Mamata Banerjee rode to power on the promise of “Poribortan” in Bengal in 2011 state elections to oust the Left Front’s unprecedented rule of 34 years . It was nothing short of a political earthquake as Left Front seemed invincible in Bengal especially after winning the 2006 elections by thumping majority of 200 + seats under leadership of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya . If not for the Singur and Nandigram agitation , and the ganging up of all opposition forces, the Trinamool, Congress & Maoists , you never know, the Left Front govt would have been still in place. This was because Left under Buddhadeb had transformed Bengal from a primarily agrarian economy to a modern industrial and IT hub. No wonder he was called the ‘Deng Xiaoping” of CPI(M) . But the big victory in 2006 polls had given Buddhadeb and Left Front leadership the confidence or say over-confidence that Bengal was fully ready for industrialization. Indeed the “bhadralok” and youth were joyous with the new “Salt Lake City” and growth of new IT industry , but not all segments were prepared for this momentous change. When Tata put up the plant for Nano in Singur( For reference:- http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/Singur-to-Nandigram-and-beyond/article14704235.ece) , although Land Acquisition plan had been worked out well by Left Front with adequate compensation for farmers and many of them were willing to part with their land, some were not . It was this resentment which Mamata Banerjee along with local maoists in the area capitalized on fully along with false propaganda and the police action further worsened the situation which then went out of control. Similarly in Nandigram , sufficient care was not taken and resulted in chaos (For reference :– http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/mar/23karat.htm) . Hence Singur and Nandigram proved to be the “waterloo” for Left and hence it lost elections in 2011 and since then has not been able to regain much ground .
Bengal under Mamata Banerjee
Let us come back to present day . TMC under Mamata is firmly placed in Bengal and the emphatic victory in 2016 state elections despite a Left-Congress understanding or say seat-adjustment has further strengthened her position. But what has she brought to Bengal? She promised “Poriborton” or change , but instead Bengal’s economy is down, business is not growing despite several Business summits organized by Mamata. All the gains made by Buddhadeb from 2001 to 2011 of recording best growth rates for the state have come to a halt. In a way , Mamata Banerjee’s Singur agitation has left a mark on her reputation of being hostile to Tata’s which has added to the mistrust amongst both national and international business houses.
The bigger problem is that of rising communalism. Bengal was known for it’s communal harmony under Left Front rule for 34 years. This was largely because Left did not play communal politics and kept peace and harmony amongst all communities. This kept the state which bordered Bangladesh after 1971 liberation war under peace. Even when Babri Masjid demolition took place in 1992 and violent riots happened all over the country, Bengal under Jyoti Basu was one state which managed to keep calm and no riots took place. But one must not forget that Bengal was not always a sea of harmony. Bengal has a history of Hindu Muslim tensions going back to Partition of Bengal under British rule in 1905 . Remember, Mahatma Gandhi was at Naokhali in Bengal during Independence which was the hot bead of Hindu-Muslim rioting. So this peace should not be taken for granted.
What is now happening is that Mamata is fueling Muslim fundamentalism on one end and this is helping BJP , which is a new player in Bengal, to flame Hindu communalism. Bengal has 30 % Muslim population and Mamata has gone out of the way to woo the minorities by eg:- increasing the salaries of Imams of Mosques to exorbitant rates or issues orders that Durga Puja celebrations should be halted on day of Muharram or as recent as opposing Triple Talaq Bill in Rajya Sabha. This has angered the Hindu community which is obviously looking at BJP as their choice. The BJP has stepped up their efforts enormously in Bengal since 2016 elections and on the basis of communal polarization is slowly emerging as 2nd in place after Trinamool and pushing Left Front and Congress to 3rd place. The extravagant celebrations of Ram Navami with young girls carrying swords and Hindutva flavor in recent Durga Puja celebrations shows that BJP is clear that communal polarization is best way to gather the majority votes.
Hence Bengal has become tinderbox of competitive communalism. The recent Dhulagarh riots in 2016( for reference:– https://www.dailyo.in/politics/dhulagarh-riots-dewan-ghat-communal-violence-bjp-trinamool-muslims/story/1/14992.html) is an example of how TMC’s Muslim appeasement and BJP’s Hindu communalism is pushing the state to a dangerous zone , which could re-ignite the long subdued hatred between communities. Also what this is doing is marginalizing the secular forces i.e Left Front and Congress party. Hence it pushed the Left and Congress together which resulted in 2016 “jote” or alliance in Bengali.
