The results of 2004 Lok Sabha elections were a real surprise especially in the context of West Bengal. The surprise was not in the CPI(M)-led Left Front winning 35 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, but in Congress emerging as the second leading force in the polls by bagging a total of six seats from the state that year.
On the contrary, Trinamool Congress, then having an alliance with the BJP at the national level and the prime opposition party in West Bengal ended up winning in just one seat and BJP being reduced to zero. From 2004 to 2009, the current West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was the only Trinamool Congress member in the Lok Sabha.
Surprisingly, the contest in West Bengal was three- cornered in 2004, with Congress and Left Front contesting without any seat sharing agreement. However, then the leadership of both Congress and Left Front during their respective election campaigns gave a subtle message of supporting the strongest opposition forces against the BJP and its allies. That strategy worked in West Bengal in 2004 leaving Trinamool Congress in the state to bare minimum and it's the- then ally BJP to zero.
Now for 2024 Lok Sabha polls as per the current indications, the Congress and Left Front are moving ahead to contest the polls together with an amicable seat-sharing agreement in a situation where the BJP has emerged as the strongest opposition force in the state since the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
There lies the question that whether this joint move by Left Front and Congress in West Bengal will work out in 2024 considering that similar joint exercise did not work out for either of the two forces in the state Assembly elections both in 2016 and 2021.
Question also arises on what would be the strategy and nature of campaign for Congress and Left Front to convince people to reject Trinamool Congress and BJP at the same time.
Both the state Congress president in West Bengal and veteran party Lok Sabha member Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and CPI(M) politburo member and the party state secretary in West Bengal, Md Salim are clear about their logic about going ahead with an understanding for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Both believe that the erosion in their respective vote banks in West Bengal, which reached its low point in the 2021 state Assembly polls, has stopped and in fact has started showing fast signs of recovery. According to both, the latest example of the successful alliance model between the Left Front and Congress was witnessed in the by-elections to the minority- dominated Sagardighi Assembly constituency in Murshidabad district, where Left Front- supported Congress candidate Bayron Biswas emerged as a victor with a huge majority.
Both Chowdhury and Salim feel that the Sagardighi polls are not only an indication of the beginning of erosion in the dedicated minority vote bank of Trinamool Congress, but also the beginning of the end of the growing belief that only BJP can counter Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.
Chowdhury had blatantly rejected Mamata Banerjee's offer that like Trinamool Congress will be supporting Congress in other states, there should be reciprocation from the Congress on this count in West Bengal.
"Didn't Trinamool contest in Tripura and Goa so that BJP can take advantage of the division in the opposition votes? Did she even once appeal to the people of Karnataka to vote for Congress? Even she refused to acknowledge the roles of Congress and our leader Rahul Gandhi for Karnataka results. Now she is asking for reciprocation from Congress. The country has witnessed her role in the last election for Vice-President of India, where Trinamool Congress MPs abstained from voting and this indirectly helped BJP," Chowdhury said.
According to Salim, the results of the recent bypolls to the Sagardighi Assembly constituency in Murshidabad district has proved that neither Trinamool Congress nor BJP are invincible if there is a proper alliance of secular and democratic forces. "The same thing is applicable in case of Karnataka Assembly polls. All secular and democratic forces will have to move forward with open minds," Salim emphasized.
According to political analyst Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay, Congress will be in a better bargaining position as regards to seat-sharing agreement with the Left Front than with Trinamool Congress.
"As I can see from here, in case of this agreement between the Left Front and Congress for 2024 polls, Congress will be able to contest without any rigorous bargain in seven Lok Sabha seats, namely Murshidabad, Jangipur and Baharampur in Murshidabad district, Malda (North) and Malda (South) in Malda district and Darjeeling Lok Sabha. With slightly more bargain, the Congress might even manage to contest from Purulia constituency. But getting so many seats to contest will be impossible for Congress if the bargain is with Trinamool Congress. So, the Left Front is the natural choice for alliance for Congress in West Bengal," he said.
There comes the automatic question on how far the Congress will benefit from an understanding with the Left Front. Or rather who will benefit out of this alliance? Congress? Or the Left Front?
Political analyst and columnist Amal Sarkar feels that the possibilities of gain are more for Congress rather than Left Front.
"CPI(M) or Left Front is an extremely regimented force. So is its continuing dedicated vote bank, who had been voting for the red force even at its worst times. So it will be easier for the Left Front to mobilize their traditional voters behind a Congress candidate as part of an alliance formula. But I do not think that Congress can achieve the same mobilisation of their traditional voters behind the Left Front. But surely the Sagardighi bypoll result was significant in a way a clear signal to the Trinamool Congress that if the dedicated minority vote bank can help it to tide over the massive BJP wave in 2021, the same voters can show the state's ruling party the exit door," Sarkar added.
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