On the Left-Congress-Indian Secular Front Alliance and Prospective ‘Lotus Bloom’ in West Bengal

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West Bengal is brewing in a hyper-political ‘cult war’ not seen in the recent past. The saffron party, bracing its electoral blitzkrieg and ‘crush and conquer policy’ aspires to taste power in the untested Bhadralok territory. On the other hand, the ruling regime is strategizing the hustings to mark ‘hat trick’ win and stymie the dreams of the Hindutva party. Bharatiya Janata Party’s staggering uptick in seat share in 2019 Lok Sabha polls is the incentive to fructify their power ambitions in the state. The bipolar slugfest between the lesser evil (AITMC) and the greater evil (BJP) has grabbed the national limelight for its hyper-politics and high-stake narrative. In this neck-to-neck contest in West Bengal, the emergence of Abbas Siddiqui and his new political outfit ostensibly called ‘Indian Secular Front’(ISF) siding with Left-Congress in a starkly polarized atmosphere spawned the question: will it make or break BJP in Bengal?

Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui is an influential cleric of the shrine of Furfara Sharif in Hooghly district, West Bengal. He is a ‘haranguer’ not new to controversy for his misogynistic remarks. Revolt erupted within the congress party (alliance partner) questioning the ‘secular credentials’ of ISF and its founder. While secularism debate over its gene lingers, Abbas Siddiqui embraces ‘conservatism’ antithetical to progressive politics, ironically ‘Indian Left’ (another partner) should stand for. This bespeaks soaring ‘identitarian stranglehold’ and virtual death of ‘class politics’.

The peculiar bipolarity in West Bengal

The end of 34-year Left rule in Bengal caricatured a new political ecosystem where class (economic) identity became redundant and social identity became the major fillip to political mobilization. Left demolition drive steered by TMC and its supremo since Left’s electoral rout created an opposition vacuum in state’s political space. Instead of toiling for a revival, left-congress bequeathed that space to BJP. Mamata Banerjee’s ‘social outreach’ cutting across caste and religious line especially wooing the Muslim community to entrench her support base among the crucial chunk of minority population aided BJP to trade Hindutva doctrine effectively to the state. BJP, an ally turned rival of Ms Banerjee, proactively seized the momentum filling the opposition gap and shook the invincibility of her social base.

Even though in Bengal, TMC’s ‘identitarianism’ and Left-Congress inertia nurtured the Hindutva party to yield electoral dividends, it is inevitable to contain ‘saffron expansionism’ in Indian Democracy. Ms Banerjee, one of the ardent critics of the Modi-Shah duo in opposition space, forged an ironclad ‘Muslim support system’. Modi-Shah BJP pioneered polarization citing appeasement politics and branding Ms Banerjee pro-Muslim culminated in the exodus of a major chunk of Left-Congress and minuscule TMC Hindu voters to saffron fold. BJP’s Hindu vote Bank witnessed an unpreceded escalation from 21% in 2014 to 57% in 2019. Disillusionment with the TMC cadre for their high-handedness during local body polls, 2018 is also a triggering point for some sections to move towards viable alternative offered by BJP.

Election AITMCLeft-Congress    BJP
2016-Assembly pols       45%    34.04%  10%
2019-Lok Sabha polls      43.3%    7.01%    40.3%
Table 1.1: vote share of three major political parties/alliances in 2016 and 2019 West Bengal elections

Analyzing the vote share of three major political parties/alliances between 2016 Assembly polls and 2019 Lok Sabha polls as shown in table 1.1, there is an alarming vote share drain in Congress-Left camp and paltry loss for TMC, but requisite ‘course correction’ was mandatory. A Left to Right shift is apparent swelling the saffron party’s vote share at the cost of the traditional Left-Congress support base. The specter of 2011 is haunting the ‘Left cadre’ to wage an unholy war against Ms Banerjee favouring the Hindu-Right. This vengeance and outdated vendetta impertinent to changed pollical reality is reflected in new ‘hybrid formation’ targeting disintegration of Muslim votes. 

West Bengal: What is making BJP so optimistic about this election?

