The Kerala units of both the CPM and the Congress are opposing any possible tie-up between the two parties in West Bengal ahead of the Assembly elections there. In Kerala, this opposition is being seen as a manifestation of the tussle between CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury and his predecessor Prakash Karat, who called the shots in the party for 10 years, until 2015. Sources claim that Yechury is more than keen to join hands with the Congress in Bengal, but in the absence of a formal decision from the party’s central committee, the 63-year-old Rajya Sabha member is officially denying the possibility of a tie-up.
“The West Bengal unit of the CPM cannot independently decide on a coalition. It needs to be ratified by the Politburo and the Central Committee. The strategy will be decided at the Central Committee meeting on 16-17 February. We will stand by what we decided in our plenum last year, that there will be no alliance with the Congress,” Yechury told this newspaper.
As for the Congress, its vice president Rahul Gandhi is likely to be advised against accepting the overtures from CPM when he visits Kerala on Tuesday, sources in the state unit of the party told The Sunday Guardian. There is a general unhappiness among Congress workers in Kerala against any arrangement with the CPM in West Bengal, and they have asked the party’s MPs and MLAs to communicate the same to Rahul. The Congress’ district president from Thiruvananthapuram, Karakulam Krishna Pillai, however, said Rahul Gandhi would be visiting the state again in February end, when a decision is likely to be taken on the said alliance.
The major obstacle to the alliance is coming from the Karat camp, which does not want to deviate from the CPM’s traditional “equidistance” from the Congress and the BJP. Sources said that the Yechury camp, on the other hand, is agitated with Karat’s hard-line stance, which, they believe, has pushed the party into irrelevance in its bastion West Bengal. A source aware of the developments told this newspaper that the West Bengal cadre of the CPM is “up in arms against Prakash Karat and want to toe the more moderate line proposed by Yechury”. Yechury wants the CPM to embrace neo-liberal policies partly in order to woo back the middle classes.
“The Left lost the middle classes because of the hard-core policies of Prakash Karat, who is still opposed to capitalism. The common people want easy house loans, easy car loans. They want the comforts that a neoliberal economy can bring. Yechury understands this sentiment and is willing to adapt the policies of the CPM accordingly. This is the major conflict of interest between the two,” the source told this newspaper.
The source said that there is hardly any ideology left in the CPM: “The Left has moved away from its Marxist position. In Kerala, for instance, they put Christian candidates in Christian dominated constituencies. In order to stop the influence of the BJP, they are promoting some hardliners with shady background. Where is the ideology?”
The source, however, added that the Kerala cadre of the CPM is “baffled with the developments in West Bengal” as they are preparing to fight the ruling Congress in the southern state, which goes to the polls in a few months. “I don’t think they will be able to influence the leadership. There are Politburo members from Kerala, but in case the Central Committee decides to align with the Congress, the opposing voices will have to stay quiet,” he said.
The CPM cadre in West Bengal is understood to have had meetings with Yechury. “The CPM cadre met Yechury on Thursday. The party’s secretary was present in the meeting. They have offered support to Yechury and are upbeat about the Congress-Left tie-up,” a party insider told this newspaper.
A CPM MP from Kerala confirmed to The Sunday Guardian that “the party is divided behind Karat and Yechury. The cadre have also backed their respective favourites. This election will test our coherence.” He further admitted that an “ideological tussle is brewing at the top”. Talking about the Kerala cadre, the MP said, “We are aware that the general mood among the Kerala cadre is against any alliance with the Congress.”
The Kerala unit of the Congress, on the other hand, is trying to write off the possible alliance as a “media speculation”. “That is only in the newspapers. That is only in the premature stage. The Congress has never discussed the matter seriously,” K.K. Pillai told this newspaper. Officially, the party maintains that Rahul is visiting Kerala for a valedictory address at the conclusion of the ruling party’s Jana Raksha Yatra. Questioned whether the Congress will enter into an alliance with the Left, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said at a public meeting, “I don’t think there will be an alliance.”
But a Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee functionary said that the “suggestions of the locals, and the party factions are being taken internally”, although the “mood is generally against any arrangement with the CPM”. He said that during his two-day visit, Rahul will be involved primarily in collecting a feedback on whether an alliance with the CPM in West Bengal will affect the party’s poll prospects in Kerala, where the two bitter rivals have shared power alternatively since 1982. “Any alliance with CPM will be detrimental to the Congress. The Left is planning a door-to-door campaign against us over the alleged solar scam. How can we join hands with that party in another state?” he told this newspaper on the condition of anonymity.
It is believed that the Congress has entrusted its top leaders in Kerala to create a consensus over the alliance with CPM. Pillai said that the state unit is trying to assess the situations in the two states separately. “In Kerala, the CPM is focusing only on local issues. They are not vocal about the national issues. A CPM-Congress coalition in West Bengal will not affect our election strategy in Kerala,” K.K. Pillai told this newspaper.
The Left in West Bengal has been a shambles ever since Mamata Banerjee ended CPM’s 34-year-rule in 2011. Unless the Left joins hands with the Congress, another election rout is inevitable when the state goes to the polls in June-July. The deal will also benefit the Congress, which has remained a marginalised player in West Bengal after Mamata Banerjee left the party to form the Trinamool Congress in 1998.