Mamata calls for detente with Congress, CPI (M)
Speaking to Asiaville, leader of the CPI(M) in the state assembly Sujan Chakraborty said, “As soon as Mamata said this, I stood up and said, ‘No chance!’ The Trinamool is responsible for the rise of the BJP in the state and if the BJP is to be fought, it can’t be done without fighting the TMC too."
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made an unprecedented gesture to traditional arch-rival CPI (M) on Wednesday: she said the All-India Trinamool Congress, the Congress and the CPI (M) should think of making common cause to contain the BJP.
“The people of the state are witnessing in Bhatpara what happens if you vote for the BJP. I feel all of us — TMC, Congress and CPI(M) — should come together in the fight against the BJP. It doesn’t mean we have to join hands politically, but on common issues at the national level, we can come together,” Banerjee said in the state legislative assembly.
However, the CPI (M), which has become a marginal player in a state, after ruling it for more than three decades, did not seem inclined to respond to Banerjee's gesture.
Speaking to Asiaville, the leader of the CPI(M) in the state assembly Sujan Chakraborty said, “As soon as Mamata said this, I stood up and said, ‘No chance!’ The Trinamool is responsible for the rise of the BJP in the state and if the BJP is to be fought, it can’t be done without fighting the TMC too."
Even the state Congress leadership wasn't enthused. Bengal Congress president Somen Mitra told Asiaville, "She had once termed the CPI (M) as "Untouchable". She joined hands with the BJP, ditched the Congress, and went on to become the Railway Minister. Later, she again joined hands with the Congress but ditched the party again. She termed the Congress as the CPI(M)'s dalaal (broker)." He added, "In 2016, she said that the Congress is just a signboard. She says many things but one does not know what she means. If she is clear, then alone will the Congress respond."
Banerjee's TMC, which had been the dominant player in Bengal after the decline of the left, was jolted out of its pole position by the BJP, which won 18 of the state's 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, just four seats behind the TMC. The Congress won two seats in the state, while the CPI (M) failed to open its account.
The TMC secured 43 per cent votes and the BJP secured 40 per cent votes. The CPI (M) secured 6 per cent votes while the Congress secured 5 per cent votes.
The rise of the BJP has led to instances of political violence with the ruling TMC. The ongoing violence in Bhatpara is part of the trend, with both the TMC and the BJP blaming each other for it.
The recent years have also seen remarkable cultural polarisation in the state, with the BJP/VHP courting controversy by organising armed Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti processions in the state. Many said these were not part of the routine "religious practice" of Bengal, where goddesses Durga and Kali are key deities. However, with the BJP asserting the right to take out processions and these apparently also finding some traction with common people, the TMC also organised parallel Ram Navami processions.
At the height of the election campaign, BJP and TMC workers were involved in violence and vandalism on the sidelines of BJP president Amit Shah's roadshow in Kolkata. A bust of social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was vandalised, and both parties blamed each other for it.
After the polls, Banerjee tried to kick up a Bengali vs outsider rhetoric, even saying that those staying in Bengal should speak in Bengali. The party in a knee-jerk reaction employed the "outsider" discourse to counter a rising BJP by appealing to regional-linguistic sentiments.
The BJP, in the meanwhile, is continuing to harp on the National Citizen Register theme to whip up sentiments against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, while at the same time appealing to Bengali Hindus by saying that it will amend the Citizenship Bill to allow persecuted minorities from the neighbouring country to apply to become citizens.
Banerjee's call suggests that she -- like Akhilesh Yadav in UP some time back -- feels that taking gradual steps towards a grand alliance alone can stop the BJP in its tracks. As of now, the CPI (M)'s Bengal leadership isn't willing to play ball. And the state Congress leadership is also in no hurry to respond.