End of an alliance

Published : Oct 19, 2012 00:00 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee at an election campaign in Dum Dum, Kolkata, on April 23, 2011.-ARUNANGSU ROY CHOWDHURY

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee at an election campaign in Dum Dum, Kolkata, on April 23, 2011.-ARUNANGSU ROY CHOWDHURY

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee believes that her break with the Congress will make the Trinamool Congress an independent force at the Centre and an unassailable one in the State.

WITH West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee withdrawing her support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre in protest against the hike in fuel prices and the decision to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, a number of interesting possibilities have started taking shape in the political firmament of the State.

Although many political observers feel that her decision had a lot to do with gaining immediate political brownie points in the contest for the ensuing panchayat elections, not everyone is convinced that it will serve her well in the long run. With the support of 185 MLAs in the 294-member Legislative Assembly and 19 of the 42 Lok Sabha members from the State, Mamata Banerjee may well have taken a calculated risk. According to some Trinamool Congress insiders, her main aim (apart from adhering to her electoral manifesto) is to increase the partys tally in the Lok Sabha single-handedly and also sweep the panchayat elections. At a time when regional parties are beginning to emerge as dominant players in national politics, Mamata Banerjee seems to be working towards positioning herself as an independent, indispensable force at the Centre.

In West Bengal, her move has brought about some changes in the political equations prevalent since 2009. The immediate fallout, however, was the termination of the tempestuous three-year-long electoral alliance with the Pradesh Congress one forged for the sole purpose of removing the Left Front government, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), from power. Now, the electoral arena will once again witness a triangular contest, which had for long benefited the Left. In the 2011 Assembly elections, which brought the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine to power, with 48 per cent of the votes, the Left Front secured 41 per cent of the votes. It was only when it joined forces with the Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections that the Trinamool Congress could increase its strength in the Lower House from one to 19 and the Lefts strength was reduced from 35 to 15 seats.

The Congress is weak, but without the Congress support the Trinamool cannot get more than 40 per cent of the votes. If you look at the trends in the recent byelections, youll see that our vote percentage has increased. In the Bankura byelections, it increased by 2.5 per cent, while theirs came down by 4.5 per cent. In the Haldia municipal elections, we were not allowed to campaign, yet we won, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Surjya Kanta Mishra told Frontline.


The Lefts reaction to the new development has been measured. Although hopeful of gaining from the division of the Congress-Trinamool Congress votes, the Left Front is well aware of its attenuated strength at the grassroots level following the loss of power. The CPI(M) cannot deny the fact that there has been a strong erosion of the actual political base of its workers as well as youth and student organisations.

And those who have remained loyal to the party, which is still a formidable number, are yet to be jolted out of the listlessness that resulted from the shock of their defeat. In such a situation, it is difficult to be certain that past trends in such triangular contests will repeat themselves in the coming elections, since the arithmetic gain may be more than offset by desertions and defections from the ranks of the Left.

The Pradesh Congress has perhaps been the worst sufferer in spite of being on the winning side. Not only was it forced to accept the most humiliating terms in seat adjustments before every election, but it had lost a huge chunk of its support base and workers to the Trinamool Congress. Our workers are jubilant that they have finally been freed of the shackles that bound them to the Trinamool, which has not only split the Congress but taken away our voters and attempted to backstab us, Pradesh Congress general secretary Om Prakash Mishra told Frontline. He does not endorse the view that there will be further erosion of the Congress support base.

It is just the opposite that is happening. No Congress leader is leaving. It is the Trinamool workers who are joining the Congress, as was evident from what happened recently in Harirampur, in South Dinajpur district, where the block president of the Trinamool joined the Congress with all his supporters. This trend has been seen in the past 10 months in the districts of South 24 Parganas, parts of Medinipur, even parts of Howrah and Kolkata, said Mishra.

However, not everyone in the Congress is convinced. If our workers were defecting to the Trinamool while the alliance was still on, what would possibly make them stay on with us when we are totally out of power? asked a district Congress leader.


Sizable sections of the Pradesh Congress leadership and Congress workers have expressed genuine relief at the breaking up of the alliance. Though the Congress is the dominant force at the Centre, in West Bengal it was the Trinamool Congress that called the shots.

