The Left Front (LF), which was reduced to 32 seats in the 2016 West Bengal Assembly elections, announced in February that the LF-Congress combine or the Samyukta Morcha was forming a grand alliance with Abbas Siddique’s newly floated political outfit, the Indian Secular Front. Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) Politburo member Mohammed Salim, who is contesting from Chanditala in Hooghly district, spoke to The Hindu on why the alliance was necessary, and the Left’s roadmap for a revival. Excerpts:
How did you manage to build this grand alliance with the ISF which has now become a talking point? You are considered to be the chief architect of the Left joining hands with Abbas Siddique.
It is a collective effort. In January 2020, I held a press conference and said the Left will launch a movement which will not be on conventional lines (‘ chhokh bhanga andolan hobe ’). From seat adjustments with the Congress in the 2016 elections, we have now moved to an electoral understanding and brought the ISF into the alliance because the main objective is to pull the anti-BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) votes in a common fold. The main motto is to pull the secular vote together, and also stop the anti-incumbency vote against the TMC (Trinamool Congress) from going to the BJP. The alliance with the ISF is part of tactics to break the binary of Hindu and Muslim. We tied up with the ISF only after Abbas floated a political outfit. The Congress is not too happy about it. But to stem the flow of votes to the BJP, we had to do something.
How would you describe the ISF?
It is a front of marginalised sections, Dalits, tribals, Muslims, and the ISF has fielded candidates across castes and religions. In Bengal, among Muslims, 95% of them hail from ‘other backward classes’. The ruling TMC, and the BJP, have been trying to turn the minorities against the Left. But they are our constituency. If we can’t turn SC/ST, other minorities into communists, we can make them democratic and secular at least. Minorities became a fertile ground for religion-based politics, tapped by both TMC and BJP. The first priority is to bring that section which is being radicalised into our fold. Bengal’s culture, history, literature have always been inclusive, and we must protect that.
Critics feel the Left must take on the BJP more than the TMC…
The Trinamool Congress came into being to decimate the Left. As soon as it was formed, it joined an alliance with the BJP, calling it [the BJP] its natural ally. When divers take a dive, they need a springboard — TMC was the springboard to allow the BJP to dive into Bengal politics. Our job is to remove both the diver and the springboard — we cannot do this alone in our reduced strength and in an environment of so much of terror.
What are the key election issues?
The Left alliance is addressing various social and economic issues from governance, attacks on Dalits, women, the reign of terror in the Bengal districts, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the National Register of Citizens, and so forth. From class divide to social issues, we have been part of many movements. Many social divisions are being created by the TMC and the BJP as diversionary tactics away from the real issues, and we have been working to reverse that trend. We are harping on karma (work), not dharma (religion). We are highlighting agriculture, industry, jobs, women’s safety, and problems faced by tribals and minorities. The migrant labourer crisis during the pandemic and lockdown helped us to serve the marginalised class.
You are saying the Left should not be written off…how big is the anti-incumbency factor?
Well, the media, experts and commentators have been trying to do that — they announced the results of the 2021 Assembly elections right after the 2019 Lok Sabha election results, forgetting that there is another year — 2020 — in between. Everyone remarked that the CPI(M) vote had gone to the BJP in 2019 and that the BJP would win the 2021 elections. But the Tripura model will not work for the BJP in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee, too, announced that the Left could not be seen even through binoculars and was no more. But there’s a three-layer anti-incumbency on the ground — anti-TMC government, anti-party, anti-Mamata family (the third factor was not there in the 2016 election). In several areas, there will be a three-cornered contest.
What is the roadmap to revive the Left?
The Left has to revitalise, reposition, re-energise and refurbish itself. Some of it you are seeing in the fielding of young leaders, for instance; forming a broad alliance is another way. Terror, attacks, false cases, defections — we have also lost a few members — we have to turn this around. Over the last few years, the party has been working hard. The CPI(M) should not allow itself to be isolated.