Political alliances are not always marriages of convenience. For the Congress in West Bengal, its tie-up with the Trinamul Congress was mostly a matter of inconvenience or even worse. It could hardly be otherwise because the TMC’s rise was always directly proportional to the decline of the Congress in the state. Even before the alliance broke up at the national level, it had become too heavy a weight around the neck of the Congress in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee too made no secret of her wish to marginalize her partner in government or even to overrun the last remaining bases of the Congress in the state. Now that the strained partnership is over, at least for the time being, the Congress faces a new test and an opportunity. The party has to ponder what it should do with its freedom from an unsuccessful alliance. The road to its recovery is long and full of challenges. The party’s organizational base has long cracked under the weight of an incompetent leadership and confusions among the ranks. With the TMC and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) dominating the political space, the Congress appeared to have been utterly confused about its role or relevance.
However, the break-up of the alliance gives the party in Bengal some advantages. There are unmistakable signs that Ms Banerjee is losing her popularity among some sections of the people. The hope that she had once inspired for a turnaround in Bengal is fast dissipating, thanks to her policies on land, industrialization and other economic issues. In fact, many of her policies closely resemble the anti-reformist agenda of the CPI(M), the latest example being the opposition of both the TMC and the CPI(M) to foreign direct investment in retail and to the fuel price rise. But large sections of the people in Bengal have not forgiven the CPI(M) for the economic ruin that the party’s rule brought to the state. The Congress thus has an opportunity to use Manmohan Singh’s latest economic reforms in order to rebuild its political base in Bengal. But the party high command’s strategies will be of crucial importance to the state unit’s recovery. For many years, the party managers in New Delhi did little to help the Bengal unit strengthen itself. If anything, the compulsions of the party at the national level ran counter to the state unit’s interests. New strategies may not yield immediate results, but the alternative is the party’s further decline in Bengal.