West Bengal goes to the polls tomorrow, in the first of the eight phased-poll planned for the state. Campaigning for this phase culminated on Thursday, and the BJP and TMC – main contenders in the current elections fought it out in the given seats with all that they had. The conspicuous absence of Rahul Gandhi in West Bengal, however, has hardly been given a miss by anyone. Fighting against both TMC and BJP in the state in an alliance with the Left, Congress fears being stamped with the ‘hypocrite’ label, for fighting the Communists in Kerala while allying with them in Bengal and Assam.
So, the Congress’ version says that Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi are away from campaigning in Bengal to avoid sending mixed signal to the electorate, particularly in Kerala, where the party believes it can somehow grab power by defeating the CPI(M)-led LDF government. Congress sources have told India Today that Rahul Gandhi will be campaigning in Bengal after polling in Kerala gets over. Not many are buying this argument, since the Congress is in alliance with the Left in Assam also. If the party was indeed worried about sending the wrong signals, it would keep Rahul away from Assam as well. However, he is more than active in the Northeastern state.
So, what can the real reason behind the magnificent ‘Gandhi absence’ in West Bengal be? We believe that the Grand Old Party is aiding the incumbent TMC in its fight against the BJP – which looks poised to wrest power from Mamata Banerjee on May 2. The Congress has become a non-entity in West Bengal. If not for Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the party would perhaps not even be contesting the polls in the state. As such, for Rahul Gandhi to be kept away from election campaigning in Bengal is an indicator of how the TMC and Congress might have a tacit understanding with each other.
The Gandhis campaigning spiritedly in Bengal would not hurt the BJP’s fortunes, but would most definitely hurt the TMC’s prospects, especially among the Muslim voters – who would instead of voting for the TMC, have their votes divided between the Congress and AIMIM. This, in fact, would work wonders for the saffron party. The TMC and Congress, if not on anything else, at least agree on one fact – that the BJP, for their own sake, must be prevented from getting to power in Bengal at all costs.
To that end, the two rival parties are not going to shy away from doing what it takes to prevent the BJP from forming a government in Bengal. If the same requires Rahul Gandhi and senior Congress leaders not campaigning in the state – they will readily accept the humiliation and disrespect. It would not be particularly surprising if, in the event of a hung assembly – Congress and the Left offer their support to the TMC, in return for a share in the state cabinet. Yet, the people of Bengal can see right through such dirty tricks to keep the saffron party out of power and will, by the power of their vote, ensure that all plans of the anti-BJP front in Bengal are foiled.