MOHAMMED SALIM, POLITBURO member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), speaks in non sequiturs and mixed metaphors. He guffaws at his one-liners, a smug look on his face. He tells you that, in hindsight, it would have been a capitulation of all “communist” values to align with the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar because the Congress party was part of the Grand Alliance, headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad, which routed the BJP last November in a bitterly fought election. The Marxist Lok Sabha member from Raiganj argues that his party will hold on to those values that make it distinct from parties that forge tie- ups without any principles, and justifies the “understanding” in West Bengal this time around with former arch- rival Congress, saying the idea is to ensure the defeat of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress. He insists that it is not a coalition, but a mere joining of hands with an opposition party in the state to end Banerjee’s “misrule” of the past five years.
Salim is a gifted conversationalist, but behind his persuasive ways and clever talk, farce lurks.
The justifications he comes up with may be enough to hoodwink party leaders from its stronghold Kerala who were upset about the prospects of a provincial alignment with the Congress, their enemy No 1 in the southern state. However, the neat ruse to keep opposition from within the party at bay falls way too short of credentials of being an embodiment of principled political action. The profound question is: what to make of posters across West Bengal in which the Congress’ and CPM’s election symbols overlap each other? Salim squirms at the mention of the word coalition and gets into the nuances of what is an intricate and complex tie-up: the Congress and the CPM will compete with each other if that could ensure Trinamool’s defeat in a particular seat. They will also back ‘joint independent’ candidates in areas where both parties can’t field candidates for fear of a violent backlash.
Finally, he lets it out: it is crucial that they pull in Muslim votes to eat into the Trinamool vote base.