Right from the time the two parties came together for the parliamentary elections in 2009 to keep the UPA in power and defeat the Left Front in the State, it has been a bitter struggle for political space. Before every election, matters would reach a crisis point over seat-sharing. And, the last-ditch attempts at a patch-up would invariably leave the Congress sore, as it would have to accept the humiliating terms set by the Trinamool Congress. In many ways, it appeared that the Trinamool Congress was using a two-pronged strategy, of defeating both the Left and the Congress at the same time. As the Congress position continued to weaken, it became one of the biggest critics of the very alliance of which it was a part. The Congress continues to retain its hold of Malda and Murshidabad districts, and the Trinamool has been trying to encroach upon these regions as well.


The Trinamool Congress has its own share of problems. Infighting has become an embarrassingly regular feature, with it often spilling on to the streets in the form of violence. The original members of the party have become increasingly dissatisfied, mainly for having to coexist with the new members who have migrated from the CPI(M) and the Congress. As a consequence, there is a constant struggle within the party primarily for loaves and fishes of power. There are some opportunistic elements that have joined our party. They originally belonged to the CPI(M) and used to carry out atrocities against us. Now we are expected to work with them. Naturally, there are grievances among some of the old party members, a party worker told Frontline.

However, it is unlikely that these factors will have any immediate political impact following the Trinamools split with the Congress. Its vote bank remains more or less intact, although some amount of disenchantment has surfaced even among its core supporters mainly because of the authoritarian attitude often displayed by the Chief Minister, which includes the use of the police as a tool for intimidation against any sort of criticism, real or perceived, and the lapse into denial mode when confronted with serious problems such as agrarian distress and suicide by farmers earlier this year, crib deaths and the recent outbreak of dengue.

As of now, the Trinamool is in an unassailable position. After withdrawing support from the UPA, we are in an even stronger position, as we do not have to give excuses for the Central governments policies. Neither are we concerned with the division of votes, because if the Left does gain from its present position, it will be so meagre, that overall it will be quite insignificant, Subrata Mukherjee, West Bengal Minister for Panchayat and Rural Development, told Frontline.


However, there are murmurs of protest in the Trinamool camp against the parting of ways with the UPA though no one has publicly dared to voice his/her opinion. The advantages of being part of the ruling coalition in the Centre cannot be denied. Ultimately, people will want to see results. Now the future of projects worth several thousand crores of rupees is uncertain, and at some point we will have to furnish the people with answers, a Trinamool Congress leader admitted. Many feel that the partys presence in the Central Cabinet was a major facilitating factor for development and aid for fund-starved, debt-burdened West Bengal.

All other regional parties with successful records have maintained a good equation with the ruling party at the Centre almost as a political imperative, except West Bengal, which came into the mainstream of Indian politics for the first time in the past three years. The Left Front may have played a crucial role, but we were outside the boxing ring for the past 34 years, said a senior bureaucrat.

The Trinamool Congress main concern, however, will be the panchayat elections. The political situation in the State is a singular one after Mamatas departure from the UPA. While the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M) continue to see each other as the main political adversaries, for the Pradesh Congress, it is now Trinamool Congress and not the CPI(M) that is the real enemy. There is also the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which got 4 per cent of the votes in the previous elections. Although insignificant in the politics of West Bengal, it has the potential to take away anti-Congress votes in the 2013 Lok Sabha elections.

Interestingly, in West Bengal, on the one side there is the Congress with its pro-reform agenda, and on the other the CPI(M), the Trinamool Congress and the BJP are vying for political space by opposing the Centres reform policies. Mamata Banerjee may have a clear advantage here. Her response to the diesel price hike is not only seen as a populist one but projected as a great sacrifice: she gave up power at the Centre for the sake of the people.

I cannot compromise on issues relating to the common people. I have no existence if I cheat the people, the Chief Minister said while announcing the withdrawal of her support to the UPA on September 19. Her violent anti-land acquisition movements in Nandigram and Singur had already earned her a rural vote bank. Mamata Banerjee perhaps believes that her present stand will make her position even more secure.

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