Trinamool Congress president and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee fought a gritty battle against communists in her home state for years and eventually did the impossible by overthrowing the decades-old Left Front government in 2011.
In fact, she was so focused in her mission that she even parted ways with the Congress in 1998 as she was convinced that the party was not serious about fighting the Leftists and there was actually a tacit understanding between the two.
But less than a decade after she decimated the Left parties and reduced the Congress to a marginal player in West Bengal, Banerjee has been forced to rethink her relations with the two parties.
And the reason for this is not far to seek.
The consistent and determined efforts being made by the Bharatiya Janata Party to enlarge its footprint in the eastern state presents a major worry for the Trinamool chief. Consequently, Banerjee has toned down the rhetoric against the Left parties and the Congress, and is focusing her energies on battling the BJP whose communal agenda is resonating with the people in West Bengal, especially in areas bordering Bangladesh.
The Trinamool’s softening stance towards the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) was evident when the Left parties held a massive rally in Kolkata recently. In earlier times, Trinamool cadres in the districts and villages would have intimidated and even resorted to violence to see that the dwindling Left supporters do not participate in the rally. In this case, the Trinamool indirectly facilitated the show of strength by the communists. With the Trinamool going slow with its crack down on them, the CPM workers are gradually bestirring themselves.
It is in Banerjee’s interest that the Left Front and the Congress are not entirely extinguished in West Bengal. Their presence in the field ensures a division in the anti-Trinamool vote, failing which the entire Opposition space would be occupied by the BJP.
The Trinamool chief realises that in her zeal to wipe out the Left parties, she has pushed its cadres to the waiting arms of the BJP, whose steady growth in the state coincides with the weakening hold of the communists.
The BJP managed to net a good 17 percent vote share in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, while the Left’s share dropped from 43 to 29 percent and has been in steady decline since then -- with the communists ceding space to the saffron party as subsequent bypolls have shown. Any further drop in its vote percentage will end up boosting the BJP. In order to stay ahead in the race, the Trinamool Congress has to necessarily contain the BJP, and for that it is imperative that the combined vote share of the Left parties and the Congress does not slip below 25 percent.
To ensure that the CPM and the Congress are not wiped out, Banerjee is helping them out by fielding fairly weak candidates on seats where these parties have a chance of winning. For example, the Trinamool has picked weak candidates against former President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit Mukherjee in Jangipur and in Raiganj where the Congress has fielded Deepa Dasmunshi, wife of the late Priyaranjan Dasmunshi.
Similarly, film star Mimi Chakraborty, the Trinamool’s choice for the high-profile Jadavpur seat once held by Somnath Chatterjee and Banerjee herself, is considered a lightweight. The Congress has not fielded any candidate from this seat and is also planning to leave the Bankura constituency where the Trinamool has fielded veteran leader Subrata Mukherjee. This suggests that a concerted effort is being made to avoid a four-cornered contest in specific constituencies as it could work to the BJP’s advantage.
Ever since the BJP spread its tentacles in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee has become an avid votary of opposition unity. Trinamool Congress leaders have been seen in the company of their traditional rivals at the opposition parties’ meetings called by former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, over the past two years.
The diehard Left baiter was present at the swearing-in ceremony of the Congress-Janata Dal (S) government in Karnataka in Bengaluru last year which was also attended by Left leaders Sitaram Yechury and D Raja. Both the Trinamool Congress and the Left parties also worked in tandem with other opposition parties in taking on the Modi government in Parliament.
Earlier this year, Banerjee had even gone as far as to declare that she was willing to join hands with the Left parties and the Congress at the national level to fight against the BJP though they will continue to battle each other at the state level.
Only time will tell if Banerjee succeeds in her endeavour to protect her turf and keep out the BJP which is working determinedly to make inroads in West Bengal.