Kolkata: Ahead of the West Bengal Assembly elections due early next year, the principal task for the Left and the Congress right now is to reclaim to the extent possible the space they lost during the Trinamool Congress (TMC) regime as a result of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s relentless pursuit of the objective of denying the Opposition any functional space and reducing them to, as she puts it, to ‘signboards’.
In translating Mamata Banerjee’s objective into reality, TMC cadres had occupied Opposition parties’ offices, applied force to prevent their candidates from filing nominations for panchayat and civic body elections and, of course, engineering large-scale defections of their elected representatives to TMC.
The domination of TMC in the state’s politics was apparently Banerjee’s aim right from the beginning of her chiefministership. Therefore, in the Assembly elections due next summer, the Left Front and Congress need to make themselves relevant and emerge as a force. Incidentally, the Congress has already officially announced an alliance with the Left Front for the Assembly polls.
This is how political observers NewsClick spoke to assessed the situation in the state, concluding that regaining their relevance was the only option the Left and Congress had. In their assessment, both TMC and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) practice “divisive and opportunistic” politics.
As TMC attempts to defend power for the second time and BJP aggressively tries to form its first ever ministry in the state, the task for the Left and Congress is cut out, some political observers feel.
Over the past three months, the Left Front and its constituents have individually and as a joint platform been organising agitations against the “anti-people policies” of the Centre. The countrywide industrial strike on November 26 and the Grameen Bandh the same day on the issue of the new farm Acts and substantial dilution of the Essential Commodities Act, which rob the states of their authority to intervene in the interest of the consumers, elicited an impressive response. This suggests that the Left Front constituents and their frontal outfits have already had some success in activating their cadres and energising their supporters.
Instances of corruption on the part of TMC activists in the distribution of relief among victims of supercyclone Amphan and free foodgrains during the pandemic-induced lockdown as well as its failure to ameliorate the sufferings of thousands of migrant workers are issues on which widespread protests were organised against the TMC government.
Alongside, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which leads the Left Front, took several initiatives to help the poor with protective kits/medicines and running a fairly good number of cheap canteens in areas with concentration of mill mazdoors, small-scale unit workers and migrant labour who had lost their sources of income during the lockdown. Widespread relief activity was also undertaken by party cadres for the victims of Amphan.
For the kisan outfits of CPI(M) and other Left Front partners, apart from the anti-farmer Acts rushed through in Parliament in September, the “anti-farmer” legislations passed by the West Bengal Assembly in 2014 and 2017 have come in handy to build sustained agitation demanding repeal of the state Acts, senior CPI(M) leader Mohammed Salim said.
It may be mentioned here that a persistent complaint of the Opposition parties’ kisan units has been against the state government’s low levels of paddy procurement at the minimum support price and the “nexus” between rice millers and TMC activists, forcing the farmers to sell paddy at a price much lower than MSP.
Salim told NewsClick that for the next one month, a series of protest programmes will be held, aimed at highlighting the distress of people, in general, and farmers as also industrial workers, because of the “pro-corporate economic policies” of the Modi government.
Formulated under the generic nomenclature, Solidarity Action, these protests will be spread across rural and urban areas. One of the high points of this action plan will be to take out village to village jathas. In February, action will begin to mobilise the youth. Asked about the response of the people to various forms of protests, the CPM leader said: “it’s the best in a decade”.
Ashok Ghosh, general secretary of Revolutionary Socialist Party’s arm United Trade Union Congress, said at Alipurduar in North Bengal, their members observed a half-day fast on December 23 to express solidarity with the agitating farmers’ who are camping on Delhi’s borders.
“Pre-determined, mutually agreed agitations on various economic issues are being conducted under the Left Front banner and by the constituents individually,” Ghosh told NewsClick.
The state Congress, too, joined the Left Front and its associates in some of the rallies, including the one held on November 26.
On December 23, Congress’s minority cell held a convention where state president and leader in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, explained to the audience how Mamata Banerjee had facilitated BJP’s gaining a toehold in West Bengal by tying up with that party. Chowdhury said by introducing honorarium for Imams and other schemes on religious considerations, Banerjee has only supplemented BJP’s communal agenda.
With the Congress high command now giving the go-ahead for an electoral alliance with the Left, the two sides can now start meaningful talks on seat sharing, which is a “tricky and time-consuming” exercise.
Asked if there was any hitch that caused the delay in clinching the poll alliance despite the state-level leaders’ unanimous support for it, Pradesh Congress Committee general secretary Manoj Chakraborty told NewsClick: “The high command had to satisfy itself that the move is foolproof, not half-baked”. The process of asking district Congress committees to send to PCC their recommendations regarding prospective candidates will be started immediately, Chakraborty added.
Also, the possibility of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) fighting Assembly elections as an associate of the Left Front has to be considered and taken to its logical conclusion. This also will be a time-consuming exercise, as some sacrifice on the part of the Left Front constituents may be necessary.
Asked to comment on the Left and Congress joining hands, Prof Udayan Bandyopadhyay who teaches political science in the city's Bangabasi College, said the “consummated deal has all the necessary details to ensure its smooth working.”
“For the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the irreconcilable differences over two seats ultimately made it a half-baked, unworkable arrangement, the consequences of which are there for everybody to see. The writing on the wall should be seen by the partners. The absence of a sound seat sharing arrangement can make things difficult for them”, he observed.
Bandyopadhyay also blamed the media for being “too eager” to project BJP. As result, the good work done by CPI(M) in organising relief in the lockdown phase, which was in continuation of its efforts to help out the poor and distressed in the wake of the devastating Amphan, is not being taken note of. This is despite the fact that BJP did not make a similar initiative.
Lashing out at the TMC and BJP, RSP leader Ghosh lamented what he called a “fall in the standard of politics in West Bengal” as “parties, such as, BJP and TMC are infested with people without any commitment and ideological conviction and they are the ones occupying top slots in their parties”. Also condemnable is their tendency to seek the association and help of religious outfits, he added.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata, West Bengal.