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regular-article-logo Monday, 27 May 2024

Left stalwart Biman Bose shares stage with Cong's Adhir Chowdhury; but will it bring voters closer to the INDIA bloc?

Contradictions one too many: Both partners in the Opposition grouping are locked in a fierce battle in Kerala; with none of their central leaders campaigning in Bengal, it's difficult to believe the third force is a tenable option

Arnab Ganguly Calcutta Published 21.04.24, 08:56 PM
Biman Bose and Congress's Adhir Chowdhury in a press conference.

Biman Bose and Congress's Adhir Chowdhury in a press conference. The Telegraph Online.

The eldest CPM leader and the most important Congress leader in Bengal together made a public appearance on Sunday afternoon but not amidst voters.

The joint appearance, at a press conference, of Left Front chairman Biman Bose and Pradesh Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, however, is unlikely to bring them electoral dividends that supporters of both parties would like to reap, given the fact that recent electoral history has not been with the CPM and the Congress.

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“We would expect the Congress votes to transfer to us, reciprocating what our voters do,” said Bose in response to a query on whether the last-minute seat adjustment in the state would work at the booth levels this election season, having failed twice before.

Chowdhury, who had accompanied Mohammad Salim, the CPM state secretary and candidate from the adjoining Murshidabad Lok Sabha seat when he went to file his nomination barely two days ago, did not comment on the vote transfer question.

In 2016, the first time when the Congress and the Left contested polls together, the CPM, contesting in 148 seats, could manage a win in only 26, while the Congress bagged 44 of the 92 seats it had contested.

Their renewed attempt to put up a third Front against the ruling Trinamul and the BJP in Bengal in the 2021 Assembly polls came a cropper as both the parties failed to win a single seat.

None of the central leaders from the Congress or the CPM visited Bengal in the run up to the just concluded first phase of elections. They are unlikely to do so too for the second phase scheduled for April 26.

Both the partners in the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) are locked in a fierce battle deep south in Kerala, which will go to polls in the second phase. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is seeking a second term from Kerala’s Wayanad. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury is also campaigning in the southern state.

At many of the constituencies, the Left, mainly CPM cadres, have been seen campaigning alongside the Congress supporters. Bose himself was present when the Congress’ Calcutta North nominee, Pradip Bhattacharya, started his campaign about a fortnight ago. For now, the leaders in these two camps appear to be unfazed with the lack of visibility outside their own social media handles.

“We are not thinking in terms of numbers, like Modi (the Prime Minister Narendra who has given a call for a 400-plus Lok Sabha seats for the BJP) or Didi (Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee who is asking voters to elect her nominees in all the 42 seats of Bengal,” said Chowdhury. “The media believes there is a bipolar fight in Bengal. In some days, the media too will have to talk about a three-corner fight in the state.”

Chowdhury, whose ties with Mamata were always testy even when she was a part of the Congress, has been the target of “go back” slogans in his constituency that he has represented for five straight terms. "They are doing these things because they know Berhampore is an impregnable fortress for the Congress,” Chowdhury claimed.

The reality on the ground is not that rosy for the five-term MP. In 2019, Chowdhury’s lead was just over 80,000 votes, while in the 2021 Assembly elections, six of the seven Assembly segments went to the Trinamul while the BJP opened its account in Chowdhury’s home turf. That time too the Congress and the Left had joined hands.

The Trinamul has fielded former cricketer Yusuf Pathan from the seat against Chowdhury this time.

The personal animosity between the Trinamul chief and the state Congress president runs so deep that she blames Chowdhury for the failure of talks between the Congress and the Trinamul for a possible alliance in Bengal. In her election meetings, Mamata has repeatedly told her party supporters the INDIA bloc is absent in Bengal and the Congress and CPM are in cohorts with the BJP.

“She says she formed the INDIA block, she gave the name. When she attended the meetings with the Congress high command (for the alliance), I was present there too. Why did she not object to my presence then? She could have complained to the Congress high command that she could not join any alliance as long as I was there. Why did she wait for so long to walk out of the alliance?” asked Chowdhury, and then proceeded to answer his own question.

“She knows she cannot remain chief minister without the support of the BJP directly or indirectly. There would be no reason to be surprised if some day she joins hands with the BJP to remain chief minister,” said Chowdhury, prophesying that the Trinamul would collapse like a pack of cards if the Left-Congress put up a good show. “She has surrendered to the BJP because she wants to keep her nephew out of prison.”

Chowdhury went on to ask why the BJP let off the Trinamul general secretary and Mamata’s nephew Abhishek by fielding a candidate who has lost from the same seat earlier.

“In the past, the Trinamul and the BJP have benefited the most from the politics of polarisation. Incidents of violence and intimidation are happening only in areas where the Left-Congress are resisting. The same had happened in the panchayat and civic polls. This time we won’t let the Trinamul loot a single booth,” Chowdhury said.

On April 27, 2016 at the Park Circus Maidan, former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had shed all political inhibitions and shared the dais with Rahul Gandhi, as the two parties attempted to throw a challenge to Mamata. That public appearance had sparked hope of political repercussions beyond the immediate electoral objective at the national level, which never materialised.

Both the CPM and the Congress would hope for a possible turnaround this election season. Like voters, the leaders of both former rivals need to believe they can win.

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