Why CPI(M) isn’t keen to ally with the Congress | Hindustan Times
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Why CPI(M) isn’t keen to ally with the Congress

The CPI(M) provided outside support to the UPA in 2004 on the basis of a common minimum programme without much debate. The Karat camp seems to be arguing for a replication of this.

analysis Updated: Feb 05, 2018 11:08 IST
Roshan Kishore
Chief minister of Tripura Manik Sarkar, Sitaram Yechury, Biman Bose and Prakash Karat during the three-day Central Committee meeting of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kolkata, January 19, 2018
Chief minister of Tripura Manik Sarkar, Sitaram Yechury, Biman Bose and Prakash Karat during the three-day Central Committee meeting of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kolkata, January 19, 2018(Samir Jana/HT PHOTO)

The central committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) recently voted against party general secretary Sitaram Yechury’s proposal of having a pre-poll alliance with the Congress. Yechury’s predecessor Prakash Karat and the Kerala faction of the party led the charge against this line. Many believe that the Karat camp is being obdurate in preventing opposition unity against the BJP. The CPI(M)’s recent political history does not support such arguments.

The question of having a pre-poll alliance with the Congress has never arisen in the CPI(M), including in 2004 when a BJP government was in power. The year 2004 was the best electoral performance of the CPI(M)-led Left parties. The bulk of their seats came from the stronghold states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. The Congress was the CPI(M)’s main opposition in Kerala and Tripura. In West Bengal, the Congress and Trinamool Congress (TMC) were the main opposition in the northern and southern parts of the state.

The CPI(M) provided outside support to the Congress-led UPA government in 2004 on the basis of a Common Minimum Programme without much debate. The Karat camp seems to be arguing for a replication of these tactics which yielded the best result for the CPI(M) in its electoral history. Why is there even a debate on the issue?

The answer lies in the radical change in the CPI(M)’s position in West Bengal. From 35 out of 42 Lok Sabha (LS) seats in 2004, the CPI(M)-led Left front has come down to two Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 elections. A 20 percentage point fall in vote share is responsible for this. The TMC has established itself as the dominant party after 2014, winning 34 LS seats with a 40% vote share.

Having lost ground, the CPI(M)’s West Bengal leadership is not averse to ceding political space to the Congress in order to arrive at a pre-poll alliance. The Kerala party does not want to trade winnable seats and fritter away its political credibility by allying with the main opposition party.

To be sure, the pro-Congress line could be justified if it helps the CPI(M) regain its lost clout in West Bengal. But neither logic, nor history supports such an argument.

If the idea behind a pre-poll alliance with the Congress is to build the widest possible front against the BJP in 2019, why should it exclude the TMC in West Bengal? After all, the TMC is the strongest party which can challenge the BJP. There are good reasons to believe that the Congress might explore this option. Five Congress MLAs have joined the TMC after the 2016 assembly elections. Not going with the TMC can increase these desertions. Would the CPI(M) agree to join such an alliance as the number three partner? Any blank cheque for a pre-poll alliance with the Congress in West Bengal requires that this question is answered transparently. So far, the CPI(M) leadership has been equating the TMC with the BJP.

Even a CPI(M)-Congress alliance does not look very promising. The CPI(M)-led Left front and the Congress contested together in the 2016 assembly elections. The Congress did not trade its seats in areas where it was stronger, while the CPI(M) gave away winnable seats to forge the alliance. As a result, the CPI(M) ended up losing the leader of opposition’s post to the Congress.

Why is the West Bengal party arguing for this alliance then?

The TMC got its first major break in the 2009 LS elections when it had an alliance with the Congress. The West Bengal comrades blamed the Left’s withdrawal of support from the UPA government over the Indo-US nuclear deal for the opposition unity which did them in. This gave them a useful alibi to sidetrack questions on discontent among the peasantry – the party’s biggest support base – in the aftermath of the land acquisition related protests in Singur and police firing on farmers in Nandigram.

If the coming together of the Congress and TMC was the reason for the CPI(M)’s defeat, it should have bounced back to power in 2016 when it contested with the Congress against an isolated TMC. None of that has happened.

The CPI(M)’s West Bengal leadership has been acting like the proverbial drunkard who searches for his keys under the lamppost of instead of the park, because that is where the light is. It is wrong politics which led to the erosion of its class-based support, and not election arithmetic which is the source of the CPI(M)’s problems in West Bengal. It would be interesting to see whether the forthcoming party congress can change this.