Congress's Bengal dilemma: Secularism or communalism, and who is enemy no. 1?

·4-min read

A war of words has broken out in the Congress between West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury (Sonia Gandhi group) and Anand Sharma (G-23 group) over the induction of Furfura peer’s party Indian Secular Front (ISF) in the Mahajot (Congress-Left alliance).

The two engaged in a Twitter war, with Sharma criticising Chowdhury for ‘compromising on the secular credentials’ of the grand old party for the sake of political benefit.

To this, Adhir clarified that the Left Front will allocate some seats to ISF from their quota and the Congress will not leave any seats for them: so, technically, it is not having an alliance with them.

Adhir attacked Anand by saying that they are those who ‘have already extracted their own pound of flesh and are now looking for greener pastures’.

This gave Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Sambit Patra to target this ‘unholy’ alliance. “This is core hypocrisy and doublespeak: the Congress terms itself a secular party, but ties up with the ISF in West Bengal, with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in Assam, and the Welfare Party, a front organisation of the Jamaat-e-Islami, in Kerala,” he added.

The party’s campaign in West Bengal is grappling with inherent contradictions:

1. Secularism versus communalism

The Congress which has constantly attacked the BJP for playing the politics of polarisation has tied up with a party which carries a communal tag.

A section of party leaders themselves are saying that this informal arrangement, as Adhir is calling it, is against ‘Gandhian and Nehruvian secularism’ and the party cannot be selective in fighting the ‘communalists’.

A section of its core/ideological voters in the state, as well as nationally, are likely to be irked by this move as it reeks of opportunism.

Priyanka Gandhi explained the alliance in these words. “We may not agree 100% with what our alliance partners believe, but we are together in this fight.”

2. TMC or BJP? Who is enemy number one?

The party is unclear as to who is its enemy number one in Bengal. Is it the Trinamool Congress (which is in power in the state) or the BJP (which is in power at the Centre)?

Adhir’s tweet suggests it is the latter.

“Know ur facts @AnandSharmaINC ji.

CPI (M) led Left Front is leading the secular alliance in West Bengal of which Congress is an integral part. We are determined to defeat BJP's communal & divisive politics and an autocratic regime.”

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However, the Trinamool Congress is in power in the state and not the BJP. The tweet makes it clear that Congress is fighting to defeat the BJP and prevent it from coming to power.

Since the Mahajot is nowhere in contention, as per opinion polls, the Congress is indirectly helping the TMC by making such statements.

The Congress won 44 seats in Bengal in 2016: out of these, 30 were minority community-influenced seats, primarily in Malda, Murshidabad and Uttar Dinajpur districts.

Even this time in 2021 state elections where the Congress has a good chance to win (mainly minority-dominated seats), it is in direct clash with the TMC and not the BJP.

The party appears to be soft on the TMC with which it had formed an alliance in 2011 state elections. However, this can mar its chances in these seats in this election.

3. Alliance with the Left in Bengal, at loggerheads with it in Kerala

The Congress and the Left Front are in alliance in Bengal, but they are baying for each other’s blood in Kerala. These two fronts have been the principal opponents in the state since its formation in 1956.

While Rahul Gandhi is exhorting voters to vote out the Left Front government in Kerala, in Bengal he will have to seek votes for the Mahajot.

The party is hoping for a hung Assembly situation wherein it can play the role of a kingmaker and back Mamata ostensibly to fight communalism.


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