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Operation Red Hunt

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The despondent Left in West Bengal may be in for some real trouble real soon. The Congress and Trinamool are working towards an alliance to oust them from power in the state.

The despondent Left in West Bengal may be in for some real trouble real soon. The Congress and Trinamool are working towards an alliance to oust them from power in the state.

If the left in West Bengal wants more bad news, here it is: the Trinamool Congress and Congress are determinedly moving towards an alliance before the forthcoming Assembly polls which, worse still, could just be a few months away. This means that, save for some unlikely miracle, the Left Front could be out of power in this state before it completes its full five years in office in May next year.

 Despite painstaking efforts by the Left, primarily by CPM leaders both in Bengal and in New Delhi, to drive a wedge between the Congress and Trinamool, the two parties are firm on an alliance. At the centre of this is the Congress leadership’s resolve to dislodge the Left from West Bengal, since that would deal a debilitating blow to the comrades at the national level as well. Also, Mamata Banerjee realises that she needs the Congress to achieve her dream of freeing Bengal from the Left’s stranglehold. 

The failure of the two parties to form an alliance before the recently-concluded civic elections in the state has come as a blessing in disguise for the leadership of both the Congress and Trinamool. Leaders of the two parties say that while the civic poll outcome has laid bare the strengths and weaknesses of the two parties, it has also underscored the need for the two to go to the next Assembly polls as allies if the CPM-led Left Front, which has been firmly ensconced in power for 34 years now, is to be ejected. Had the two parties fought the elections to the 81 civic bodies together, they may have won in at least 60 municipalities. 

Latest developments indicate that the Congress leadership, after having realised the need to have Mamata by its side both in New Delhi and Bengal, is now more than ready to indulge her. That could well mean getting the Election Commission to bring the polls forward to December-January while the anti-Left mood in Bengal is still strong, as Mamata has been demanding. The Left, reeling from successive electoral blows, will find the ensuing months too short a period to stage even a modicum of a turnaround. Right now, the mood in the Left camp is one of despondency and resignation, and it’ll take some time for the Left leadership to rejuvenate its dejected comrades. 

 Events over the last few days provide an indication of the Congress High Command’s resolve to keep Mamata happy. Last weekend, Pranab Mukherjee hosted a dinner for Mamata at his New Delhi residence, where he briefed her on the appointment of a full-time president of the West Bengal unit of the Congress even before the news was made public. “The appointment of an office-bearer like the president of the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee (WBPCC) is an internal affair of the Congress. But the fact that our leader [Mamata] was kept in the loop while consultations were on at the highest level of the Congress, and was the first outside the Congress to be informed [about the appointment] by a senior leader like Pranab Mukherjee, is obviously an indication of the importance the Congress High Command accords our leader and party,” says Trinamool Senior Vice President Subrata Mukherjee.

 Then, within two hours of Mamata landing in Kolkata on Sunday evening and criticising the recent fuel price hike, the Congress leadership bent over backwards again to humour her. It got Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily, who was in the city, to visit the Trinamool leader at her south Kolkata home. Emerging from the 30-minute meeting, Moily was all praise for Mamata, who he described as a “great fighter” who the Congress and India were proud of. “Mamata had only criticised the price hike, and that too in mild terms. There was never any threat to the alliance at the Centre to necessitate sending a senior Union minister to her doorstep. That this was done signifies the importance Mamata and her party occupy in the Congress’ scheme of things,” observes Arunava Ghosh, eminent lawyer and a former Trinamool leader.

 Also, the Congress High Command took care to appoint Manas Bhunia, who has been speaking in favour of an alliance with the Trinamool, as the new state Congress chief. Acting WBPCC President Pradip Bhattacharyya and other Congress leaders who had spoken against Mamata have been sidelined and asked to keep quiet. Instructions are going out to all Congress leaders and office-bearers at all levels to work at an alliance with the Trinamool. “Any move to create hurdles in this would be viewed very seriously as indiscipline and dissent that would invite strong disciplinary action,” says a WBPCC vice-president.

 Conversations with senior AICC members and a couple of Union ministers who are known to be consulted frequently by Sonia Gandhi indicate that the Congress High Command has not forgiven the CPM leadership for its withdrawal of support to the UPA 1 Government. It now wants to deal a body blow to the party, and the best way of doing so is to dislodge it from West Bengal. 

A defeat in Bengal will have a devastating effect on the CPM, and may even lead to a split, with the Bengal and Kerala factions coming out openly against each other. “The Left is a constant thorn and an obstacle in the economic reforms and 

liberalisation that we want to pursue. The Left could also become a serious 

impediment in launching an all-out offensive against Maoists after a few months. Hence, making the Left weaker is our priority,” reasons a senior Congress leader. A decimated Left will also discourage Left-leaning Congress leaders who have been questioning the UPA Government’s actions, thus embarrassing the party leadership.

What’s also good news for the Congress and Trinamool is that the mood in the Left is one of utter hopelessness, as was made amply clear by senior CPM legislator and Left Front chief whip in the Assembly, Syed Mohammad Masih. “We’re in the government, but not in power,” Masih told newspersons last week. A senior minister tells Open, “We’re running a lame duck government. Nothing is being done, not even routine work. To talk of implementing projects aimed at the poor and minorities with renewed vigour at this stage is pointless. It’s better to quit and save face rather than carry on and attract greater ire of the people.” Privately, the CPM leadership has conceded defeat and admits that no amount of pep talk can really rev up the cadres.

 West Bengal today presents a rare case of all political parties reading, and correctly comprehending, the unequivocal writing on the wall: for the Congress and Trinamool, it is to fight the Assembly polls as allies, and for the Left, its days in power are numbered.