WEST BENGAL: The game is going into the bloody slog overs in Bengal, but where is Rahul Gandhi? Call it a secondary mystery wrapped inside a nail-biting political thriller. It’s a missing piece of jigsaw no one seems to have much noticed or considered despite it having the potential to decide a cliffhanger.
Now, it’s quite natural that when it comes to Bengal the mother, or perhaps the big sister of all battles attention has tended to be concentrated upon the primary antagonists. Like a convex lens focusing sunlight, the pitched battle of attrition between the Trinamool and the BJP has been setting off a lot of fires in the media.
Who has time, then, to think about the Congress—a dwindling presence here, atrophying even in its old pockets of influence? If at all it gets talked about, it’s because of the curious alliance it has helped put together, the Sanjukta Morcha, which has it partnering with the Left and a party floated by an Islamic cleric.
The Morcha is in play in 294 seats, but it may be tough going for them. The Congress is fighting some 92 of those, but even by its own internal estimations, the party stands a good chance of halving its tally in the state Assembly from 44 to 22. Others say even that’s optimistic, and reckon the Morcha’s overall pickings would be between 25 and 60 when play ends.
But 92 seats are not piffling stakes, so the question remains: Where is Rahul? Or Priyanka Gandhi, for that matter? Even the other usual national faces of the Congress have all been conspicuous by their absence.
The standard reading is Bengal offers such a dismal picture that they are giving it a wide berth, and focused on Assam and Kerala, where they are truly in the game.
But there’s also a sense that the Congress central command is uncomfortable campaigning against Mamata Banerjee. Many of the party’s UPA allies the NCP, RJD and DMK are outright supporting Mamata as the lone woman soldier holding out against a rampaging BJP. Even the Samajwadi Party, though not in the UPA, sent Jaya Bachchan to the battlefield—she held a press meet backing Mamata, and letting on that her party leader Akhilesh Yadav had clearly taken the West Bengal CM as a valuable anti-BJP force. So is there actually reluctance to fight the good fight? Not so, say key party insiders in New Delhi. Out in Kolkata, Rajya Sabha MP Pradip Bhattacharya, speaking while leading a padayatra for a candidate to file nomination papers, confirms that.
Naxalbari starting point of Rahul’s Bengal visit
“Of course Rahul Gandhi will come. The focus till now was, naturally, on Assam and Kerala. With those out of the way, you will see a heightened direct campaigning in places where we are seriously in the fray,” he tells TNIE.
Up north in Naxalbari, the Congress candidate is, ironically, a businessman named Sankar Malakar and he has a few more secrets to offer. It’s from Naxalbari, a place-name that is a byword throughout India for revolution, that Rahul Gandhi will start his Bengal campaign!
It will likely not be a rally proper but a 20-km roadshow that will take Rahul from Naxalbari to Matigara, also part of the same Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling district together, they form the proper name of the constituency. The dates are a bit iffy but April 11-13 is likely.
“There’s no irony at all,” Malakar tells TNIE. “The ground situation here is not being reported by media. There’s a lot of anger among the people here because of the Modi government’s privatisation policies, plus price rise. Rahul Gandhi’s stance resonates here.” The full campaign plan thereafter is a bit hazy, but reports suggest one can expect a high-profile RaGa run through the core north-central districts of Malda and Murshidabad.
There won’t be any Priyanka, though. At least that’s the word now. Nor will there be any of the others. Party insiders in Delhi say figures like Kamal Nath, Digvijay Singh and Sachin Pilot do not wish to come primarily citing that same reluctance to speak against Mamata. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, though not quite a campaign trail-scorcher, explicates the problem: he is actually in the Rajya Sabha from Bengal, courtesy Mamata, and fights their big cases when the TMC is in trouble. And the race in Bengal seems poised so dramatically that another angle opens up. Say there’s a hung Assembly—a scenario that some TMC supporters laugh at. What happens then? Will the Congress-Left decide to support Mamata?
Well, the talk is that most voices in the Congress look upon that option favourably. Mamata, at this juncture, is universally seen as the bulwark of the fight against the BJP in Bengal. Most state leaders too would apparently plump for that. The lone holdout there, reportedly, is West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
To offer support, if it at all comes to that, the Congress first needs to win a few seats. Only then can one even imagine that intriguing scenario: a post-poll mahagathbandhan!