There are no full stops in India’s coalition politics. That is why parties and politicians would like to keep their options open even if that means rank opportunism. But Mamata Banerjee’s latest move to cosy up to the Congress high command seems to be rooted in a fear. It is the fear of losing ground on her home turf in West Bengal and thereby becoming isolated and irrelevant in national politics. She is obviously upset by the results of the recent by-elections to the state assembly, in which her party trailed behind both the Congress and the Left in two of the three constituencies. She has good reasons to be worried about the decline of her party’s popularity less than two years after winning a massive mandate. The bypoll results have confirmed yet again that she can defeat the Left only in an alliance with the Congress. For all her public posturing to the contrary, the chief minister cannot escape the reality that she might lose the fight against the Left without the help of the Congress. And, given her desperation to woo the Muslim voters, she cannot opt for yet another alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. By making subtle overtures to the Congress, Ms Banerjee is actually trying to make a virtue of necessity. But she is also desperate not to give the impression that she is acting under pressure or out of a fear. The occasional digs at the Congress by her party are actually part of her pressure tactic.
The fluid political situation in New Delhi in the wake of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s pull-out from the government has offered Ms Banerjee a new opportunity to try and rebuild bridges with the Congress. The anxiety to save the United Progressive Alliance government will also prompt the Congress to look for new allies or rediscover old ones. But the Congress leadership also needs to look at the long-term interest of the party in Bengal. The by-election results that have upset Ms Banerjee should inspire the Congress to rebuild the party in Bengal. They show that in spite of all odds and all Ms Banerjee’s gambles to weaken the Congress in the state, the party has retained — and even possibly enhanced — its support base. The political scene in Bengal since the fall of the Left Front government is alive with new possibilities. Ms Banerjee may have her own reasons to try and align with the Congress once again. But it would be suicidal for the Congress to surrender its own interests to her opportunistic politics.