'Kusti' in Kerala, 'Dosti' in Bengal: CPI(M)-Congress's unique equation

The CPI(M)'s just-concluded plenum in Kolkata has caught the headlines. It is not often that the party succeeds in doing so nowadays, given its growing weakness and irrelevance in the national politics. And it also this growing threat to its electoral future has made it desperate to find a way out of the stagnation it has found itself.

The plenum, held after a long, long gap of 37 years (shows the level of stagnation this party suffers from) was seen as a knee-jerking exercise for the leadership which is completely clueless about what is to be done next.


The party has spoken about some realistic angles at the plenum, like a need for internal democratisation and not imposition of diktats from the top, need to infuse young blood, the responsibility of the top leadership to lead from the front or the necessity to broaden the party's base in regions where it hasn't been a force.

Nice to hear but...

These words are good to hear but one also needs to take note of the point that the CPI(M) was also busy eyeing some misplaced priorities at the same occasion, may be more than thinking about what has caused its massive decline in the realm of Indian politics. And it was the desperate discussion on aligning with the Congress for the next set of Assembly elections, especially in West Bengal.

Karat now wants to tie up with the same Congress he had dumped in 2008

The desperation of the party also became evident when its former secretary general Prakash Karat even expressed a feeling of joining hands with the Congress, the same party with who he had called off the ties in 2008 over the India-US nuclear deal, paving the way for arch-rivals Trinamool Congress to enter an alliance with the Congress. Even the current general secretary Sitaram Yechury is not averse to the idea of forging a tie-up with the Congress in Bengal for the next polls with an aim of defeating Mamata Banerjee's party.

Congress, too, is a divided camp

The Congress, on the other hand, is a divided camp on this idea. While the state leadership wants to go with the Left in the Assembly polls for almost all factions of Bengal Congress are staunch critics of Banerjee, the high command has a weakness for the TMC chief. State Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury has even said that no matter what the top Congress leadership felt, the grassroots workers of the party along with those from the Left will continue to work together.

CPI(M)'s tricky state in Bengal & Kerala

The CPI(M) has a similar dilemma. While the party is hinting at allying with the Congress in Bengal, the idea has certainly not appealed to its Kerala unit for there, the CPI(M)'s main fight is against the Congress-led UDF. The Left has felt boosted by the results of the recent panchayat elections in the southern state and the growing anti-incumbency against the UDF and the factional feuds in it have made it confident. In this situation, calling for an alliance with the same Congress in Bengal amounts to diluting the party's stand in Kerala.

Mamata made a pre-emptive strike in National Herald issue

Hence, neither the Congress nor the CPI(M) have an internal consensus on what strategy to adopt in the next Assembly elections. And none other than Banerjee, who recently gave a masterstroke by throwing her weight behind Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the National Herald case to leave the CPI(M) and state Congress in utter confusion, will feel assured the most to see the developments.

Here, rises two questions about the wisdom of the CPI(M)'s politics:

What was the need for the plenum ahead of the polls?

One, what was the need of holding the plenum just ahead of the elections? When the CPI(M) needs to overhaul itself to remain relevant in Indian politics, holding an important soul-searching event ahead of elections defeats the very purpose (the last plenum in Saikia in Bengal was held in 1978, a year after the Left had embarked on its 34-year journey as the state's ruling party).

The party lost its basic focus on how to regain the trust of the people it has lost over the years, leading to erosion in its vote bank and thought more about how to clutch at the straws of an alliance to survive yet another poll. This prevalence of the short-term interest over the long-term vision will certainly disappoint the party's core supporters and will ultimately lead to nowhere.

Why CPI(M) leadership hasn't yet spoken directly with the Congress high command?

Secondly, if the CPI(M) thinks allying with the Congress is key to its success against the favourites Trinamool, why hasn't its top leadership communicated with its Congress counterpart directly as of yet? Till now, we are seeing the central and state units (Bengal and Kerala) pushing the ball to each other's court on the question of alliance and a more forthright stand taken by the Bengal unit of the Congress.

One suspects the top leaderships of the CPI(M) and the Congress are yet not clear in their thinking on the poll strategy. Barely three-four months ahead of the polls, this suggests the party is yet to shed its lazy mentality. Banerjee could assess this the best and grabbed the opportunity created by the National Herald fiasco to back Sonia Gandhi at the expense of the NDA.

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