Congress, CPM weigh workable poll pacts in Bengal as formal alliance flounders

Congress, CPM weigh workable poll pacts in Bengal as formal alliance flounders
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Kolkata: Although the proposed alliance of the Congress and CPI(M) has fallen apart in West Bengal, the latter has mooted a 'triangular fight, rather than a quadrangular contest' in each other's strongholds in a bid to stop the main contenders - the Trinamool Congress and the BJP – gaining an advantageous position and consolidate votes in their favour.

However, majority of the state Congress leaders are not in favour of such an informal seat-sharing arrangement with the CPI(M). Moreover, a section of leaders in the Congress state unit has accused PCC chief Somen Mitra and chairman of the state coordination committee Pradip Bhattacharya of secretly helping the BJP and the Trinamool Congress.

Lok Sabha Elections 2019 | West Bengal

The CPI(M) had proposed a formula of 'no mutual contest' to the Congress in six Lok Sabha seats currently held by the two parties. The state unit of the Congress could not give a convincing answer as to why the principle of no mutual contest was not agreed upon.

Congress MLA and Leader of the Opposition at State Assembly Abdul Mannan is at loggerheads with the state unit over its decision to take in former CPI(M) MP Lakshman Seth and field him in the Tamluk seat. Taking strong objection to the move, Mannan has so far refused to join the party’s election campaign.

Following his ouster from the CPI(M) for anti-party activities in 2014, Seth had joined the BJP in 2016, but the saffron party expelled him last year.

Somen Mitra
PCC chief Somen Mitra.

No direct fight in four seats

Although there is no formal seat-sharing understanding, the CPI(M) and the Congress are unlikely to fight each other in four of the 42 seats as of now. The Congress will not contest in Jadavpur and Bankura seats while the CPI(M) has decided not to field candidates in Berhampur and Malda South. The Congress’s winning prospects are bright in Bahrampur and Malda South where Muslims are in absolute majority. In Jadavpur, CPI(M) candidate Bikas Ranjan Bhattacharya has a good chance of winning.

Left Front Chairperson Biman Bose had asked the Congress leadership to give up the claim on the Raiganj and Murshidabad seats, both sitting seats of the CPI(M), and support the party candidates there, but his request was not conceded.

Bikas Ranjan Bhattacharya
CPI(M)'s Bikas Ranjan Bhattacharya (C) during election campaign.

The Congress’ State unit claims that these two seats are a part of its traditional stronghold and that it has gained the lost ground here. It indicated that the Congress is in no mood to entertain the CPI(M) state secretary’s suggestion to adopt suitable tactics to ensure the maximisation of the pooling of anti-BJP and anti-TMC votes.

The fight for survival

It is palpable that both TMC and the BJP are set to gain from the formal divorce of the Left and the Congress. The TMC’s vote share went up by 5 percent in the 2016 Assembly election as compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The party’s sweep in the panchayat elections last year too pointed to its growing electoral clout in the state although the victory was marred by allegations of widespread violence.

Mamata
Trinamool Congress leader and Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee.

The BJP, which emerged as the third largest party in terms of vote share in 2014, suffered a setback in 2016, as its vote share came down by 7 percent. However, in the panchayat elections that followed, the saffron party managed to record a three-percent increase in its vote share. There are tell-tale signs that apart from holding on to its traditional vote base, the BJP could garner anti-TMC votes as well.

On one hand, the Left front is trying to split up these votes by projecting the TMC as its main foe, while on the other, it is attempting to consolidate minority votes by cashing in on the anti-Modi sentiment.

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