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As Bengal Congress Readies to Meet Rahul Gandhi, Dilemma Within Party Comes to Fore

The party leaders fail to explain why, despite the alleged violence, the BJP has cemented its position as the principal rival to the TMC in Bengal, shunting out both the Congress and the Left in recent times.

Sougata Mukhopadhyay | CNN-News18

Updated:July 6, 2018, 12:44 PM IST
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As Bengal Congress Readies to Meet Rahul Gandhi, Dilemma Within Party Comes to Fore
File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)
Kolkata: West Bengal Pradesh Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s political career currently stands at a crossroads.

The Congress party in Bengal seems pushed to the wall like never before in recent times, demoted from its status of the principal opposition party in the state which it snatched from the Left in 2016 to having been shoved out of that spot by the BJP.

Chowdhury, ahead of his meeting with Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi, is having to make a tight rope walk to maintain equidistance from the BJP and Trinamool Congress alike in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. That’s because the equidistance political line is not only unacceptable to a section of senior Congress leaders in the state, but could also fail to cut ice with the party high command.

Chowdhury is leading a delegation of Congress MPs, present and former MLAs and Pradesh Congress leaders from Bengal for the scheduled meeting with the AICC president on Friday where, although the agenda has been kept under wraps so far, he would presumably chart a roadmap for the party’s Bengal wing for the upcoming polls in consultation with the party’s central leadership.

Interestingly, the state wing of the Congress has already prepared a nine-page internal note which it is likely to place before the party high command for discussion at the meeting.

Drafted by the WBPCC general secretary OP Mishra, the “proposal”, a copy of which News18 has accessed, advocates the defeat of both “BJP and TMC” to “reclaim democracy and strengthen social cohesion” in Bengal.

In fact, hoping for a 2016 state Assembly elections redux, the note emphasises on a “broad-based partnership between the Congress, Left political parties, civic and political organisations and enlightened citizenry in West Bengal” to achieve its target in the Lok Sabha polls and the subsequent state elections in 2021.

Congress’s alliance with the Left two years ago clearly benefited the party after its alliance experience with the Trinamool Congress in the previous state polls fell through and left a bitter taste in the mouths of the party’s state leadership.

In 2016, however, the Congress bounced back with 44 MLAs and emerged as the state’s principal opposition party, albeit a distant second to Trinamool’s 211 seats. Ironically, the Congress had entered into a seat-adjustment with the Left – its traditional rivals for the preceding decades - to take on the Trinamool and ended up dislodging its alliance partner from that number two position.

But the party’s political fortunes in the state seem to have nosedived ever since. Two of its MLAs, Manas Bhuniya and Rabindranath Chatterjee, quit the party and joined Trinamool. More than that, at least 12 more of its legislators have, for all practical purposes, defected to the TMC without formally shedding their identities as Congress MLAs. The party’s performance at the recently concluded Panchayat polls has remained pretty dismal amid cries of its leaders in chorus with other opposition parties of violence and intimidation by the ruling dispensation that “converted the rural polls into a farce”.

The party leaders fail to explain why, despite the alleged violence, the BJP has cemented its position as the principal rival to the TMC in Bengal, shunting out both the Congress and the Left in recent times.

“We are victims of political poaching that’s unprecedented and alien to the political culture of Bengal. I admit we were not prepared for this kind of poaching,” rued Adhir Chowdhury and added: “Mamata Banerjee is following a carrot and stick policy here. She is hell bent on destroying the Congress in Bengal.”

Deeply suspicious about Mamata’s clarion call for a “federal front” to fight the BJP one-on-one in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, Chowdhury opines that it is just another tactic to keep the Congress away.

“Under the guise of a federal front, Mamata is playing Trojan Horse. She never advocated for any ‘mahagatbandhan’ (grand alliance). In her federal front, the Congress would be kept at a distance where she wants the Congress to play the second fiddle to her,” Chowdhury said.

“She is playing the role of a political saint in Delhi. In Bengal, she is the political devil,” Chowdhury snapped when questioned about the Bengal chief minister taking lead in strengthening ties with opposition parties.

“Charity should begin at home. If she was serious about alliance, she would not have resorted to such political poaching,” he argued.

There’s no surprise, therefore, that Mishra’s “proposal” sums up the party’s way forward in the following manner: “Given that TMC has a history of cohabitation with the BJP for about 10 years and given that both parties have developed a lot of symmetry, it is inconceivable that TMC and Congress can tie up against BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.”

Under sub-heading ‘Need of the Hour in Bengal’ it goes on to add: “Congress and Left political parties should come together either in a political front or possibly in a common platform or forum.”

But there are those leaders, of the likes of Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury and Mausam Benazir Noor, who still pledge loyalty to the party and yet profess the need for a tie-up with Mamata to retain their individual seats.

“It is not a question of division within the Congress. It is a question of priority. Whether one should consider individual seats as important or whether the party’s interest comes first,” a dismissive Chowdhury said.

The PCC president is aware that he is in no position to take a final call on this vital policy matter. “We will present a holistic picture of Bengal’s stark political reality before our central leadership. But the final decision will be taken by the party high command. I am a political soldier of my party and will abide by any decision the party takes,” said Chowdhury.

If political direction is what the Bengal Pradesh Congress is currently looking forward to, it’s certainly twice removed from getting anywhere close. Not now, at least.

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| Edited by: Ashutosh Tripathi
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