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New Twist In Bengal Politics

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History has a way of coming full circle.  Recent reports suggesting that the Indian National Congress (INC) in Bengal is appealing to Trinamool Congress(TMC)  leaders and  rank  to join them in  assembling  an all embracing anti- BJP bloc , have aroused great interest.  Left Front parties led by the CPI(M)  will naturally  be a major component  in  this  new congregation.    The concept opens up a great range of new possibilities within  the comparatively   stagnant backdrop of Bengal politics in recent years.

For some time now, senior Congress leader Mr.  Abdul Mannan has been  proposing such a move primarily to prevent the splitting of  what is broadly described as the ‘secular vote’ in Bengal ,where   Assembly elections are due  in 2021.  In recent times  he  has won  a measure of support from the  state CPI(M) as well, although  smaller Left parties are not  very enthusiastic.  INC sources say   Mr Mannan   had begun his spadework by writing to Mrs Sonia Gandhi some time ago, keeping  INC high command in the loop. Both Mrs Gandhi as well as Mr Rahul Gandhi are largely supportive of the proposal, they feel.  

In effect , it would involve splitting the TMC. The fact that the initiative comes from the (by definition) secular INC party  is significant. 

The INC  incidentally  is the second national  party (  after the   Bharatiya Janata Party !)  to call for a split within the TMC.   The BJP, as the aspirant force  in Bengal,   attacks the TMC frontally as well as internally, by weaning away  people it regards as  ‘deliverers’. Examples :  Messrs  Mukul Roy, Arjun Singh ,Saumitra Khan,   Shantanu Thakur.  Unlike other parties the BJP does not  swear by its ‘secular ‘credentials. Liberal opinion in Bengal  has always seen the BJP as a right wing aggressively  pro-Hindu   outfit.

Any ‘right-wing’  offensive  against the TMC therefore cannot  be supported , as leaders of both the INC and the Left parties led by the CPI(M) in Bengal have asserted  publicly..  This, despite the fact that both camps  have been decimated by the TMC systematically and ruthlessly in recent years. Only after their marginalization the guns have been used against   the BJP   The  TMC’s  ‘crush all  opposition’ strategy   over the years, using the police  force as an administrative  adjunct, has not spared anyone. .

It attests to the great  credit of the INC and Left leaders that even under such pressures they have desisted from aligning with the BJP politically. Their objective has been to keep the body of secular opinion and the space for liberals  secure in  Bengal,  within  an increasingly right-wing dominated environment. They have not deviated from their principles even though their supporters have deserted rank in ever large numbers and voting for the BJP. The outcome of the  2018 Panchayat polls and  especially  the  2019 Lok Sabha polls  confirm this.   

But in case  disgruntled TMC leaders —–whose number is legion—— respond to  Mr Mannan’s proposal positively, the liberal space will be both fragmented and reduced in Bengal.    If it happens, it  will have a far reaching fallout.  

While the BJP has been steadily gaining ground, with its brand of aggressive  pro Hindu  politics in Bengal. Its vote share is consistently on the rise for some time now,.

As against this, the further weakening of the left/liberal space  resulting from a possible TMC exodus to the INC/Left camp, may well usher in a completely new political chapter for Bengal, long regarded as one of the last bastions of  progressive dissent.    The TMC, despite its parroted secular credentials, which many see as a  cloak  for its avowed   Muslim favouritism,  has played an increasingly sordid, narrow minded selfish role, over the years . It  must be held  accountable for catalyzing  not merely its own political demise, over which not many will shed tears, but  for bringing in what could be unwelcome winds  of change in  the sensitive eastern region.

The reasons for the increasingly bitter conflict between the BIP and the TMC are  not hard to understand. The bitterness has been intensified as the TMC leaders understand that their only foothold /citadel in Indian politics  is now under siege by the growing, resurgent BJP. Naturally, they have responded in terms of extreme alarm and fear. Nothing else explains the TMC’s decision, helped by the state police, of virtually making it impossible for  BJP leaders to step outside their homes, let alone carry out any kind of meeting rally , or political programme, on the ground of preventing corona virus infections !  in contrast,  no public programme of the TMC, such as handing out   relief, or similar efforts made by the INC/ LF have been stopped .

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Most instances of such blatant interference  with basic democratic rights of opposition parties and common citizens have been widely reported in a section of  electronic media.  

No wonder the public  sympathy factor is working in a big way for the BJP. As Samiran Dutta ( not his real name)  programme  producer  a  major local TV channel and   self confessed leftist  explains ,’Even if the BJP leaders sit at home and relax, they will win hands down( in  the  2021 aAssembly polls. This TMC government has not only shot itself in its foot, it is daily making more and more mistakes !” 

It may be explained that Mr Mannan’s proposal, for a wider anti BJP front, to which the Left remains committed in principle,  has not grown  out of considerations for the long term future of liberalism in Bengal/ India.

A  senior Congress leader put it,’There remains in the INC  an abiding  resentment against  the TMC.  Neither Mrs Sonia Gandhi  nor Rahul can forget the manner in which the INC< which won a decent number of seats  both in 2011 and 2016 Assembly elections, was stabbed in the back by the TMC.’  For the record, the TMC systematically weaned away state Congress leaders by offering them prize posts etc from the level of MPs to panchayat leaders, until the century-old party was no more than a pale shadow of its earlier self ! In the eyes of the TMC leaders, this was no sin. After all the TMC was born in 1998 by splitting the INC    and presently, the party was merely completed its unfinished agenda by gobbling up the spindly remains of the  old Indira-led Congress. 

No wonder that the INC high command finds it hard to lend its support to any TMC sponsored move in parliament or its other programmes. And vice versa.

However,  observers do not rule out as hinted before , some  dissident  TMC leaders breaking their ranks and joining the proposed new  anti-BJP front.   So far, most of the damage has been done by the BJP as far as weakening the TMC is concerned. It is generally believed that as soon as party tickets are announced for the 2021 assembly polls within the TMC there would follow   a major exodus of   ‘dissidents’ primarily to the BJP—- as the saying goes, the force is with the right wing party as of now. But now the TMC malcontents, as it were will have a new door to knock on, without   abandoning  their secular principles.    

Either way, the secular vote bank  in Bengal  stands to be split, and it is  time for  the TMC to face an imminent split  in the near future   and  stave off an existential threat…Shades of the INC on the eve of 1998!

A case of history repeating itself, with the  roles of the main protagonists reversed ?  

(Ashis Biswas is a senior Calcutta-based journalist and news editor at Easternlink)

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