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As Bengal CPI(M) Pivots to Seeing Main Danger in BJP, State Politics Enters New Phase

In a volte face, the party's state secretary has finally admitted the mistake of treating the Trinamool Congress on par with the BJP.

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Kolkata: CPI(M) state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra’s Facebook Live on July 7 has marked an important juncture in Bengal politics, as the party has finally acknowledged that equating the Trinamool Congress (TMC) with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was a mistake and has damaged the party’s electoral prospects.

He significantly said:

“Regarding the TMC and the BJP, our party decided 22 long years ago that BJP cannot be equated with any other party because BJP is run by the RSS – we have said this repeatedly – which is a fascist organisation whose leaders took lessons from the original fascist, Mussolini. No other party, not even Congress, not even the TMC, can be equated. However, despite this understanding, while communicating with the people, sometimes we are giving an impression that the TMC equals the BJP.”

Mishra added that this led to the spread of confusion and misunderstanding among party workers and supporters.

The BJP was undoubtedly the prime enemy, Mishra said, admitting that the party had erred in alleging that the TMC and the BJP were working with an understanding between themselves. Mishra made it clear that opposing the BJP was the primary task for the party now. He spent the lion’s share of his two-hour speech attacking the BJP on issues like inflation, the Rafale controversy, and the death of Father Stan Swamy.

“If they were the same, then we would have to maintain equal distance. If we are six feet away from the BJP, we must stand six feet away from the TMC as well! But this has not been our understanding,” said the CPI(M) state secretary, a politburo member of the party.

Also read: Is This the End of the Road for the CPI(M) in Bengal?

This was in sharp contrast to the CPI(M) leaders over the past few years who have been seen targeting the TMC more often than the BJP. Several smaller Left parties like CPI(ML)(Liberation) and SUCI had been criticising the CPI(M) since 2019 for helping the BJP’s rise in Bengal by focusing their criticism on the TMC.

However, the CPI(M) has always defended its stand saying the TMC and the BJP were two sides of the same coin. They frequently used phrases like ‘Didibhai-Modi bhai’ to mean Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi were working together.

PM Narendra Modi at a rally in West Bengal. Photo: PTI

‘Inability to understand’

Mishra in his speech admitted that use of portmanteaus like ‘Bijemool’ (BJP and Trinamool) was wrong. “A word came into use… perhaps some of us also used it in our speeches…Bijemul. Words like this create confusion and ambiguity over questions such as who are we fighting, who is the principal enemy and where to centralise the offensive.”

Mishra said that the party’s analysis of the election results and the post-poll scenario was being placed before the public because two months had passed since the results were announced.

“There are some slogans that are going outside our programme and understanding. For example, we have been asked about referring to the two parties as two sides of the same coin. But now I want to clarify, two sides of a coin are not necessarily the same as a coin has a head and a tail,” he said.

He also referred to the slogan ‘agey Ram porey baam’, meaning ‘first saffron, then the Left’, frequently used by a section of left supporters since 2018-19 to propagate the theory that the BJP will first topple the TMC government, following which the TMC will disintegrate and the Left will then topple the BJP government to return to power.

“We didn’t create this slogan. It was a creation of the BJP. But some of us may have used it,” Mishra said.

While alleging that it was the TMC which brought the BJP to the state by forging an alliance in 1998 which lasted on and off till 2006, Mishra also said that it was time that the Leftists realised that the relation between the TMC and the BJP had changed.

“It wouldn’t be right to say they (TMC and BJP) fought the 2019 election with an understanding. You can say it for 2006, 2009, 2011, 2014 and even the 2016 election but not since 2019. BJP has a history of finishing all parties that they once tied up with…But inability to understand these changes (in TMC and BJP’s equation) has harmed us,” Mishra said, adding that the only similarity the two had now was in their common interest to weaken Left parties.

Trinamool Congress activists celebrate their partys winning trend during counting day of West Bengal Assembly Election 2021, in South Dinajpur district, Sunday, May 2, 2021. Photo: PTI

A role reversal?

Mishra’s speech implies that the CPI(M) will henceforth target the BJP more often than the TMC, affecting a role reversal.

“Don’t go by how many seats they have got. We must remember that the BJP is a danger. The BJP is now the only opposition party. Their number of seats and vote share may not be enough to form a government but make no mistake that the BJP will not reduce its focus on Bengal,” Mishra told party workers and supporters.

The change in the Left’s prime target became evident during this speech itself, as Mishra kept blasting the BJP on one issue after another.

He took digs at the BJP for plotting to partition the state, referring to the recent controversy triggered by several BJP MPs and MLAs from north Bengal, especially Alipurduar MP John Barla who demanded a separate state or Union Territory out of north Bengal. Mishra alleged that the RSS had for long nurtured the idea and had a long-term plan of forming a Union Territory in the Darjeeling hills and making the rest of north Bengal a separate state.

Also read: BJP To Divide Bengal? Only on Our Terms, Say Leaders of 3 Identity-Based Movements

“It’s an old agenda which has now come to the fore. This will further deepen the division among the people and intensify the ‘TMC versus BJP’ polarisation. This is not just for north Bengal but a similar plot is being floated for the state’s Jangalmahal region too. Separatist slogans are being raised. After 1947, here is another plan to partition the state,” he said and called upon the people and party supporters to oppose such a plan.

