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Chances of Bihar style grand alliance in poll-bound Bengal remote

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Kolkata: It was “rising intolerance” or a “desperate survival bid” that saw old foes Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad join hands with the Congress to trump the BJP-led alliance in the Bihar polls. Will the approaching West Bengal assembly elections see the emergence of yet another grand alliance?

Opinions vary as the political temperature in the state rises with the electoral battle just months away.

While for some, the vastly different political spectrum in Bengal may not allow the forging of a Bihar like combination, some others feel the Nitish-Lalu duo, post the Bihar victory, could play a decisive role in next year’s duel.

While the opposition – the Left Front, the Congress and the BJP – has often been unanimous in deriding the Trinamool Congress for its “misrule” and aspires to dethrone the Mamata Banerjee government in the state, it is yet to indicate any resolve to bury its differences and collectively fight against the Trinamool.

On the other hand, an advocate of forging a federal front opposed to the “communal” BJP, Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee, has been wooing Nitish Kumar and her Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal, which some see as an attempt to forge a Bihar-like coalition.

Political analyst Anil Kumar Jana, though, opines that Bengal’s political dynamics may not present the opportunity for such an alliance.

“Had the BJP won in Bihar, things could have been different. There could have been possibilities of the Congress or even the Left coming together with the Trinamool to stop the BJP. But now, owing to the strong political compulsions of the parties, the possibility of any such alliance is very remote,” Jana told IANS.

The Vidyasagar University professor, however, felt the Congress and the CPI-M – both locked in an existential battle in the state – may come together against their common enemy, the Trinamool.

Another analyst, Udayan Banerjee, insisted that the Marxists cannot afford to align with the Congress.

“For the Left, Kerala is far more important as it has a chance of coming back to power there. Even if Bengal leaders insist, the politburo will not allow any kind of truck with the Congress as it may jeopardise its chances in Kerala,” said the associate professor of political science at the Bangabasi College here.

While there have been feelers from certain sections in both the camps on the possibility of an alliance, the top leaderships are non-committal. But both the parties unanimously ruled out the feasibility of a Bihar-like coalition.

Remaining evasive on the issue of joining hands with the Marxists, state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury argued that the political dynamics in Bengal did not afford the major forces – Trinamool, Congress, Left or the BJP – to be unopposed to each other.

“The BJP’s communal politics had brought rivals together in Bihar. But in Bengal, irrespective of the fact that the opposition collectively has been a target of Trinamool’s terror tactics, such a coalition is not possible,” Chowdhury told IANS.

Marxist politburo member Mohammad Salim shared a similar view.

“While the decision to forge any kind of alliance rests with the politburo, I don’t think in Bengal, a Bihar-like alliance is possible.

“Mamata Banerjee may indulge in any kind of gimmicks, but political parties realise the consequences of joining hands with the Trinamool. Her wooing of Nitish Kumar or Kejriwal is only a desperate move to stay relevant in national politics,” Salim told IANS.

While his party had been part of the Congress-led UPA-I dispensation, Salim, on speculation of the CPI-M aligning with the Congress, said: “Let the speculation remain.”

But political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty felt that association with JD-U chief Nitish Kumar and RJD head Lalu Prasad is a guarantee for victory in the Bengal polls.

“Post the Bihar polls, both of them have emerged as the apostles of secularism and victors over intolerance. With nearly 30 percent Muslim population in Bengal, whoever can get them on their side will emerge victorious,” Chakraborty told IANS.

Enthused by the success of its recent agitations, including a trade union-endorsed general strike on September 2, the Marxist-led Left Front has been claiming it is gaining ground since the debacle in 2011 when the Trinamool ended its 34-year-long uninterrupted rule in the state.

Chakraborty however, opined that the 2011 scenario will unfold yet again unless the Left manages to forge a “secular democratic front” with Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad on board.

“Incidentally, it’s not the Left, rather Mamata, who is making endeavours to stitch such a front. From participating in Kejriwal’s chief ministers’ conclave to voicing support for Nitish Kumar, Banerjee has been making all the right noises,” Chakraborty, a political science professor at Rabindra Bharati University, told IANS.

“Even though her party can win on its might, by wooing the key non-BJP players, she is sending out a strong message to the minorities and at the same also attempting to deny the Congress or the Left, the opportunity to forge any kind of association with the secular parties,” Chakraborty added.

Trinamool Lok Sabha member Sultan Ahmed insisted the invitations to Kejriwal, Nitish Kumar or Lalu Prasad for the Bengal Global Business Summit in January 2016 is not aimed at any electoral move.

“Whether inviting Kejriwal or supporting Nitish Kumar, it is more about fighting to preserve the federal structure of the country, which is under attack under the Narendra Modi government,” Ahmed told IANS.

(Anurag Dey, IANS)

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India Begins Its Election Season With Five States

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh.

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India began on Monday the first of five state elections to be held in coming weeks, important tests for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he plots a course that he hopes will ensure him victory in a general election due by May.

Voters in the central state of Chhattisgarh went to the polls on Monday to elect representatives for 18 of the state assembly’s 90 seats in a staggered poll complicated by logistical problems and left-wing guerrillas.

The state of about 26 million people has been ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2003, and he will be hoping to hold on to power.

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“Some unholy people have handed guns to children who should have pens in their hands,” Modi told a rally in the state on Friday, referring to the rag-tag guerrillas battling government forces from forest hideouts. “They’ve finished the lives of our tribal children.”

Hundreds of election workers had to be flown in to remote polling stations by helicopter because of the danger posed by the rebels.

Modi called for voters to back his BJP and its vision of “development for all.”

The final phase of voting in Chhattisgarh, which is known for its coal, iron ore and bauxite reserves, will be on Nov. 20.

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The BJP was the preference of about 43 percent of voters in Chhattisgarh, 7 percentage points ahead of the main opposition Congress party, according to a survey released last week by the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Modi’s other big tests will be in the neighboring central state of Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP is slightly ahead of Congress, according to polls, and in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, where Congress is expected to emerge victorious.

A good performance by the BJP in the elections would help it deflect growing criticism over unemployment and a crisis in the countryside over falling farm prices and wages.

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Elections will also be held for assemblies in Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh, including Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest and the BJP chief minister in Uttar Pradesh state.

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Adityanath has been appealing to the BJP’s Hindu-nationalist base and on Sunday accused the opposition of blocking construction of a temple for Hindu god Ram on a disputed site in Uttar Pradesh.

The destruction of a mosque on the site by a Hindu mob in 1992 sparked deadly riots across the country. (VOA)