The Rajya Sabha election in Karnataka heated up after the BJP-JD(S) combine fielded Kupendra Reddy, even though the alliance had the strength to win only one out of the four seats.
Veteran politician Professor Om Prakash Mishra, who had been with the Indian National Congress for four decades, joined Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress after the Parliamentary elec- tions of 2019. Having been inducted initially into the Trinamool’s core committee, he contested the Assem- bly elections in 2021. Consequent to his appointment as the Vice Chancel- lor of North Bengal University, he left active politics. A member of the National Security Advisory Board to the Prime Minister between 2004 and 2006, Dr Mishra’s incisive analysis of the intricacies of electoral politics in the country has informed many a debate and discussion. In an interview to The Statesman’s Dola Mitra, as the nation hurtles toward the Parliamen- tary elections next year, he delves into the complex political developments building up in the country and espe- cially in West Bengal.
Q: The Parliamentary elec- tions are due in less than a year but there seems to be discrepan- cies as far as the INDIA alliance is concerned in West Bengal with the Congress and the Trinamool not really seeing eye to eye. As a politician who was for long asso- ciated with the Congress and is now with the Trinamool, we would be grateful for an “insid- er’s” analysis of what the diffi- culties are for the two parties working together in the state.
A: Ideologically the Indian National Congress (INC) and the All India Tri- namool Congress (AITC) are compati- ble, enjoying symmetry and similar perspectives on most of the political issues. Both are part of the INDIA alliance of parties in direct opposition to the BJP. In ideological terms, both INC and AITC represent the same value system. Also, politically both parties are progressive, liberal and secular and both pursue the same economic-welfare policy framework. However, in terms of electoral politics they are two separate political parties, especially in West Bengal. We must not however, overplay the electoral arena over the ideological-political symme- try which calls for cooperation and collaboration.
Q: But is there not an overlap between the electoral arena and the political arena? Though the elections are General and the outcome would impact the for- mation of the Central govern- ment, the elections would be fought locally, at the state level. How then would the INDIA alliance work in West Bengal?
A: The goal of the INDIA alliance is to defeat the BJP government at the Cen- tre. This is at the “general” level. It is erroneous to assume that only if there is seat-sharing in the state between the INDIA alliance partners it would have the desired outcome. On the contrary, this type of an arrangement may even favour the BJP in electoral terms. After all, it was the failure of the Left parties and Congress to fight the Lok Sabha elections together in 2019 (unlike the 2016 Assembly elections) that led to huge gains for the BJP. Sim- ilarly, there is no point in the UDF and LDF fighting elections in Kerala together instead of against each other. Togetherness would be ruinous in Kerala as the non-existent BJP would gain a foothold there. Fighting sepa- rately, UDF and the LDF would sweep the elections and would add strength to the INDIA alliance at the Centre. In West Bengal, the Left parties fighting elections both against the Trinamul and the BJP makes sense. After all, it was the migration of the Left voters to the BJP in the 2019 elections which powered the BJP and decimated the Left.
However, since the organizational strength of the Left is spread wide in West Bengal, it must necessarily com- pete against the ruling parties both at the Centre and in the state. This can indirectly help Trinamul as well. With regard to Congress, even its tradition- al stronghold in Murshidabad, Malda and Uttar Dinajpur districts elected Trinamul MLAs in large numbers in the 2021 Assembly elections. Basically an electoral understanding between the Trinamul, the Left and the Con- gress in Bengal in 2024 would be neg- ative.
An understanding between Trina- mul and Congress would be gainful for both the parties and in case of a Left-Congress tie up taking on both BJP and the Trinamul, the dwindling electoral fortunes of BJP may gain some strength in the above three dis- tricts. In other words, a strengthened Trinamul is a prerequisite for the over- all INDIA alliance tally in Bengal and a sure way to drastically reduce the BJP tally of 18 seats in the 2019 elections.
Q: With their ideologies near- ly identical, what made you decide to move from the Con- gress, of which you had once been Bengal General Secretary and Vice-President, to the Tri- namool?
A: Despite my strong advocacy, both the state leadership of Congress and the Left decided not to tie up for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, indirectly helping BJP with an unprecedented 40.3 percentage vote share and 18 seats in the Lok Sabha. Post the mas- sive BJP win in 2019, I pleaded and wrote to the state Congress to consid- er Trinamul as a like-minded party, as with the Left. But my advocacy in this regard was officially rebuffed in writ- ing by state Congress President Late Somen Mitra. It was my considered and stated view that it was the Trina- mul that could thwart the BJP’s march in the state. This has happened. I advocated before the Congress lead- ership in 2019 to consider Trinamul as like-minded in the overall fight against BJP. This has happened in the form of the INDIA alliance.
Q: Was the crushing statistics the only consideration for you?
A: Not at all. The statistic reflected more than electoral arrangements. The Trinamul has made a massive mark in the state in terms of its liberal and secular policies politically, in terms of its social welfare schemes economically and in the administra- tive arena it has provided stable and progressive governance.
Q: Does that mean that the Trinamul does not really need the support of the Congress and the Left parties in the context of West Bengal for the INDIA alliance to work at the Centre?
A: The Trinamul has the strength of numbers and as for the Left and the Congress, even if they don’t ally elec- torally during the General elections in the state, the INDIA alliance will work centrally. However, I would add that for Congress, electoral geography of Bengal favours a tie up with Trinamul. The alliance exists at the political arena, where different political parties have come together with a common goal in spite of what their electoral dynamics may be in the states.
Q: Will the INDIA alliance continue to exist in the political arena even after the Parliamen- tary elections?
A: The entire premise is that it will be so because as it was formed with the idea of joining hands not just during the elections but beyond that.