By Anurag Dey
New Delhi, Feb 14 (IANS) Notwithstanding talk of a post-poll alliance, the Congress is all set to tie-up with the Left against the ruling Trinamool Congress for the Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal where it won 4 seats with a vote share of nearly 10 per cent in 2014.
Battling a surge of defections to the Trinamool and fund crunch, the state leadership, as opposed to the central leaders' wishes for a truck with the Trinamool, insists on a tie-up with the Left with whom it had an electoral arrangement during the 2016 Assembly polls.
Congress leaders privy to the development told IANS that an agreement has been reached on contesting the polls jointly with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) in at least 30 of the 42 seats.
Besides Congress President Rahul Gandhi and CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury discussing the issue, the Bengal Congress has been in talks with the Communist leaders to work out the modalities of the tie-up.
"The CPI-M and CPI have agreed for a tie up. Talks on seat-sharing are at an advance stage. We will jointly contest in at least 30 seats if not more," a Bengal Congress leader told IANS adding that Left Front constituents Forward Bloc and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) have not agreed to be part of the understanding.
The RSP had in 2016 too protested tooth and nail against a tie-up with the Congress.
The Congress appears to be a divided lot over its Bengal plans both at the central and state levels. While the central leadership is keen on aligning with the Trinamool Congress, a fair section of the state leadership insists on a tie-up with the Left. Yet another section wants to go it alone.
Signifying its intent to woo the Trinamool, Gandhi in September removed known Mamata-baiter Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury as the state unit chief and brought in Somen Mitra, a former Trinamool MP who had rejoined Congress in 2014.
However, contrary to the central leadership's hopes, Mitra has opposed any truck with Mamata. Critical of the Trinamool for allegedly attacking and killing Congress workers and supporters, Mitra wants the Congress to contest the polls alone.
On the other hand, state General Secretary O.P. Mishra, who was the architect of the Congress-Left tie-up for the 2016 Assembly polls, asserts an understanding with the Left was imperative for the Congress.
"The Congress-Left collaboration ensured the BJP's vote share plummeting to 10.2 per cent from its all time high of nearly 17 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. An understanding with the Left is imperative especially when the Trinamool is having a tacit understanding with the BJP," Mishra told IANS.
Pointing to the Congress-Left combine winning 76 of the 294 seats and registering about 38 per cent vote share in the 2016 polls, Mishra said the combine was looking at incremental gains and confident of both the Congress and the Left improving their respective tallies in the Lok Sabha polls.
While the Left was reduced to two seats with a vote share of nearly 30 per cent, the Congress with a vote share of around 10 per cent won four seats in 2014. Of the 42 Lok Sabha seats, the Trinamool won 34.
"The difference between Trinamool's vote-share with the Congress-Left combine in 2016 was merely 6 per cent. At a time when there is huge anti incumbency against Mamata and massive resentment against Modi, the Congress-Left collaboration stands only to gain," added Mishra.
Somen Mitra, a votary of the Congress going it alone, said that any arrangement with the Trinamool would be a disaster citing party workers and supporters being killed and attacked by the state's ruling party.
"It would also facilitate the rise of BJP and Hindutva forces in Bengal," said Mitra.
While asserting that the Congress should go it alone, Mitra said he was not averse to a tie-up with the Left.
A central leader of the party, however, said the Trinamool was important in the Congress' scheme of things as it could emerge the third largest party after the Congress and the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls.
"Trinamool, along with the SP-BSP combine, will be the kingmakers that cannot be denied. While we had hoped for a mahagathbandhan' which has not materialised, a post-poll alliance is on the cards," a central party leader told IANS.
"Time and again the opposition has displayed its unity, although a pre-poll alliance has not happened. But all the parties realise the importance of joining hands and we are confident that it will happen state-wise and after achieving the common goal of defeating the BJP, the contours of the UPA 3 will be finalised," he added.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)