Mishra hinted that in the Centre-state battle, his party was likely to oppose the Centre if it tried to undermine the state’s territory or disrupt its federal structure.

“BJP doesn’t respect the Centre-state relationship. They are trying to interfere with the state’s jurisdiction. Can we, as leftists, support their attack against the federal structure?” he asked, adding, “If the BJP wants to destabilise the centre-state relation and capture Bengal, or any other state with an opposition party government for that matter, we must protest.”

He even criticised the role of the CBI in the arrest of TMC ministers and MLA in May in connection with the Narada cash-for-favours scam of 2016.

“Arresting the Narada accused after their defeat (in Bengal)…why? Did it increase the prestige of the Centre? Why no action in so many years? And when you finally make arrests, why not every accused in the case? Why selective measures?” he said, making direct reference to lack of action against Narada accused Suvendu Adhikari, who is now with the BJP and serves as the leader of the opposition in the new assembly.

TMC activists shout slogans as they protest outside the CBI office in Nizam Palace, Kolkata, over the arrest of party leaders in connection with the Narada scam case on Monday, May 17. Photo: PTI

He also lashed out at the state government on the recent vaccine scam by a conman, the government’s decision to introduce an upper house in the assembly, political violence and inflation and described the TMC as “dictatorial and corrupt party”. However, criticism of the TMC took up a minor portion of his speech.

Mishra admitted that they underestimated how the TMC regained support. “They used ‘Didike Bolo’ and ‘Duarey Sarkar’ as positive interventions. We have ridiculed the politics of dole but some people have benefitted from it. We need to further analyse if we underestimated these initiatives they took to reduce anti-incumbency,”

Implications

Even though the CPI(M)’s vote share plummeted to an all-time low and number of seats went to zero, given Bengal’s tradition of massive vote swings in a short period of time, the party that once ruled the state for 34 straight years should not be dismissed as irrelevant.

Rather, their role may help intensify anti-incumbency against the BJP-led Centre ahead of the 2024 elections, when retaining the Bengal tally of 18 Lok Sabha seats is going to be a major challenge for the BJP, political observers feel.

CPI(ML)(Liberation) welcomed the CPI(M)’s “late realisation.” Speaking to The Wire, the party’s politburo member Kartik Pal said, “This is the first time they are acknowledging such a major political mistake. We welcome their admission of these mistakes but much damage could have been avoided had the realisation come earlier. The BJP would have got even fewer seats in Bengal.”

Pal also said that the due to the CPI(ML)(Liberation)’s public criticism of the CPI(M)’s political line with regard to the BJP, CPI(M) supporters subjected the Liberation leadership, especially general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, to intense bullying and trolling on social media, terming the party and Bhattacharya a stooge of the TMC.

CPI (ML-Liberation) leader Dipankar Bhattarcharya. Photo: Twitter/@Dipankar_cpiml

Ahead of the assembly elections, Bhattacharya had said the CPI(M)’s major blunder was that instead of competing with the TMC in opposing the BJP, the CPI(M) was competing with the BJP in opposing the TMC.

“We did not criticise the CPI(M)’s line only on public platforms but we cautioned the CPI(M) of the great damage they were doing to their own party even when we had inter-party discussions. But the bullying that CPI(M) supporters subjected us to was uncalled for. We hope the CPI(M) will also advise its cadres and supporters to behave in a way more fitting of a Left party,” Pal said.

Political analysts had differing opinions about the possible outcome of the CPI(M)’s new stand. Udayan Bandyopadhyay, who teaches political science at Bangabasi College in Kolkata, said that the BJP was likely to suffer from this.

“The CPI(M)’s realisation came too late. They abused and bullied Dipankar Bhattacharya for pointing out these mistakes ahead of the assembly elections. Still, if they now adhere to what they seem to understand, the CPI(M) is likely to be able to recover a section of votes that they lost to the BJP. The CPI(M) has lost the majority of its traditional support to the BJP and it is from the BJP that they have to recover their support base,” Bandyopadhyay said.

However, Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata, thought the CPI(M) was making another blunder which would benefit the TMC.

“Since 2019, the CPI(M) has failed to decide on its political line and target. They have been directionless and that continues. If they now focus on primarily targeting the BJP, people on the ground facing the TMC’s atrocities or misdeeds will be upset. More people from the CPI(M)’s fold would prefer to join the TMC under such a situation,” Chakraborty said.

The BJP in 2019 won 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats and retaining that tally would be crucial for the Narendra Modi government for returning to power. However, going by the 2021 assembly election trends, the BJP is leading in 9 seats, while the TMC is leading in 33.

Since the assembly election results, the BJP’s new concern has been the desertion of workers and leaders. It is to recover the party from this distressful condition that the Modi government decided to increase Bengal’s representation to the Union ministry. However, fighting the Left in addition to the TMC can only make the BJP’s task a little tougher, a Bengal BJP veteran said, unwilling to be identified.