No alliance by compromising party's ideology or internal unity: Bengal Congress chief
Kolkata: Over a month after taking over the West Bengal Pradesh Congress presidency once again, veteran leader Somen Mitra says the party high command has kept the door open for an electoral alliance in the state for the 2019 general elections. But this alliance would not at the cost of its ideology or internal unity.
Amid speculation about the Congress aligning either with the state's ruling Trinamool Congress or the opposition Left Front in the general election, Mitra said he preferred contesting the polls alone as that would help assess the party's strength in the state, but would abide by the Congress high command's decision.
"Congress cannot be a parasite; it is always a banyan tree. If a coalition happens, we will not act in a way that would compromise the party's image and ideology. I prefer fighting the elections alone. It would help us assess our strength," Mitra, known for his organisational acumen, told IANS in an interview.
He said Congress President Rahul Gandhi has asked the state leadership to ensure the party stands on its own feet.
"He has told us no political adjustments will be allowed by compromising the party's internal unity...I am no one to decide about the alliance during 2019 elections. However, the AICC has kept the options open," he said.
"I am part of an all-India party. So we will go by whatever the party high command decides," aded the 76-year-old leader, who took over as state Congress president in September after a gap of two decades.
Mitra pointed out that the Congress' electoral understanding with the Left Front for the 2016 assembly polls did not work.
"During our alliance with the Left, we failed to send across the message to the people. Two forces that had fought each other for 34 years (during LF rule from 1977-2011) , suddenly became friends three months before the elections. Everyone felt it was a marriage of convenience," he said.
Mitra, who joined the Congress in the 1960s and acquired the image of a firebrand leader, is a seven-time legislator from Sealdah. He rose to become the state Congress chief in 1992, but resigned in 1998 in the wake of the party's decimation in the Lok Sabha polls.
In 2008, however, Mitra left the Congress, and formed the Pragatisheel Indira Congress, which merged with the Trinamool -- led by his erstwhile rival Mamata Banerjee -- in 2009. Mitra became a Trinamool MP, but resigned in 2014 and returned to the Congress.
While the Trinamool has declared its aim of winning all the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state and the BJP has set a target of bagging 22 seats, Mitra refused to hazard a guess about the numbers.
"I am not an astrologer. I cannot predict the number of seats," he said.
Admitting that the Congress had become weaker in Bengal amid the rise of rightist forces like the BJP, Mitra, affectionately called "Chhorda" (youngest elder brother) by the Congress rank and file, claimed building a strong connect between the workers at the grassroots level and the party leadership can stop the erosion.
"There has been a major shift towards rightist forces in Bengal politics. So, naturally the Congress has become weaker here. Again, many leaders were forced to leave the party out of fear as they came under immense political and administrative pressure from the ruling party. In some places, Congress has even become non-existent," Mitra admitted.
"The first thing that is needed is to revamp the party infrastructure. However, it is easier said than done. But if we can create a solid connect between the activists at the grassroot level and the party leadership then this erosion can be stopped to a large extent. We are currently working on that," he contended.
According to Mitra, the BJP's meteoric rise in Bengal over the past few years and the politics of minority appeasement by the Trinamool Congress have significantly shrunk the secular space and fuelled a religious sentiment that was unthinkable in the state even a decade ago.
"We never thought the BJP would get more than 5-6 percent vote here. But they have now emerged as a formidable opposition. It is definitely a matter of concern. It has certainly impacted the Congress' support base. But the impact is not just on political parties but on the whole state," he said.
"If the ruling party in the state constantly pampers a particular community, naturally the other community's sentiments get hurt. This is what is happening here. Religious sentiment is on the rise which was unthinkable in Bengal's history. The ruling party and its actions are somewhat responsible for it," he added.
He also accused Trinamool of "playing with fire" by trying to split the opposition votes and claimed that its action would eventually come back to haunt the party.