With its heft and space shrinking, Left looks to retain Kerala, win back Bengal

Congress will influence the Left's prospects — as an opponent of the LDF in Kerala, and a partner in West Bengal
Last Updated : 28 February 2021, 13:14 IST

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Going into political battles in the crucial states of West Bengal and Kerala, the Left Fronts' fortune depends on its alliance partners as it looks to retain power in the southern state and revive its political relevance in the eastern, once its stronghold.

In both the states, the Congress will significantly influence the Left's prospects — as an opponent against the CPI(M)-led LDF government in Kerala, and a partner in West Bengal.

While four states – also including Assam and Tamil Nadu — and the Union Territory of Puducherry are going to polls over the next month, the fight will be most keenly watched in the eight-phase war in West Bengal, where the Left Front once again has decided to ally with the Congress after a failed experiment during the 2016 West Bengal Assembly election.

"These are crucial elections. Our overall objective is to keep the BJP at bay. In Bengal, the basic alternative that is emerging, on the strength of the people’s struggles in the past few months braving the repression of the TMC government, is the secular democratic alliance of Left-Congress. To defeat the BJP in Bengal, it is necessary to defeat the incumbent TMC government, which has facilitated the BJP’s entry into the state. The anti-incumbency against the TMC government is the biggest feeder of the BJP in terms of vote share,” CPI (M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said.

In 2016, the alliance secured 38 per cent of the votes, seven per cent fewer than what the TMC got.

CPI (ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, however, finds little merit in the alliance. The party, which recently won 12 out of the 19 seats it contested in the Bihar Assembly polls in alliance with once bitter rival RJD, has chosen to go solo in Bengal on 12 seats.

The CPI-(ML), he said, will lend its support to all non-BJP parties, including the TMC, if required.

¨Somewhere, the weakening of the Left in Bengal has allowed the BJP to emerge as a force in the state. The Left front has to identify that the BJP is the number one threat, not the TMC. Underestimating the BJP could be the biggest mistake here. We are not in a position to convince the CPI(M), so we decided to go alone.

¨Putting the TMC and the BJP in the same bracket is a mistake and could weaken the fight against the BJP in the state. Also, the viability of the Left Front-Congress alliance is yet to be proven,” he said.

These issues are not unknown to the CPI(M) cadres on the ground and the Leader of the Left Legislature Party in the Assembly and CPI(M) MLA Sujan Chakraborty knows that.

¨At the end of the day, we want to defeat the TMC and the BJP, and along the way, some sacrifices have to be made. Our cadres understand that alliances need to be forged. The Left parties are not driven by individuals, we are ruled by party orders,” he said.

Allying with the Congress in West Bengal and fighting against it n Kerala presents a unique set of challenges before the Left front.

Big Congress faces — Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra — are unlikely to share the stage with Left leaders in West Bengal to ensure their Kerala alliance looks undented.

In fact, in Sunday’s mega rally in West Bengal, despite requests from state party leaders, the duo will not be seen on stage.

Also, a significant player in the Bengal polls could be the third partner in the Left-Congress alliance, the Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui-led Indian Secular Front (ISF).

It could fetch a big chunk of the vote share for the alliance by bringing in Muslims as well as the anti-TMC Muslim votes into the fold.

Siddiqui, a pirzada at one of the holiest shrines among Bengali Muslims — Furfura Sharif in Hooghly — launched the ISF last month and could become a deciding factor in a close contest scenario.

West Bengal has a 30 per cent Muslim population and can influence the outcomes in around 100-110 seats.

In Kerala, though the battle is clearly between the CPI(M)-led LDF and Congress-led-UDF, and Yechury is convinced that the Left-led alliance is poised to return to power.

¨We will return to power and it will be unprecedented. There will be continuity in the government. This is because of the work done by the LDF which was vindicated in the results of the local body polls.

¨In Kerala the BJP will be cut to size, but unfortunately, the Congress-led UDF is playing in tandem with the BJP in Kerala to defeat the LDF,” he said.

CPI General Secretary D Raja said, ¨In all these states, including in Assam, the general anti-incumbency is very high and the way NRC was dealt with and the extreme communal polarisation caused has resulted in the overarching desire of people to defeat the BJP. The mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis has added to this.”

Both Raja and Yechury said that in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, the BJP alliances are set for major defeats because of what they did over the last five years.

¨The CPIM is in the lead to mobilise the anti-BJP forces, to mobilise people for alternative policies which are pro-people and against the policies of the BJP government,¨ said Yechury.

The Left-Congress-ISF alliance will kick-start their campaign for the upcoming assembly elections in West Bengal with a mega rally at the Brigade Parade Grounds in Kolkata on Sunday — the success of which is likely to give a boost to the two-pronged campaign of the Left.

Published 28 February 2021, 12:53 IST

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