committee has assigned some programmes to Pradesh Congress Committees (PCC), the new state PCC chief Adhir Chowdhury is yet to recast district outfits. Hence, any ‘meaningful’ Left Front-Congress alliance talks will start only after Diwali. The Left Front constituents, meanwhile, are going ahead with their individual and joint action plans.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist or CPI(M) West Bengal secretary. Surjya Kanta Mishra, told NewsClick that in addition to political programmes, his party was expanding the arrangements started three months back to mitigate the sufferings of COVID-19 victims and workers who have lost sources of livelihood during the pandemic-induced lockdown. 

The help being rendered by the Left Front includes setting up of ‘Shramjeevi Canteens’ and helplines and distribution of masks, sanitisers etc. “For rendering help, we are identifying the people who are unable to access government facilities and where the government machinery is failing to deliver because of mismanagement. We have been able to activate a large number of party workers, including youths and students,” Mishra added.

Interestingly, when NewsClick asked the Left Front chairman Biman Bose about the possibility of the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) being a partner for fighting the Assembly elections, he said SUCI had informed the Left Front that “the party will join hands for anti-communal and anti-imperialist action plans – which, therefore, rules out elections for joint fight”.

For Bose and senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Pradip Bhattacharya, apart from Tejashwi’s success in making the Mahagathbandhan relevant in the fight, the seat adjustment formula adopted by the alliance was worth keeping in mind. One reason being the inclusion of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) as an alliance partner. CPI (M-L) is not a partner in the Left Front in West Bengal, although that party is involved in programmes undertaken by the larger formation of 16 Left and associate outfits. From this platform, it is actively supporting the one-day strike called by central trade unions on November 26 to protest the Centre’s economic policies and the resultant distress caused to farmers, workers and weaker sections of the society.

Of late, there have been suggestions from ‘interested quarters’ that following the example set by the Opposition in Bihar, CPI (M-L) should be made a partner of the Left-Congress platform. Asked about the possibility, Bose told NewsClick: “Certainly there is scope for discussion. I cannot deny that. So far, there is no suggestion from CPI (M-L). But these things evolve in politics. We will have to first discuss the matter in the Left Front; then with the Congress too.”

Bhattacharya of the Congress was more forthcoming, “I personally think we should accept CPI (M-L). That should help broaden our platform and generate confidence among the people. If it is possible in the neighbouring state, why not in West Bengal?” he said.

Also read: West Bengal: Left Makes Grassroots Push Amid TMC-BJP Slugfest

The Secretary of West Bengal state committee of CPI (M-L) Partha Ghosh said in the past several elections to Lok Sabha and Assembly, his party had been taking part independently of the Left Front. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP’s tally of 18 seats was to a great extent because 23% of Left Front votes went to the saffron party.

“This is our assessment. About adopting the Bihar formula there, we think keeping in view the ground realities it is possible to build anti-BJP, anti-TMC relationship here. If we are also in the alliance, further consolidation within the Left parties will be facilitated. But, I must add we will not accept ‘dadagiri’ of the Congress,” Ghosh told NewsClick, referring to reports that sections of Congressmen want Lok Sabha Opposition leader and PCC chief Adhir Chowdhury to be projected as the chief ministerial face.

CPI (M-L) is active in North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Bankura,  Nadia, Hooghly, Howrah, Jalpaiguri, Murshidabad and Malda districts, he claimed.

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