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A TIME TO BE FRIENDS

Days after the West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, offered tea and snacks to a Left Front delegation led by Biman Bose, the veteran leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), another unusual development took place in neighbouring Bihar. The Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal, which has 21 MLAs, paved the way for the victory of two Rajya Sabha candidates of the Janata Dal (United) following an appeal by the former chief minister, Nitish Kumar. This was not an isolated development. On May 22, the RJD had extended support to the Jitan Ram Manjhi government during the trust vote. Incidentally, Kumar and other JD(U) leaders had then ridiculed the RJD chief for offering ‘unsolicited’ and unconditional support to the Manjhi government. Three weeks later, when the JD(U) faced a major challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party and its own dissidents, Kumar made an earnest appeal to Prasad to back his party’s candidates, Pawan Kumar Varma and Gulam Rasool Balyawi, in the Rajya Sabha by-poll.

Be it in West Bengal or in Bihar, the rise of the saffron brigade has forced old rivals to close ranks. Ignoring over three decades of opposition to the Left, Banerjee has now attempted a truce with the communists. Kumar and Prasad, too, have come closer for the first time since the former, along with George Fernandes and others, quit the Janata Dal in June 1994 and, later, formed the Samata Party, the earlier version of the JD(U), in October the same year.

In both states, the BJP’s vote share has multiplied three-fold in recent years. In West Bengal, the BJP got 17.3 per cent votes when it fought the polls on its own this year against 6.5 per cent when it contested in an alliance with the Trinamul Congress in 1999. On both occasions, the BJP won two seats.

Common goal

Banerjee, reportedly, informed the Left Front leaders that BJP workers in the state are capturing their offices. In Bihar, however, both Kumar and Prasad faced resistance from within their respective parties when they decided to join hands against the BJP.

Old opponents have come together in the past to achieve political objectives. Earlier, the Lok Janshakti Party in Bihar decided to abandon the RJD and jump on to the Narendra Modi bandwagon even though the LJP chief, Ram Vilas Paswan, had resigned from the Vajpayee cabinet in protest against the Gujarat riots.

But the recent bonhomie between the TMC and the Left and the JD(U) and the RJD has come as a surprise. The JD(U) and the RJD have reasons to come close as both parties were routed in the parliamentary elections. But in West Bengal, the TMC bagged 34 seats. Why then is the TMC alarmed? It seems that Banerjee has realized her weakness and the groundswell of support for the BJP. Hence she softened her stance towards the Left, which has been decimated in these polls. She must also be aware that in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s candidate had established a lead in the Bhowanipore assembly seat of South Calcutta, which she represents herself.

The sudden change in Banerjee and Kumar is somewhat mystifying as they have served in the BJP-led ministry at the Centre. They shared cordial ties with most BJP leaders. Kumar, in particular, had a 17-year-long association with the saffron party. It is possible that more than the BJP, both leaders seem to have a problem with Modi.

Banerjee and Kumar have risen to glorious heights on account of their prolonged opposition to the Left and to Prasad, respectively. Banerjee, in particular, had suffered considerable agony. Yet, they have now decided to shake hands with the same opponents whom they fought for so long.