Bengal poll rout divides Left Front leaders, alliance with cleric under scanner
After being completely routed in the battle between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the West Bengal polls, a section of leaders in the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), and its partners in the state Left Front have questioned the election strategy the Marxists followed and the alliance they formed with cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front which was formed barley two months before the polls.
The issues raised a storm at a closed-door meeting of the Left Front partners on Thursday when the CPI(M) was accused of thrusting its decision to have ISF as an ally on the smaller Left parties without any elaborate discussion.
For the first time, the Bengal assembly has no Left and Congress MLA. This is in sharp contrast to the CPI (M)’s victory in Kerala. The CPI (M) was an ally of the Congress and the ISF and contested the polls as part of the Samyukta Morcha (united front). The only Morcha candidate to win is Nausad Siddiqui, Abbasuddin Siddiqui’s brother who contested the Bhangar seat in South 24 Parganas district.
Of the 292 seats where polls were held, TMC bagged 213 while BJP won 77. Polls in the remaining two seats, where two candidates died of Covid-19, will be held later.
Three senior CPI(M) leaders, who lost the polls, have questioned the alliance with ISF. They are Ashok Bhattacharya, the former urban development minister who lost the Siliguri seat, Kanti Ganguly, another former minister who lost the Raidighi seat in South 24 Parganas and Tanmoy Bhattacharya, who lost the North Dumdum seat in North 24 Parganas.
“The leadership has to accept the responsibility. The alliance with the ISF must be reviewed. Did people accept it? Those who impose decisions from the top must be accountable,” said Tanmoy Bhattacharya.
“The leadership has to explain the reason for our defeat,” said Ganguly.
“It is evident that all Muslim votes went to the TMC. We did not get any,” Asok Bhattacharya said in Siliguri, referring to the leadership’s belief that ISF might erode the TMC’s Muslim vote bank.
Even young leaders of the CPI(M) could not make it. For example, Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Left students’ union president Aishe Ghosh, a nationally known face, lost from Jamuria in West Burdwan district.
Nausad Siddiqui feels that ISF should not be blamed for the defeat of the Left candidates.
“We campaigned hard for candidates of all parties and poll results show that in many seats vote share of the Left nominees went up in comparison to their tally in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. All I can say is that I will represent the Samyukta Morcha at the assembly,” he told HT on Friday.
A month before the eight-phase polling began, the alliance with ISF, an unprecedented move by the Marxists, raised disturbing questions not only in the Left Front and the Congress but rattled senior members of the Siddiqui family at the famous Furfura Sharif mausoleum in Hooghly district as well. Pamphlets, asking people to vote for TMC, were distributed at Furfura Sharif. In Hooghly, the BJP faced defeat.
On March 2, shortly after Abbasuddin Siddiqui appeared for the first time alongside Left and Congress leaders at the CPI(M) rally in Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Grounds, signs of discomfort appeared on several faces on the dais.
A senior leader of the Left Front disclosed to HT that barely 12 hours before the rally, Forward Bloc, the party freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose formed in 1939 after quitting the Congress and which is a part of the Left Front, refused to attend the mega event because Siddiqui had been invited.
“Naren Chatterjee, the Forward Bloc state secretary, wrote a letter to Front chairman and senior CPI(M) leader Biman Bose seeking proof of the ISF’s secular credentials. Three leaders of the Bloc took the letter to the CPI(M) office at Alimuddin Street. Bose called up Chatterjee and somehow convinced him to attend the rally,” said the Left Front leader.
Leaders who attended the Left Front meeting on Thursday said Chatterjee once again raised sharp questions on the alliance and even suggested that there was no point in having the Left Front if the CPI(M) takes all decisions unilaterally. Chatterjee refused to comment.
A member of the CPI(M) state committee, who did not want to be named, said there are many in his party to whom the idea of allying with a religious leader goes against the fundamentals of Marxist ideology.
“In 2006 Subhas Chakraborty, one of our most popular leaders and minister was pulled up by the CPI(M) for offering prayer at the Tarapith temple in Birbhum district. He was made to explain his action,” said the CPI(M) state committee member.
CPI(M) Politburo member Md Salim, who held the alliance talks with ISF, said Left leaders can say anything now as there is no restriction on talking.
“One thing is for sure. We are facing the worst crisis,” said Manoj Bhattacharya, state secretary of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), a Left Front ally.