West Bengal may not witness a four-way contest when the state goes to polls in a couple of months. The two main parties in opposition today – Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist) – are all set to enter into a political understanding to challenge the ruling Trinamool Congress (AITC).
According to sources, top CPI(M) leadership has been negotiating with the Congress high command for some time in Delhi to join hands against the AITC in West Bengal. While the alliance will not be a formal platform, the two parties have decided to field “token candidates” against each other in seats that will be finalized by February.
While the Congress is likely to be given 72 to 78 seats, the CPI(M)-led Left Front will contest the rest of 294 assembly constituencies, according to senior leaders. The Congress is still hopeful to wrest 100-plus seats.
The idea was mooted by a former president of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee who approached the CPI(M) state committee sometime early last year. Thus, it was no surprise that state CPI(M) chief Surjyakanta Mishra said at a rally in Howrah on Sunday that "we have told Congress to decide soon if you want to go together. We want two things – remove Trinamool to save Bengal and remove BJP to save nation. We have told Congress to decide and tell us now, since we do not have time and we need to prepare”.
He put the ball squarely in Congress’ court.
Within days, top Congress leadership made it known that while there may not be a formal alliance; it is not averse to the idea of an arrangement in seats mutually agreed in advance. For the Congress, it will be a desperate bid to garner a few more seats while for the Left, it will be a chance to consolidate and engineer votes.
However, there is a school of thought within the Congress that this arrangement may not augur well since it will be a win-win equation for the Marxists. Also, in north Bengal, the party is shoulder to shoulder with the Left and seat arrangement may put it on the back-foot.
For the CPI(M), this understanding may lead to a lot of questions being raised in Kerala – which goes to polls the same time – where it is directly pitted against the Congress.
Though the marriage of convenience may require answers to several uncomfortable questions, top leaders of both the parties seem to have unanimously identified what Mishra has declared: the common enemy in West Bengal is AITC and at the Centre, it is the BJP.