Om Prakash Mishra, Congress leader

‘Congress-Left cooperation will continue’

Print edition : June 10, 2016

Om Prakash Mishra. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Interview with Om Prakash Mishra of the Congress.

THE senior Pradesh Congress leader Om Prakash Mishra was one of the main architects of the electoral understanding between the Left Front and the Congress. He believes that without it both parties would have been decimated. In an exclusive interview with Frontline, he spoke in detail about what went wrong and what could have been done for a better performance. Excerpts:

You were one of the main architects of this Jote, and in your letter to Sonia Gandhi you had said that victory was assured in the case of an alliance. How do you account for this defeat?

The analysis at that time was based on available electoral data. We thought that as opposition political parties there was a need for cooperation between us. Political cooperation was already under way and it was important to transform that into an electoral understanding, as it would benefit our political objectives against the BJP’s politics and policies at the Centre and the Trinamool’s misgovernance in the State. On our own we are not in a position to offer any effective opposition separately. So seat adjustment, or Jote, was a politically and electorally viable proposition and it had the possibility of success. So we initiated the process and it was reciprocated in equal measure by the Left Front.

The electorate reposed confidence in Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool, but the difference in the vote share between the two sides is about 6 per cent only. Without the electoral understanding with the Left this would have been much higher and the Congress and the Left Front would have been decimated. There are many reasons why she won. First, our electoral adjustment was not preceded by a political movement at the ground level, and the understanding was arrived at very late in the day. Secondly, we should have clearly projected a Chief Minister and a Deputy Chief Minister before going to the electorate. Thirdly, instead of focussing only on the misgovernance and corruption of the ruling party, we should have also focussed on a positive and agenda-driven programme before the electorate.

The Trinamool won the elections because it has been able to bring a vast section of the electorate within the ambit of services provided by the government. Government schemes like Kanyashree, Sabuj Sathi and rice at Rs.2 a kg paid huge dividends. The nature and extent of the political dividend accruing to the Trinamool was not properly understood by us. Even while we were cognisant of the significance, we failed to communicate to the electorate our resolve to continue and improve on the delivery of these benefits.

Already some blame game is taking place, with some Left leaders saying that the Jote did not work because transfer of votes from the Congress end did not happen.

We reject such allegations totally. There can be no end to the blame game. There has been no complaint either from the Congress or from the Left Front candidates that local-level activists and leaders were not working for the alliance candidate. That was the only way to understand how the alliance was playing itself out. So such speculation is completely uncalled for. Let me tell you what would have happened without the Jote. The Left Front would have got three or four seats, and the Congress, because of its concentration in fewer places, would have had to be satisfied with 11 or 12 seats.

How come the Congress ended up with more seats than the Left though it contested far fewer seats?

We contested around 92 seats and the Left Front about 200. The Left’s vote share is much higher than ours. But since our strength is concentrated in fewer districts, our success rate is high. Since we were contesting in very few seats in areas where the CPI(M) was strong in south Bengal, we could focus on the elections in a more effective way. That added to our success. Why the Left has not been able to register a significant victory is because we as an alliance failed. Everywhere Left Front candidates did equally well, but not well enough to force a win. The Congress, wherever it had a presence, contributed wholeheartedly. None of the members of the Left Front can say that we did not. We are very unhappy with the result. We are not happy with the Congress result either. What is important for us is the success or failure of the Jote; not what the Congress managed to get.

How important will this Jote be for the future of Bengal politics?

The Jote was formed because we have common political objectives and these continue to be relevant. The Congress-Left cooperation will continue as the BJP and the Trinamool have to be opposed.

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