The inordinate delay in finalising the seat sharing arrangement between the Left front and the Congress is increasing anxiety among workers of both sides as elections to the West Bengal Assembly draw close.
Three rounds of meetings have already taken place and the fourth round is slated for February 16. So far, sources said, the Left parties are ready to cede 92 seats to the Congress, but the Congress has been insisting on a more “respectful” figure of 100-plus seats.
The Left is eager to accommodate Furfura Sharif’s chief patron Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui’s newly formed Indian Secular Front (ISF). While it is ready to give seats from its kitty to the ISF, it wants the Congress to contribute, too.
The Left-Congress alliance is planning to hold a joint rally on February 28 to begin its campaign. Whether a galaxy of leaders from Delhi, including former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, will be present or not will depend on the amicable settlement of a seat sharing formula.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have already stolen the march in the campaigning. The BJP launched its Poriborton Yatra on February 6, and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has already led 11 public meetings.
The delay exacerbates the problem for the Left-Congress alliance, which has been boxed out by both BJP and the TMC, and is struggling to make it a three-corner fight by projecting itself as the third alternative between the two extremes of the BJP and the TMC.
Mamata Banerjee, in a recent meeting in the Congress bastion of Murshidabad, exhorted voters to not waste their vote on the Congress or the Left. The TMC alone, she said, could fight the BJP.
It was decided that each party would get to keep the seats it won or was the runner-up in 2016. This formula no longer holds good, since in the last five years many legislators have crossed over to the TMC or the BJP. Out of the 44 seats that the Congress won in 2016, only about 25 MLAs still remain with the party.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has also had desertions.
“The question here is not the number of seats but their winnability. Chances are that we do not have a winning candidate on the seats we won in 2016 because, since then, our MLAs have shifted loyalties,” a senior Congress leader said.
A section of the party is deeply unhappy with the delay. “The seat discussions should have been locked by January 31. There is no pro-Left or pro-Congress wave. We should have given time to the individual candidates to begin their campaigns,” another leader said
The Left is equally apprehensive. “The coming together of the Left-Democratic-Secular parties had instilled this good vibe. The unnecessary delay is causing anxiety among our cadres, and unless a decision is taken quickly, it could dampen the mood,” former Lok Sabha MP and senior CPI(M) leader Mohammad Salim told The Hindu.
Fingers are being pointed at West Bengal Pradesh Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury for the delay. Another Left leader complained about “lack of engagement” from the Congress.
But Mr. Chowdhury said, “It [the seat sharing arrangement] is a time-consuming exercise. We are working on it and it will be done soon.”
He denied any adverse impact of a delay on the mood of the cadre from the two sides. “It’s not as if we are late. Which other party has announced its candidates?” he asked.