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'Grand alliance' in Bengal may not work, say former PMs

'Grand alliance' in Bengal may not work, say former PMs

The Times of India News Service
The Times of India
April 16, 2000
Title: 'Grand alliance' in Bengal may not work, say former PMs
Author: The Times of India News Service
Publication: The Times of India
Date: April 16, 2000

The "mahajot" or the grand alliance being forged in West Bengal could muster up to 60 per cent of the popular vote. But this arithmetic may not work in the elections due next year, four former prime ministers-Chandra Shekhar, V.P. Singh, H.D. Deve Gowda and I K Gujral-have warned.

They have cautioned against the Congress joining the anti-Left alliance. In trying to hurt the Left Front, the Congress would be damaging its own prospects across the country and end up helping its natural adversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party.

"Left is the bulwark of secularism. By opposing it in West Bengal, the Congress will be damaging its own image as a secular force," Mr. Singh has said. The Congress gain, if at all, would be marginal, while the BJP, which has made significant gains riding piggy-back on Trinamul Congress, may be the chief gainer, he told The Sunday Times of India.

In terms of arithmetic, the Congress plus Trinamul Congress (TC) vote can pose a threat to the Left Front and can even prove decisive when the BJP chips in. But the voter behaviour cannot be predicted in a state that has roughly 23 per cent Muslim population and 20 per cent are tribals and Dalits.

A Congress-TC alliance is seen as natural in West Bengal's context. But Trinamul's refusal to part ways with the BJP has raised serious doubts. Trinamul is seen as bargaining from a position of strength, particularly after the upset it caused in the recent Rajya Sabha elections.

Sources in the Left, concerned though they are at a Congress-TC alliance, do not think the Congress could afford even an indirect alliance with the BJP. The reported stance of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi at the Congress Working Committee's meeting earlier this week has, however, sent in the alarm bells in the Left camp.

"Nothing is decided about joining the mahajot. The lessons have yet to be learnt from the Congress alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar," a senior Congress functionary said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A "mahajot" electoral success takes into account junior Left Front partners falling out with the dominant CPM and the CPM's rebels coming out and joining hands.

The internal struggle within the CPM is public knowledge by now. But Saifuddin Choudhury, who has raised several questions to make the party leadership uncomfortable, has gone on record that the rebels would do nothing that would harm the Left unity. His recent interaction in Parliament with Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee, when she proposed to "talk" and he politely rebuffed her by saying that they remained poles apart, is now part of the current political lore.

CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan ridiculed a recent call from TC leader Ajit Panja for an alliance with "everybody including the CPI". On the contrary, Left parties are hopeful of closing ranks in the face of a threat to their supremacy of two decades-plus. "The Left must shed its inertia," Mr. Bardhan said.

This is endorsed by the CPM which is engaged in forging closer ties with secular parties well ahead of the West Bengal polls. "Alliances cannot be cobbled together to fight and win elections. If it is true of us, it is even more true of what is going in the name of mahajot," CPM's Prakash Karat said.
 



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