Ahead of Elections, CPI(M) Adopts a Flexible Approach to Alliances

The left party is aiming to revive itself in its erstwhile strongholds, but is also willing to support bigger players in other states in exchange for a few seats.

New Delhi: Over the past year, opposition parties have stepped up efforts to create a united front against the BJP. However, where the Left Front, especially the Communist Party of India (Marxist) stands in the scheme has remained unclear.

While the Left Front’s leaders have shared the stage with other opposition parties, they have hesitated to be recognised as an integral constituent of the opposition front.

Its opposition to the BJP is widely known, but what prevented its unequivocal support to the opposition front is primarily political.

Firstly, the Left Front is strongly placed only in three states: Kerala, West Bengal, and Tripura. In Kerala, the Left Democratic Front’s principal opposition is the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). In West Bengal, although it shared a difficult relationship with the Congress, it allied with the grand-old party to counter the ruling Trinamool Congress. In Tripura, the CPI(M)-led government was ousted by the BJP in 2018. However, before the BJP’s rise, its primary opposition was the Congress in the northeastern state.

The CPI(M)’s historical opposition to the Congress has prevented it from allying with the Congress, although it made an exception in Bengal.

The CPI(M)’s dilemma to participate in a united opposition front stemmed from the fact that both the TMC and the Congress were arterial forces in it. This showed when the Left Front stayed away from the biggest united opposition rally, organised by TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, in Kolkata in January 2019. Similarly, although the Left Front leaders participated in the opposition dharna organised by the Aam Aadmi Party in New Delhi in February, they left before Mamata Banerjee joined it.

Also Read: Under Modi Govt, Terror Incidents up by 176%; Soldiers Killed by 93%: CPI(M)

Secondly, its traditional opposition to the Congress is also apparent. Ever since the BJP became the dominant party at the national level in 2014, party leaders have waded through a long and bitterly-debated whether to ally with the Congress or not. The Bengal and Kerala lobbies stood at the opposite end, with the latter fiercely resisting any arrangement with the Congress.

It was only in the Hyderabad plenum in April 2018 that the party agreed to an open-ended resolution. This essentially meant the party could ally with the Congress if necessary. This was largely seen as a victory for the general secretary, Sitaram Yechury, who was an advocate of issue-based alliances with the Congress to oppose the BJP.

Electoral strategy

Against this backdrop, the CPI(M) released its electoral strategy after its central committee meeting on March 3 and 4. It is clear that the Left party is not averse to joining hands with the Congress and its allies, as long as the Rahul Gandhi-led party opposes the TMC in Bengal.

Essentially, the state-level dynamics weighed heavy for the party in chalking out its strategy. The Left party asserted that their electoral tactics will be based on the following: “a) Defeat the BJP alliance, b) Increase the strength of the CPI(M) and the Left in the Lok Sabha, and c) Ensure that an alternative secular government is formed at the Centre.”

In states where the party is strong only in pockets, it wishes to be accommodated in the anti-BJP front.

In Tamil Nadu, the CPI(M) may ally with the Congress-DMK alliance for a seat or two. The party’s general secretary said that it is in discussion with the DMK.

In Maharashtra, he said that “discussions are on” with the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party, also an ally of the Congress, for contesting either Dindori or Palghar seats “where the CPI(M) independently polls around a lakh of vote each.”

Similarly, in Bihar, the party is speaking to the Rashtriya Janata Dal for contesting the Ujiarpur constituency.

In Odisha, where the assembly and parliamentary polls will be held simultaneously, the CPI(M) may contest the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat and a few assembly seats, including Bonnai, which it won in the previous election.

Yechury spoke about a constituency level alliance with the Congress. “We will support the Congress in Sundargarh Lok Sabha seat, while the Congress will support our MLA candidate from Bonnai, which is in the Sundargarh district. ”

In Telangana, the CPI(M) does not plan to ally with the Congress-led opposition front. “We are discussing with the Communist Party of India (CPI) to share a common platform. But for that, the CPI will have to come out of the Congress-led alliance,” Yechury said.

In Andhra Pradesh, the CPI, the largest Left party in the state, the CPI(M) and the Pawan Kalyan-led Jana Sena Party will forge an alliance for the simultaneous assembly and parliamentary polls.

Yechury said that his party will contest both the Lok Sabha seats in Tripura and in Kerala, it will stick to opposing the Congress-led UDF.

Clearly, the CPI(M) has adopted a flexible approach. It is looking to bargain for some seats with bigger parties in many states in exchange for its support.

CPI general secretary Sudhakar Reddy, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and LJD president Sharad Yadav and CPI leader D. Raja during the Kisan Mukti March in New Delhi on November 30, 2018. Credit: PTI

The case of West Bengal

The CPI(M)’s press release stated, “In West Bengal, the central committee had earlier decided that the CPI(M) will adopt suitable tactics to ensure the maximisation of the pooling of anti-BJP, anti-TMC votes. In accordance with this, the CPI(M) proposes no mutual contest in the present six sitting Lok Sabha seats, currently held by Congress and the Left Front.”

This indicates that the party’s alliance with the Congress may not come through. Both the parties have accepted that they will not contest against the other in four seats held by the Congress and two by the CPI(M).

Also Read: CPI(M) Likely to Contest Just 20 Lok Sabha Seats From West Bengal

Discussions over an alliance reached a deadlock due to seat distribution. There are multiple seats where both the Congress and the CPI(M) are said to have almost equal strength. Although the TMC is stronger than the two parties combined in these seats, they were reluctant to ally.

As The Wire reported earlier, the CPI(M) may contest only 20 seats, leaving the other 22 to other Left Front partners or the Congress, if the alliance materialises. Yechury said that “the Communist Party of India (ML-Liberation) and some other progressive groups” have joined the Left Front in Bengal and the seat distribution will keep that in mind.  

All these possible alliances, Yechury said, were still being discussed. The CPI(M) leader said that the electoral strategy was charted by the central committee after taking “the concrete situation” of Indian polity and party’s strength into account. He added the party will notify the press when seats are finalised. 

As of now, however, it appears that the tactics employed by the biggest Left party is to revive itself in states where it was a prominent player only a few years ago. In other states, it will be content to increase its electoral footprint by getting the support of bigger players in a seat or two.