2016 state elections
As mentioned in the above section, due to communal politics of TMC and BJP, there was a grass root cadre level demand by both Left Front and Congress to go into a “jote” (alliance in Bengali). This triggered a debate within CPI(M) , the major constituent of Left Front whether to go or not to go with Congress. The majority opinion of the Central Committee led by Prakash Karat backed by Kerala and some other units like Telangana, Andhra, Tamil Nadu etc. were and are still against any truck with Congress. And the same direction was given to Bengal unit. But nevertheless the state unit went ahead with the unofficial understanding with Congress , saying that it was the cadre which wanted the “jote” . Due to this unofficial alliance, people were not convinced and hence there was only one rally of Rahul Gandhi and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya which did not even feature Sitaram Yechury as PB or CC did not want to be seen involved. Although there were several rallies by Surjyakanta Mishra, the state secretary of CPI(M) West Bengal and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury , the head of Bengal Congress and the bonhomie was visible very clearly. This led to some surge in votes for Congress where it bagged 44 seats , but the Left could not gain much and got 32 seats. Together the “jote” got 75 + seats and managed to contain BJP to 6 seats, but the confused alliance could not halt the Trinamool’s advance which went on to win a thumping 211 seats.
The need of the hour is for Left Front and Congress to go into an official alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. This is the only way to stop the juggernaut of TMC and gaining strength of BJP. We are already seeing indications of this . CPI(M) West Bengal unit has already said that it is going in for alliance with Congress in upcoming panchayat elections in 2018. This is encouraging given the fact that CPI(M) is still debating the political tactical line of the party for 2019. Sitaram Yechury and the Bengal unit are going for a political line which will allow the broadest possible alliance with all secular,democratic parties in 2019, whereas Prakash Karat and Kerala Unit are hell bent on not allying with Congress. This dogmatic stand by Kerala unit and some other state units will push CPI(M) to further isolation, given the fact that the other major constituent CPI has already unanimously passed a resolution to go with alliance with Congress and all other secular,democratic parties at state and national level. So the need of the hour is for CPI(M) to take a pragmatic approach. Hopefully by 2018 CPIM party congress in Hyd , Sitaram and Bengal unit would be able to persuade the party to a take a broad approach of alliance/understanding/seat adjustment , call it what you like to go with Congress and other secular,democratic parties at national level. This will clear the way for Bengal unit to go with a proper “jote” with Congress and present an alternative to people who are fed up communal politics of TMC & BJP. Even otherwise, CPI(M) West Bengal has made up its mind that if needs to survive and gain strength in Bengal and not be pushed to third spot behind BJP , it needs to go with Congress, whether the central committee approves or not.
As for the Congress, it faces an existential crisis in Bengal . If it goes with TMC, it stands the danger of Trinamool eating into Congress MLA’s and the party itself may no longer exist. Hence for the Congress and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury , there is only ally, the Left Front. Also 2016 state elections helped Congress increase its seat presence to 44 . Also to note is the fact that Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi are known to be very friendly with Sitaram Yechury and they see him as a very important ally by their side. That is the reason, they supported Sitaram Yechury for a Rajya Sabha re-nomination from Bengal , when his term ended in August. It was once again the dogmatism of Prakash Karat and the hardliners in the CC and PB who did not allow so. But enough is enough for the Bengal unit . They are frustrated by the continuous bias against them by CC and PB, firstly in not allowing Jyoti Basu to be PM in 1996 in United Front govt. and expelling of Somnath Chatterjee in 2008 for continuing as Lok Sabha speaker ,by Prakash Karat and the hardliners , once Left quit the UPA-I govt over the Nuclear Deal . And now the target was Sitaram Yechury , the General Secretary. Hence the Bengal CPM has decided to chart its own course.
As seen in the latest Sabang bypoll ( For reference :–http://indianexpress.com/article/india/tmc-wrests-sabang-from-congress-bjp-vote-share-surges-gita-bhunia-4997767/) , BJP has increased its votes hugely to 37,483 and came very close to Left Front’s votes of 41,989, while TMC won comfortably by a margin of 64,192 votes. Congress was in 4th place with 18000 votes. So story is very clear by this election. If Left and Congress want to bounce back and if Bengal needs to be saved from becoming a furnace of communal politics and wants to be back on the track of development set by Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya , then Left-Congress alliance is imperative. And this time we need to see Rahul Gandhi and Sitaram Yechury campaigning together for 2019 Lok Sabha polls which will not just set the pace for Bengal , but also act as the building block nationally for UPA- III to take shape !!!