In alliance politics, what matters is what works. No matter what they say or do in public, all politicians accept this as the rationale for an alliance. Ms Mamata Banerjee should have no more illusions about her partyís alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. It simply did not work, as last Mayís assembly polls in Bengal proved, and has little chance of working in the near future. It is reasonable to assume that this realization has prompted her to dump the BJP and support the Congress in the Lok Sabha by-election to the Malda constituency. The bigger question, however, goes beyond the by-poll. Does her move for Malda indicate a strategic shift towards the Congress in the coming days' All political arguments would indicate that this is the best choice for her. Her alliance with the BJP did not succeed not just because the latter is a negligible force in Bengal. Her party had nothing to gain ó and everything to lose ó from its association with the saffronites whose communal agenda was alien to Bengalís political culture. The Congress, on the other hand, is her natural ally. This is so not simply because her party was born of a break with the Congress, but more because of the two partiesí common ideology and policies. Surely for Ms Banerjee, returning to an alliance with the Congress cannot be more tedious than going on with the uneasy pact with the BJP.
All this is not to say that a Congress-Trinamool alliance is a sure winner against the ruling leftists. Ms Banerjee had struck up such an alliance on the eve of the assembly elections in 2001. If it did not work that time, she made things even more difficult for herself by breaking the pact after the polls and going back to the BJP. The BJP-led National Democratic Allianceís fall from power in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls should have convinced her of the political irrelevance of her strategy. The Congress, however, has remained willing and even anxious to finally wean her away from the BJP. Only superficially, the United Progressive Alliance governmentís dependence on the left is a problem for a reunion between the Congress and the Trinamool. The Congress cannot be too happy with this political compulsion. Moreover, it is in the Congressís interest to try and challenge the left on its strongest turf. Ms Banerjee could do that best with the Congressís support.