When Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury took over as president of his party in West Bengal in early September, he declared that the “autocratic” Trinamool Congress (TMC) government will be given a “zabardast (tough) fight” in the assembly election due early 2021. Similar voices echoed from the Left Front, their legislative assembly leader Sujan Chakraborty saying defeating the TMC was the “first step to taking on the BJP eventually”. As an embattled Mamata Banerjee fine-tunes her game plan against main opponent BJP, the emergence of the Congress-Left as a prospective third—in their words ‘secular alternative’—front is adding to her worry lines. All the more because Chowdhury—a known Mamata-baiter since her days in the Congress—is the face of this combine.
The Congress and the Left had fought the 2016 assembly election, too, as allies, but finished a distant runner-up. Together, they won 76 of the 294 seats and 38 per cent of the votes, against the TMC’s 211 seats and a 44.9 per cent vote share. The BJP, which won only three seats and 10.16 per cent votes, did more damage to the Congress-Left than the TMC by splitting the anti-incumbency vote. “We deliberately made a token presence in that election to shrink the space for other opponents in the future,” says an RSS leader from Bengal. “But a lot of strategising has happened since then, and the two main players (TMC and BJP) will not mind fighting the upcoming election along religious lines.”
Though Chowdhury has identified the TMC as the principal target, his role as leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha will continue to require the support of opposition parties, including the TMC, to keep up the pressure on the BJP-led central government. An element of ambivalence is evident as Chowdhury talks of equidistance from both the BJP and the TMC (see interview: ‘We are between the devil and the deep sea’).
The Left has no ambiguity regarding Mamata and is determined to take her down at any cost; its cadre are known to have helped the BJP manage 30,000 booths in the 2019 general election. “We have to push the TMC out first in order to get rid of the BJP from Bengal,” said CPI(M) state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra in Cooch Behar on October 8.
The Congress-Left consolidation against the TMC flies in the face of Mamata’s appeals for a united fight against the BJP ever since her party conceded significant ground to it last year. From 34 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, the TMC’s tally dropped to 22 in 2019, while the BJP soared from two seats to 18—its best showing in the state to date.
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November 02, 2020