Three months can be a long time in politics. The period can be long enough for elected legislators to change their stripes, as it were, by hopping from one party to another, as has happened in the case of Bayron Biswas. Mr Biswas was elected on a Congress ticket, supported by the Left, in a by-election from the Sagardighi constituency; he has, around three months later, joined the Trinamul Congress. With Mr Biswas’s switch, Bengal’s legislature, after a brief interregnum, has returned to being Congress-mukt. Mr Biswas’s somersault would, undoubtedly, be a blow to not only the Congress but also its alliance with the Left Front. The victory in Sagardighi — a constituency where the minority community and women voters form crucial blocs — had raised hopes of some sort of a turnaround for the Left-Congress alliance that has been performing poorly in a spate of elections. These hopes have now been belied. More importantly, Mr Biswas’s departure would further dent public confidence in the Congress’s ability to retain its flock — a national phenomenon. The TMC would, undoubtedly, be pleased with the outcome: the message that the TMC remains the natural destination for even political rivals is likely to demoralise other contestants before two crucial elections — the votes to panchayats and Parliament. However, the TMC would do well to examine the reasons behind its loss of Sagardighi in the first place: women and the minority vote have been integral to its electoral success.
The quick turn in political fortunes should not deflect public attention from two related facts. First, politics, be it in Bengal or in the nation, is now the turf of mercenaries. The rabid culture of defection bears evidence of this. The TMC has often pointed fingers at the Bharatiya Janata Party for the latter’s propensity to snatch power by engineering defections. The TMC, evidently, is not averse to this immorality. The integrity of the people’s mandate does not weigh heavily on either the TMC or the BJP. Second, the impact of this development may well have an adversarial effect on the cause of Opposition unity. Mamata Banerjee is likely to attend the meeting of the Opposition parties in Patna. If she does, it could turn out to be a stormy session given the TMC’s recent depredations on the Congress. This disunity in the rank and file of the Opposition has lengthened the BJP’s stay in power.