Political Analysts and commentators speculate Owaisi model ‘vote split’ and the political avatar of Abbas Siddiqui could thrust TMC into trouble. A ‘quake’ in the majority of TMC’s 27% minority vote share can impinge the electoral prospects of the incumbent party. Another ominous fallout is citing Abbas Siddiqui in the electoral fray, BJP would exacerbate its ‘polarization plank’ diminishing the prospects of Left-Congress to retain their traditional Hindu votes that went to BJP. ‘We were worried that a revived Left-Congress alliance would manage to take back some of their traditional votes that came to us in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Now we are hopeful Hindu-Left supporters who voted for us would not go back to Left’, says a BJP supporter.  

The electoral triumph of BJP in Bengal is a prelude to ‘Opposition-mukt Bharat’. Left-Congress somersault by harbouring a regressive outfit easing Hindutva ride to power evince an anti-climax to ‘opposition revival’ in Indian political spectrum. A people’s campaign called ‘No Vote to BJP’ received a virtual attack from CPIM cadre alleging it a ‘TMC agent’. ‘We have got nasty phone calls from the RSS, for naming and shaming them openly in our campaign. We are happy to have disturbed the enemies of the people. The most unfortunate response has come from the CPIM, though. While its leadership has been silent and kept distant from us, the cadre of the CPIM has been relentlessly attacking our campaign- a curious phenomenon indeed. Looks like the CPIM doesn’t want us to up the ante against the BJP as much as they are vocal against the TMC. A repeat of their 2019 strategy’, said Kasturi Basu, one of the convenors of the forum ‘Bengal against fascist RSS-BJP’. In Bengal, the Left has lost ‘secular virginity’ by fornicating with the Hindutva-Fascist regime to topple their arch-rival, Mamata Banerjee. CP John, general secretary of Communist Marxist Party (CMP) in Kerala condemning the implicit BJP-CPIM bonhomie has rightly said ‘has committed a second historic blunder’ and Indian Secular Front would possibly be a ‘third historic blunder’.

Indian democracy desperately craves for a united ‘non-Hindutva opposition’ to combat the saffron onslaught. ‘Credibility crisis’ confronting the grand old party emasculates its stature as a force to reckon with in the fight against BJP. Bickering and pettifogging blame game within the opposition camp reinvigorate extremely united ‘Hindu-right’. Does the Left have the moral right to consider TMC an ‘untouchable’? West Bengal was not void of political violence and state repression under Left rule. A statement issued by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in 1997 tells ‘between 1977 and 1996, 28,000 political murders took place in the state’. Ms. Banerjee herself was a victim of CPIM hooliganism and it’s no surprise that it got boomeranged against Left when she confiscated the gauntlet of power. Marichjhapi massacre of 1979, one of the worst crimes against humanity is a blot on the legacy of Jyoti Basu and his regime. Even though communism played an instrumental role in secularizing Bhadralok society, the Communist party had resorted to institutionalized violence and repression to preserve its supremacy. Hence, the political left in Bengal was no different from the TMC cadre in the perpetration of violence in the state.

How Celebrities got into Bengal politics

BJP Bengal victory would be a ‘psychological strike’ that would outstrip the so-called ‘Bengali Exceptionalism’. Historical remnants of the streak of Hindutva-communal fault lines lurks in Bengal which will get exploded if the saffron party succeeds the office. Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 is on the anvil plunging the fortunes of 27% of the Muslim population of the state at stake. In such a wild scenario, the Left-Congress act of ‘fishing in troubled water’ is a setback to the notion of ‘opposition unity’. BJP-RSS, the greater evil exemplifies neo-fascism in India seducing the populace with ‘ultra-nationalism by creating a ‘mythical enemy’ within the country. A ‘union of lesser evils’ is the desideratum to skunk this ‘fascist-communal juggernaut’. ‘We will not give into divisive and steamrolling politics which defies all democratic norms. No political party is a saint, but there is a time when you have to call out the autocrats and chose the lesser evils’, actor-director Parambrata Chatterjee, part of Artist Union against BJP told the news agency PTI.

Featured Image: Flickr

Sonal Sebastian
Sonal Sebastian is pursuing Masters in Political Science in Central University of Pondichery. Interest areas include Socio-Political issues and International Relations

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