Despite being in power for seven consecutive terms from 1977 to 2011, in recent years the Left Front was hardly a force worthy of notice in West Bengal. Once steered by strong leaders like Muzaffar Ahmad, Jyoti Basu, Hashi Dutta, Kamal Sarkar, Samar Mukherjee, Abdullah Rasool, Nirod Chakraborty, Mahadeb Saha, Anil Biswas, Pramode Dasgupta, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, etc, the communist combine was fast losing political space in the state.
The extent of the crisis was alarming and it forced the bloc to form an alliance with the Congress to stay afloat in Bengal politics. Since the near-absolute routing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and before that Mamata Banerjee’s ascent to power in the 2011 assembly polls, a young brigade of ‘comrades’ has been toiling at the grassroots to pull the group out of the morass.
Their presence may look minimal in front of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but it is significant considering next year’s assembly polls because the Left looks set to increase its vote share. In the 2014 parliamentary polls, the CPI(M) managed to win only two seats in Bengal, after ruling the state for 34 years.
In the 2016 assembly elections, the BJP’s vote share was 10.2 per cent (increased by 5.56 per cent compared to the 2011 edition) and in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls it went up to 40.3 per cent. There was an increase of 30.1 per cent in vote share mainly because of many Hindus drifting towards the BJP.
In the past three years, the BJP has managed to cultivate religion-driven politics in Bengal and this has been evident with its significant rise in Bengal in terms of vote share. A close analysis shows that from the 2011 assembly polls to the 2016 ones, the Left Front saw its vote share reduced by 9.88 per cent and from the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to the 2019 edition, its vote share plummeted to nearly 16 per cent.
However, the Congress vote share increased from 8.91 per cent in the 2011 assembly elections to 12.25 per cent in the next, but it fell drastically in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls (9.6 per cent) while in the 2019 general elections the party managed to secure only 5 per cent votes.
Most of these voters, who were once with the Left Front and Congress, went to the BJP as there was no decline in the TMC vote share. In fact, the Trinamool’s vote share increased by 6 per cent in the 2016 assembly polls.
“But in recent months, noticeable participation of people in Left rallies, mainly youths and women in urban as well as rural Bengal, indicates that people have started realising that the Left Front is a better option as compared to the TMC and BJP. I think in the coming years people will come back to the Left Front. Though it will be a slow process, we are predicting an increase in their vote share in the coming polls,” author and political analyst Kapil Thakur said.
Presently, the communists and Congress are going ahead with a “heterogeneous composition" to contest against the Trinamool and BJP in the 2021 assembly polls.
CPI(M) leader Amiya Patra said, “In this coming election, a key factor will be the minority voters. Armed with nearly 30 per cent votes, they will be the deciding factor and presently they are inclined towards the TMC. They are inclined towards the TMC not because they like Mamata Banerjee. They are inclined towards the ruling party because of the administrative power they have. A majority of these voters feel that it’s the ruling party who can save them from the BJP amid citizenship issues. But yes, we have regained much ground in Bengal and certainly this time, especially due to the alliance, we are going to increase our strength in Bengal in terms of seats and vote share.”
But observers say they have to move forward cautiously amid the Congress’s attempt to project Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury as the face of the alliance. Many in both camps believe that this could ignite fresh trouble in both the groups and could jeopardise their mission to fight against the saffron brigade and the TMC.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, there was trouble in the alliance between the Congress and Left after the latter announced its candidates’ list despite being requested by the state Congress to hold back till the seat-sharing issue was resolved.
Then, the Congress wished to contest on 17 seats, including Purulia, Bankura, Bashirhat, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Krishnanagar, Hooghly, Burdwan, Howrah and Midnapore (both West and East), while the CPI(M) wanted to field candidates in 31 seats.
Then, the two parties had been at loggerheads over a few seats, including Purulia, Basirhat and Jalpaiguri. Also, there were differences over the Murshidabad and Raiganj seats in the parliamentary polls, but the matter was resolved after Sonia Gandhi spoke to CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
But this time, the Congress’s attempt to project Chowdhury as the face of the alliance, citing public feedback, could jeopardise their political agreement and could be a boon for the ruling TMC as Mamata Banerjee shares a very good relationship with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, analysts say.
The bonhomie between Mamata and Sonia was evident during a virtual meeting on August 26, 2020 when the UPA chairperson asked Mamata to take over the reins of the meeting to discuss various issues including JEE and NEET examinations and the Covid-19 pandemic.
When contacted, Congress MP Pradeep Bhattacharya said, “The impact of our alliance with the Left Front is inevitable. The simple reason is neither are we going to cut their votes and nor will they take our share. Now it is a united forum. Whatever votes we will get, it will be in the alliance’s kitty. Already we are getting positive responses in many buffer zones and people are complaining that they are tired of bloodbath politics. TMC and BJP are engaged in a bullfight, and do you think nearly 7 crore voters are liking it? There may be a maximum of 30 per cent voters who are enjoying this, but not all. In the coming weeks, you will see our alliance will emerge as a concern for the ruling TMC and the BJP.”