Third Front the Only Alternative, Says Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee

The Battle for Bengal took an ugly turn on Tuesday with the chaos and commotion at the Kolkata rally of Amit Shah and the destruction of the bust of a great Bengali icon in a prominent city college. The Trinamool Congress and the BJP are looking to earn spoils from the melee but the CPI-M is merely watching from the sidelines.

Reports say that according to internal intelligence gathered by Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, votes from the Left are shifting to BJP in this Lok Sabha election. The Left had a decent 30 percent vote share in the Lok Sabaha elections in 2014, while BJP had clocked 16 percent.

"Our prospects now hinge on the level of shift of the Left vote. We hope to get more than 30 seats but if the Left loses more than 10% of its share, we may even go down to 25," a Trinamool leader told the Hindustan Times.

The TMC knows that the flow of votes from the Left to BJP will hurt its chances. This, if it were to happen, wouldn't surprise BJP though. Right from the very start of the election cycle BJP has been saying that Bengal would help it make up for the seats it loses in Uttar Pradesh owing to the grand alliance of the SP and BSP.

The TMC hopes the clashes in Kolkata and the attack on the legacy of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar would galvanise its cadres and trigger an anti-BJP wave in the last phase of the elections. But the irony is that they share forebodings of a massive shift of Left votes to BJP at the same time. Only May 23 will give the final answers.

Prakash Karat weighs in

But what does this say about the prospects of the CPI-M in West Bengal? The party had ruled the state for an uninterrupted 34 years. It was removed from power in 2011 and TMC has been at the helm ever since.

Former CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat raised a storm when he said last week BJP would make significant progress in the state. He had to withdraw the statement, made to a Kerala TV channel, in the wake of strong criticism from within the party, especially from the party's Bengal unit head Surjya Kanta Mishra.

Modi Mamata
PM Modi and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee.

Though Karat later claimed that his words were taken out of context, what he originally said was that he thought the BJP would increase its seats in West Bengal in this election. And that looks like a foregone conclusion.

The next question is, how would the CPI-M fare this time? In 2014 the party got two seats, while the Congress won 4. This time, even the optimists don't think CPI-M would increase its tally from two. On the other side, there's a grave danger that the party may come a cropper.

The party hasn't healed itself from the impact of the gigantic fall from power, and grace, in 2011, for sure. More seriously, no one has gone to call the medic.

CPI-M lost its staple set of followers to the TMC, lock, stock and barrel. The huge minority vote bank the party had always enjoyed is safely ensconced at the TMC barracks. Now, the BJP has made a winning bid to co-opt the Hindu votes. If the Hindu votes desert CPI-M as well, along with a further flight from the urban middle classes, the party will sink further into a sorry position. Did Karat see this happening?

In Kerala, the only other CPI-M stronghold, BJP employed the same ploy -- of winning the Hindu votes from CPI-M. A significant rise in BJP's vote share in Kerala has already been factored in, though it remains to be seen if that would result into seats.

It looks like the BJP is making substantial success in eating into the majority community vote share in both Bengal and Kerala as it pushes its aggressive bid to become the 'major Hindu party' in both these states.