Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was initially against an alliance with the Left Front in West Bengal but the state unit persuaded him to go for a tie-up despite being at loggerheads for decades, party sources said on Friday.
The 34 years of the CPI(M)-led rule was marked by violent clashes between the cadres of the Congress and the Left parties.
Gandhi had in fact sought feedback about an alliance with the Trinamool Congress but a section in the West Bengal Congress, led by state chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, insisted that the party would substantially gain from a tie-up with the CPI(M)-led Left Front, said a senior functionary.
Congress leader PC Chacko said the alliance with the Left was formalised after five rounds of discussions between Gandhi and West Bengal leaders. “The Congress high command did not enforce its decision on the state unit. It was the other way round,” he said. The state unit even decided the campaign and publicity strategy, Chacko said.
Another leader, on the condition of anonymity, said Congress president Sonia Gandhi was “reluctant” to campaign in West Bengal in view of her “warm relations” with Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee.
“But again the state leaders insisted and prevailed upon her. Their argument was that the message of the alliance will otherwise not percolate down to workers at the grassroots level,” he said.
The Congress finally ended up with 44 seats, two seats more than it got in the 2011 polls. As the combined Left parties secured 32 seats, the Congress will be the main opposition party in the state assembly.
“The alliance with the Left didn’t help us in any way. We could have got the same number of seats without the alliance as well,” the functionary said. “All our seats came from our traditional strongholds.”
Congress leaders from Kerala were visibly at pains to explain its alliance with the Left in West Bengal during campaigning. The two sides were engaged in a bitter battle for power in Kerala, with the CPI(M)-led front eventually emerging victorious.
Asked if the tie-up with the Left will continue, Chacko shot back that the two sides had an electoral pact and no permanent agreement in West Bengal. “Nothing was permanent. It was electoral and seat-sharing understanding only ...beyond that nothing,” he said.