Conventional political analysis has it that a General Election in India is not merely a sum of the results of Assembly polls across the country. Conversely, though, the ideologies, personalities, and programmes of the competing political parties in various states, especially the larger ones in terms of Lok Sabha seats, have an exaggerated impact on the national narrative. While this principle applies across the board, it is particularly true of national parties and major regional players with ambitions of becoming a part of a coalition at the Centre.
It is vital for the above backdrop to be kept in mind when trying to assess the impact of the stuttering start of the ‘third player’ in the March- April eight-phase Assembly poll in West Bengal – the alliance between the Left Front, Congress, and Indian Secular Front led by Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui. Siddiqui, a bit player at the state-level and a non-entity nationally, publicly undermined the alliance at its first big campaign rally at Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata on Sunday when he failed to even mention the Congress.
“You could ask me why I did not take the name of any other party. I will say that they have not shown maturity like Biman da (Biman Bose, Left Front Chairman in Bengal). Thanks to him and Mohamed Selim we got 30 seats,” Siddiqui iterated, unapologetic about the brand of identity politics he champions. He followed up this barb in post-rally media interactions in which he was more pointed in his criticism of the Congress.
Asked what he would do if the Congress sticks to its stand of not ceding seats from its last remaining pockets of support in Murshidabad and Malda to the ISF, which wants a total of about 60 seats to contest, he replied that his party would in that case fight all seats sans those being contested by the Left Front.
Take a step back, now, and consider the optics. The Congress, with ambitions to win back its place in national politics usurped by the BJP, is in an alliance with the ISF-AIMM in West Bengal, Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala, and the Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF in Assam for the 2021 Assembly polls.
All three parties are clear about their community- specific priorities. Does the BJP really need to ‘polarise’ nationally when the Congress is doing the dirty work for it? Next, let us examine the Left Front which is essentially a regional force with a role to play in central coalition politics.
The “Ram 2021, Baam 2026” theory for West Bengal (and something similar in Tripura with the time period adjusted accordingly) and a robust drive to retain Kerala are its priorities. Unlike the Congress, it is showing signs of having at least recognised that its slide into irrelevance would be an accomplished fact if it doesn’t follow a ‘tactical line’ – or what non- Marxists would term a utilitarian approach. It will not hesitate for a moment to discard the Siddiquis of the world once they have served their purpose. Or, indeed, bludgeon them into moderation if they ever come back to power.