New Delhi: Pre-emptive political action by the Congress in Kerala and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal have prevented their principal rival, the Left, from exploiting the issue of resurgent inflation.
While the TMC, which is a part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), publicly postured against the decision to hike petrol prices and even threatened to withdraw support to the coalition, the Congress-led coalition in Kerala, the United Democratic Front (UDF), swiftly passed a resolution in the assembly asking New Delhi to reverse the move.
Tough stance: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. By PTI
As a result, more than six months after the historic assembly elections that led to the end of an over-three-decade rule in West Bengal and ouster in a close contest in Kerala, the Left is being denied the space to stage a comeback both in state and national politics.
A Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, politburo member, who did not want to be identified, admitted as much. “It was a smart political move from the TMC and the UDF in Kerala, which has left us with not much to do in taking up the issue of the rise in petrol prices,” he said.
Expectedly it will figure prominently in the three-day meet of the central committee of the CPM to discuss prospective changes in its ideology before putting it up before the party’s summit meeting due in April.
On 3 November, oil retailers increased petrol prices by Rs 1.80 a litre (in Delhi), terming it “unavoidable” as a decline of the rupee against the dollar has made crude oil imports costlier.
The TMC, a crucial ally of the UPA with its 18 members in the Lok Sabha, had demanded the hike be rolled back and threatened that it would withdraw support to the coalition government. As many as 23 out of 25 members in the TMC parliamentary party had passed a resolution in favour of pulling out of the UPA.
Similarly, the Congress has taken an initiative to push for a unanimous resolution in the Kerala state assembly urging the Union government to take back the powers given to oil marketing companies to determine petroleum prices.
“By raising the red flag and adopting a tough stance through its public posturing, ahead of her opposition parties, Mamata Banerjee has stolen the show. It was oneupmanship in her fight against the CPM. She did not leave much to the Left and it was quite natural, too,” said Subrata Mukherjee, a retired professor in the department of political science at Delhi University.
The Left has traditionally taken the lead in campaigns against inflation.
However, Nilotpal Basu, a central committee member of the CPM, said the TMC had never “actively” taken up the issue of petrol price hike. “They (TMC) came, they spoke, they accepted, and they went back,” he said, referring to a meeting between TMC parliamentarians and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday.
The TMC backed down on its pull-out threat on Tuesday apparently in the face of an aggressive stance taken by Singh, who reminded them about the economic crisis as well as the high crude oil prices in the international market. Singh has not only ruled out a roll-back, but also reiterated that the government would consider decontrolling more prices such as that of fertilizers.
In Kerala, the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF)— which is neck and neck in terms of numbers in the state assembly with the UDF—is in a “defeatist” mode, said Paul Zacharia, a Thiruvananthapuram-based political commentator and writer.
“The Left is just concentrating on getting back their feet in Kerala. They only called for a one-day hartal (general strike) against the petrol price hike, which is a very routine kind of a thing. It has missed the bus altogether,” Zacharia said.
This is despite the advantage the LDF has in the assembly—in the 140-member House, the CPM and its allies have 68 members, but the ruling coalition, after the demise of a minister, T.M. Jacob, is down to 71, including the speaker.
The UDF also has the Anglo Indian nominated member’s support.
The CPM central committee at its meeting beginning Friday is expected to discuss the draft of the party’s ideological resolution.
“The first draft has already been prepared by the politburo and now it will be discussed by the central committee,” said Basu.
“In another meeting in January, the central committee will adopt the ideological resolution and then it will be put in front of the party congress to adopt it,” he said.
The central committee is expected to meet two-three more times to finalize the draft of the ideological resolution. The CPM in its party congress in April will adopt three of its resolutions—ideological, political and organizational.