After some equivocation, Congress and Left have announced their tie-up for the Bengal assembly polls next year. This effectively makes the Bengal contest a three cornered fight. Although the main challenge for the ruling Trinamool dispensation is BJP – exemplified by the recent high-profile defection of Suvendu Adhikari to the saffron outfit – the Congress-Left combine could prove to be an additional headache for chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The alliance is looking to position itself as the secular alternative, thereby hoping to attract those anti-Trinamool voters uncomfortable about BJP’s growing footprint in the state.
That said, the potency of the Congress-Left combine is undermined by the fact that the two parties are rivals for the Kerala assembly polls that will be held alongside Bengal’s. Voters could view the tie-up as a cynical ploy. True, the duo had also fought the 2016 Bengal polls together and won 76 seats. But that was before BJP became a force in the state. And as the 2019 Lok Sabha polls showed, a significant chunk of Left voters drifted to BJP, helping it win an unprecedented 18 Bengal seats. Thus, anti-Trinamool voters are likely to view BJP as better poised to take on Trinamool.
Of course, Mamata can’t be counted out. She has hit the campaign trail hard and is already projecting BJP as an outsider, Hindi heartland party. Expect her to push Bengali sub-nationalism buttons in the months ahead. However, tactically, she would have been on a far stronger wicket had she reached out to Congress and Left, and worked out a joint secular front to take on BJP. The template for this exists in the 2015 Bihar polls where arch-rivals Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad joined hands to deny BJP. But Mamata is no Nitish. Her best bet, therefore, is to hope that the Congress-Left combine can dent BJP’s gains of anti-Trinamool votes.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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