The seat-sharing understanding between the Left and the Congress in West Bengal to take on the Trinamool, though they are direct adversaries in Kerala, should be looked at in the light of the history of the two formations since the late 1980s. The Left then had an indirect understanding with the BJP to defeat the Congress at the Centre. At a public meeting in Kolkata, CPI(M) stalwart Jyoti Basu and BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee had shared the podium to bring out ‘all that was wrong’ with the Rajiv Gandhi government. Within two years, the political equations were overturned and the Left, scared in no small measure by the rise of ‘communal forces’, abstained from voting in the Lok Sabha to bail out the Narasimha Rao government in 1991. Since then, the two have had a policy of openness towards each other at the Centre. However, it should be stressed that in West Bengal it is the Left which has taken the initiative in this.
Even if the point is conceded that the Left and the Congress could meet halfway at the Centre to keep the ‘communalists’ away from power, it is still ideologically inexplicable as to why they are doing so in West Bengal, when the central leaders of the CPI(M) had opposed this at first. By no stretch of the imagination can the Trinamool or its chief, Mamata Banerjee, be called communal. And looking at the success of the Trinamool in the panchayat and municipal elections, it is looking comfortable even in the face of a united opposition. This also shows how marginalised elements other than the CPI(M) are in the Left bailiwick because it is only the CPI(M) leaders who are doing all the talking. Most importantly, it is a question as to how the two sides can fit this into their campaign armoury in Kerala. This will only confuse their grassroots supporters, who might then be tempted to seek safe pasture elsewhere.
For the Left it is its ideological bedrock that has governed its political alliances. Indian Marxists have tried to tailor Marxism to Indian conditions and that has put them in a position where they find they are little different from the Social Democrats. They no longer stress their earlier characterisation of the Congress as a party of big landlords and industrialists. So wouldn’t it be expedient to have an understanding with the Congress in the country as a whole?