Is West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress and the Congress moving towards an alliance ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls? The chain of recent events could be a pointer to this, but leaders of both parties are still hedging their bets with polls still far away.
Is Congress-Trinamool moving towards an alliance in Bengal?
The political compulsion of putting up a united fight against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre prompted the two parties to hold hands during the recent presidential and vice presidential elections. Extending the camaraderie, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee backed Congress candidate Pradip Bhattacharya in the Rajya Sabha election, who ultimately won without a contest.
In further indications of cosying up to the Congress, Banerjee last month declared at a rally her party's readiness to join hands with all the opposition leaders, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, to oust the BJP.
The Congress and the Left Front (LF) had teamed up during last year's state assembly elections. But since then, the assertions of LF spearhead, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), of not forming any alliance with the Congress in future could play a catalytic role in bringing the Congress and the Trinamool together.
A section of Congress leaders, including Bhattacharya, who are cut up with the Left, are advocating a Congress-Trinamool tie-up.
Trinamool Congress, CPI-M, BJP, Mamata Banerjee ,
"It is difficult to say what would happen. Politics is never stagnant. We had a tie-up with the LF just a year ago. But now they are saying it is difficult to get along with us. I feel it is much better to go with Trinamool Congress than the Left, who don't have any consistency in the matter of alliances," Bhattacharya told IANS.
"If number is the deciding factor, there is no harm in considering an alliance with Trinamool. They'll win at least 34-35 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal. I feel Trinamool is a much better proposition for fighting the BJP in 2019," he said.
He also claimed that Congress' seat share in the Lok Sabha would double in the state if they join hands with Trinamool Congress.
"If Congress doesn't tie up with Trinamool, we may finish with 3-4 seats. But, the number may go up to six if we join hands with Trinamool," he said.
State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury, however, does not share Bhattacharya's enthusiasm. Rather, he accuses Trinamool of indirectly aiding the BJP's growth in Bengal by squeezing the political and secular space.
"By increasingly resorting to appeasement politics, political violence and political poaching, the Trinamool is squeezing the secular space, and a section of people are joining the BJP out of insecurity," Chowdhury said.
He said he hasn't received any instructions from the party high command about a possible coalition with the Trinamool.
"I've been asked to strengthen the party structure here and we are working in that direction. No one has asked me to work keeping in mind the possibility of coalition with the Trinamool," Chowdhury said.
The LF leadership refused to comment on the possibility of a Congress-Trinamool coalition but said the Trinamool was not an ideal ally in combating communal forces.
"We believe a grand alliance against the communal forces is necessary, but what the Modi government is doing at the Centre now is the same as what the Mamata government has been doing in the state for the last six years.
"The 2019 election is far away and many political equations would change. Therefore, it is better to wait and watch. I think it is too early to speculate on anything now," says Trinamool Congress secretary general Partha Chatterjee.
According to a noted political analyst, a Trinamool-Congress combine would not only impact the outcome of the Lok Sabha election in the state but also change the opposition dynamics by making the BJP insignificant and the LF the prime opposition force in the state.
"In such a scenario, it is highly likely that the BJP wouldn't get any seats, and the LF would recapture the opposition space as they still have their organisational strength at the grassroots, which the BJP doesn't have," said the political analyst, describing the Congress and Trinamool as natural allies.
But he prophesied that the Congress-Trinamool alliance would leave the LF far behind.
"The way things stand now, the Congress-TMC tie-up would bag no less than 38 seats, with the LF getting just one or two seats."