CPM is contemplating a future with the Congress in Bengal - but is it already too late?
Photo Credit: Kuntal Chakrabarty/IANS
Total Views
At its four-day plenum underway in Kolkata, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is debating whether the party should reach out to the Congress or go it alone in the West Bengal assembly elections scheduled for mid-2016.

In theory, for a party whose political objectives and ideas are largely dictated by ideology, this debate must be put in the context of classical Marxism. Party leaders would hope to build a consensus on the issue before the meet ends on New Year’s Eve.

In practical terms, however, the CPM already seems to have the lost option of aligning – directly or indirectly – with the Congress in West Bengal.

Drifting from the Left

A month ago, though, ahead of the winter session of Parliament, an alliance seemed quite feasible. The West Bengal leadership of the Congress appeared in favour of tying up with the CPM. Leaders of the Congress’ state unit made trips to Delhi and tried to convince party president Sonia Gandhi about the need for this alliance. Most Pradesh Congress Committee leaders still hold this view.

But the Congress high command, undecided until a few weeks ago, now seems to be leaning towards Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. While a formal alliance is still some distance away, some party insiders claim that Sonia Gandhi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi are in agreement about an accord with the West Bengal chief minister’s party.

The turnaround occurred during the winter session of Parliament, which ended last week. The Trinamool Congress, which had  generally been nonchalant about the Congress, suddenly changed tack and began to offer it support on every issue.

What surprised everyone was Mamata Banerjee’s backing on the contention raised by the Congress in the context of the National Herald case that it was the victim of political vendetta by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. While the CPM remained aloof on this issue, the Trinamool Congress joined the Congress in boycotting House proceedings.

Pros aplenty

From the Congress’ point of view, an alliance with the Trinamool rather than the CPM in West Bengal has several benefits. While tying up with the Trinamool Congress offers the promise of sweeping the state elections, an understanding with the CPM would be full of uncertainties.

Most leaders of the state Congress unit are still hostile to the idea of joining forces with the Trinamool Congress. But sitting Congress legislators in West Bengal are likely to side with the high command as their chances of getting re-elected will improve considerably with Trinamool backing. In the last assembly election in 2011, the Congress had contested as an ally of the Trinamool and had won 42 seats out of 65 assembly constituencies in which it fielded its candidates.

Besides, an alliance with Trinamool would be in conformity with the Congress’ position in Kerala, where the party-led United Democratic Front is pitted directly against Left Democratic Front, which is led by the CPM. The vehement opposition from the party’s Kerala unit was one of the reasons why the Congress high command was not agreeable to an alliance with the Left in Bengal.

All the while, as the Trinamool drifted towards the Congress, the CPM appeared to be doing absolutely nothing to look after its own interests. Debate alone is unlikely to reverse its fortunes.