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Persuading Congressmen to vote for the Left is a big challenge for the INDI Combine in Bengal


By Tirthankar Mitra

It is an open secret but it is talked about in whispers between Left and Congress leaders in West Bengal. It is about mutual transfer of votes between the two partners when the seven phase elections begin in the state on April 19.

For if the mutual transfer of votes between the Congress and the Left do not take place, both should be ready for a wash out. Nothing could be more galling for these political outfits who swear by secularism and fight for protecting the Constitution. Already, the combine has lost relevance in the last assembly elections with zero representation in the 2021 state assembly and only two seats for the Congress in the present Lok Sabha. Any disaster in 2024 polls will have disastrous impact on the organisations of both the CPI(M) and the Congress.

The very rationale in making anti-BJP INDIA alliance would be lost. It is this view point which the Congress leadership has to convince its rank and file in West Bengal as they have not been voting for Left nominees in successive elections since the 2016 polls.

There are causes for concern in both the Left and the Congress camps. For though the state leaderships of the Left read CPI(M) and Congress have more or less ironed out the wrinkles in the intra-party differences on seat sharing, they are chary about the voting pattern of many of the Congress followers.

The trend has been perceptible ever since the declaration of 2016 Assembly elections results in the state. For the first time in living memory, West Bengal witnessed an electoral alliance between the Left and the Congress in West Bengal.

The people were surprised no end for they had little time and inclination to fathom the reason between this unlikely alliance. For this election alliance was preceded by verbal battles and street fights between the Congress and Left activists long before the Left Front government took office in 1977 which continued for the next 34 years.

The 2016 election results propelled the Congress in the seat of the principal Opposition party. Its leader Abdul Mannan became the leader of the Opposition. Going by the election results, the CPI(M) had to play the second fiddle. For the tally of seats of the Left Front dropped to 26 from 40 legislators who represented it after 2011 elections. Furthermore, after 2016 Assembly election the Left Front lost its perch of the principal Opposition party. Its share of votes dropped by 10.35 per cent.

In sum, the Left Front allies be it the CPI(M) or Forward Bloc, RSP or CPI supporters voted en masse for the Congress candidate at their respective constituencies. But their gestures were not reciprocated by the voters who have been exercising their franchise for the Grand Old Party which hardly lives up to this description now.

The fact that the Left nominees enjoyed the blessings of the state Congress leadership was immaterial to the men and women who have queued up and voted for the first political party over the decades. In sum, these voters refused to change their political loyalty even if the leaders of the party they supported sought it.

It further transpired that reluctance of the Congress supporters to vote for Left nominees enjoying the blessings of the leaders whose predecessors ran the affairs of West Bengal for a significant part of the post independence time span had other fallouts. The 2016 election results were a clear pointer that the Trinamool Congress and the BJP made significant gains at this election.

It is a pointer that the Left Front partners' supporters were much more amenable to their leadership's fiat than their Congress counterparts. Both the Left leadership and the Congress one may have reached a seat sharing arrangement, but they were not unaware of it falling far short of its target thanks to the refusal of some Congress voters to see the writing on the wall.

These committed voters continued to find the Left to be an political anathema. In the process, the TMC was not considered to be a common political opponent by Congress supporters. One can trace the source of their reluctance to say the Sainbari killings and similar incidents. One wonders what would be the reaction of a diehard Congress supporter when it is told about a similar outrage which befell a CPI(M) activist at Alhadipur in Burdwan district.

If West Bengal witnessed a four cornered contest in 2019 with Congress and the Left contesting separately and taking on BJP and Trinamool Congress, the worst was in store for the Congress-Left duo in 2021 elections. For the first time in the post independence period both the Left and Congress were sans any representation in the state Assembly.

A lone legislator of Indian Secular Front sits in the Opposition benches these days. It is small compensation to the Congress and the Left that he is from the ISF, an electoral ally in the 2021 elections. But in 2024 polls, the 2021 ally ISF has left the alliance and the Party has decided to contest in all Lok Sabha seats

The decline in the Left vote share in 2021 elections was 15.02 per cent while such a percentage in Congress vote share was 9.22 per cent. It is now up to the state Congress leadership to persuade its voters to support Left Front candidates.

Both the Left and Congress are desperately seeking a turnaround in their respective electoral fortunes in the summer of 2024. Other parties BJP and TMC gaining at the expense of two partners of INDIA coalition is an unacceptable proposition for both the Congress and the Left. (IPA Service)




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