Should Congress go alone in West Bengal?
West Bengal Assembly Polls are due next year. This may become a watershed poll, the first one after Jyoti Basu's death, and one that may push CPIM out of power after more than 33 years. In fact, it seems that all of India is waiting to see that happen. There is an expectation in West Bengal building up, because after years of misrule and stagnation, Bengal's moment may just come to join the party in India.
But this is still not certain, if newspaper stories have to be believed. There seems to be an ongoing tussle between the temperamental Trinamool Congress chief, Mamta Banerjee, and the Congress party. Ms Banerjee seems to believe that she is doing a favour by aligning with congress, when the truth is the other way round. And, while Ms Banerjee has been a political survivor in her career, no one can credit her with political astuteness. So, the odds are that she will cross the threshold and the TNC-Congress alliance will not last till the election. This will almost certainly mean that the CPIM will return to power for another term.
It is also a very real possibility given that recent cosyness of the Congress Party with CPIM, and the reported assurance from CPIM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury that CPIM will support the government at the centre if Ms Banerjee decides to pull her support. With 24 seats at the Parliament, the left has a slight edge over TNC's 20, and that should keep the current government in power.
The question is whether Congress will take the bet?
Over next few months, an interesting political game will be played out. On one hand, there is this very real possibility of pushing the left out of power in West Bengal after such a long time. But if this does not happen, the Congress government at the centre may become vulnerable, because Ms Banerjee will almost certainly pull the support and go over to BJP, and the UPA/ Congress government will become dependent on Left's support yet again. The leftists are not dependable allies, which they have already shown, and they will interfere in every government business and stall things. The current momentum of reform programmes will almost certainly disappear, and the government will live in constant fear of blackmail by the left which it did last time.
So, for Congress, it is a difficult decision to make. It is almost a balance between West Bengal vs India, and Blackmail by left and Blackmail by Mamta kind of a situation. One would possibly think that the course of action should be obvious - keep the government at the centre and let the West Bengal go to Mamta; because Mamta's blackmail isn't disruptive as long as her Party's corruption and craziness is tolerated. However, the Left's blackmail is extremely disruptive, and it is best to see them completely erased out of Indian politics by waiting a few more years of chaos initiated by Mamta.
However, I shall still think the decision is difficult because while the short term implications are so obvious, the long term implications are not. For example, the greatest threat to ongoing Congress rule in India does not any longer come from the democratic Left parties, but from Regionalism and Extreme Left movement. The democratic left in India is a spent force now, a thing of the past, almost a pressure group with vested interests than a political movement with any agenda. If the Congress makes a choice for Mamta, she will almost certainly win. A TNC rule in West Bengal then will almost certainly become a mob raj, where she will spare no effort to 'eliminate' the left threat, and unleash a reign of violence. Those who lived in West Bengal knows that TNC has all the mafia now, and a TNC rule will mean no less than a return to the political mayhem that West Bengal endured during the early 70s.
But this is more than an ethical problem arising out of such a possibility. To remain in power, TNC will then almost certainly take a Regionalist stand, and try to eliminate the Congress influence from the state altogether. The regionalism in Bengal runs deep, and it will be fertile ground of regional posturing after so many years of misrule and underdevelopment. In fact, I shall suspect, Mamta Banerjee will spare no efforts to portray Congress leaders, particularly the Gandhis, as distant imperious oppressors, as she keeps doing some of the time.
Besides, one has to realize that Ms Banerjee is aligned deeply with the extreme Left, who consider the democratic left raj as their biggest problem and consider, in more ways than one, Ms Banerjee as their poodle. She proved directionless and completely off-agenda in dealing with industrialization issue because she was manipulated in that position by extreme left parties. And, this is indeed going to continue.
So, in summary, Congress faces a long term strategic choice. They know that the democratic left has been humbled and they are facing an existential threat at this time. They may, to be optimistic, less disruptive this time. Besides, by allowing the Left government in West Bengal to continue, the Congress may help the moderates in the CPIM for the moment, and this, in turn, may lead to more sensible policy choices by the party.
Besides, from the long term perspective, letting Trinamool win will write off West Bengal Congress for next few decades yet again. However, the new Young Congress resonates well with Bengali youth, who are no less aspirational than anyone else. Leaving CPIM in power may just help pave the way for an eventual Congress rule in West Bengal in a few years time.
So, it is long term versus short term choice. The Congress had many long term choices recently, particularly in the UP, which has led to the resurgence of the party. It is time that the Party does it again and decides to go alone in West Bengal.
Her posturing is about how many seats she can get for her party - a fair game - but the difficulty is Trinamool has become a party of the mafia, and that alliance will seat uneasily with Rahul Gandhi's new generation Congress image.
So, Congress itself has to take the call - a difficult one - between long term and short term considerations. Living with Prakash Karat as preacher-in-chief is difficult, more so in the wake of the realization that one Stalinist practise that CPIM will never abandon is complete rejection of accountability in public life [did you hear the talk about 'collective responsibility'?]. But Ms Banerjee is no saint, and her principle of leaving the government in Delhi alone as long as she is left to do her own thing in West Bengal does not bode well for the future.