With a high-pitched campaign against the state’s Mamata Banerjee government and the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre, the third force in the state elections, the alliance between Left parties, the Congress and the Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqi-led Indian Secular Front (ISF) kicked of its Bengal electoral campaign on Sunday.
The atmosphere was electric and the Brigade Parade Ground, the historic venue in Kolkata that has the reputation of hosting the largest political rallies in Bengal for decades, was nearly full. Leaders of all parties called the alliance as Sanyukta Morcha, or the joint front.
“Neither the TMC did anything for generating employment in the state in the past 10 years nor the BJP-led centre brought any investment to Bengal in the past seven years,” said CPI(M) politburo member Md Salim, one of the most prominent Left leaders in the state.
However, there still appears to be a glitch in this alliance, as ISF's seat-sharing deal with the Congress is yet to be finalised and Siddiqi, while addressing from the dais, sought people's support only for the Left candidates.
He separately told journalists at the rally venue that Congress should hurry up finalising the seat-sharing agreement, as time was running out of hand. "I have information that Sonia Gandhi is agreed but some state leaders (of the Congress) are creating obstacles," he told journalists.
Meanwhile, what was interesting to note was that even though the Left’s campaign ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was preoccupied with targeting the state’s Trinamool Congress government for corruption and lack of democratic space, the leaders’ speeches in this Brigade rally tore into the BJP, even though they did not spare the TMC either.
“The BJP is promising to end corruption and extortion by taking all the thieves and extortionists from the TMC into its own party,” Salim alleged.
The CPI(M)’s all-India general secretary Sitaram Yechury, the Congress’ Lok Sabha leader and Bengal unit president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and the Congress’ Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel were among other senior leaders present on the dais.
“We must resist the communal BJP’s aggression in Bengal and end the autocratic TMC’s misrule,” Chowdhury said.
The Left and the Congress contested the 2016 Assembly elections as an alliance but managed to win only 76 of the state’s 294 seats, against the 211 won by the TMC. However, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, they were reduced to fringe forces as the TMC won 22 seats, while the BJP won 18. The Congress had won two seats, while the Left didn’t bag any.
The combined vote share of the Left and the Congress stood at a meagre 12 percent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which encouraged the BJP to go for the kill in the 2021 Bengal elections, expecting a bipolar contest with the TMC.
It appeared from the analysis of the Lok Sabha election results that a majority of the Left’s traditional vote share, especially those in Hindu-dominated areas, voted for the BJP, helping the saffron party mark its record success.
According to political observers, a revival of the Left-Congress alliance was initially expected to harm essentially the BJP by taking away votes that went to the BJP in 2019, but the entry of Siddiqi in the alliance is expected to make matters complicated for the TMC as well, as Mamata Banerjee’s party is heavily depending on a consolidation of Muslim votes in its favour.
Following the Brigade rally, the BJP took sharp digs at the Left and the Congress for tying up with a “communal organisation”. "Today's rally was a TMC-sponsored one that also saw the Left and the Congress' helpless surrender before a communal and fundamentalist force, just like the two parties did (before the Muslim League) ahead of the Partition of India. They have brought West Bengal on the brink of destruction," the BJP's state unit spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said.
The TMC, too, targeted the Left and the Congress for tying up with Siddiqi's party. "So long, despite all our opposition to the CPI(M) and Congress, we knew that the two parties were not or would not involve themselves in communal politics. But today they destroyed their goodwill against communalism," senior Bengal minister Subrata Mukherjee said