Kolkata: Newly appointed state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury on Sunday said his party, together with the Left, will prove to be a "game-changer" in the 2021 Bengal Assembly elections, and warned the ruling TMC and the BJP that the contest won't be a cakewalk for them.
Chowdhury, a bitter critic of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, said his focus would be to eat into the vote share of both the TMC and the BJP, and restore secular ethos in the state, which has long been "overshadowed by the sectarian politics" practised by the two parties.
He, however, declined to comment when asked whether the Congress would extend support to the TMC if the elections throw up a hung Assembly, and said "hypothetical questions can be answered only when the need arises".
The state had last witnessed a hung Assembly during the 1967 polls, when the Bangla Congress and the CPI(M) joined hands to form the government.
Holding the "appeasement politics" of the TMC government accountable for the rise of the BJP in Bengal, Chowdhury, the Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, said he would strive to strengthen the party by bringing back old- timers, who have joined opposition camps.
"Bengal has always been revered across the country for its secularism. Over the last few years, however, both the TMC and the BJP have pursued the politics of communal polarisation, and eclipsed the secular ideals that the state has always held dear.
"I can assure you that the Left Front-Congress tie-up would be a game-changer in Bengal politics. Unlike 2019 Lok Sabha polls, I won't let the 2021 assembly elections be a cakewalk for the TMC and the BJP, Chowdhury said
Maintaining that the state would be encountering a nip-and-tuck fight between three forces in 2021, the senior Congress leader, however, rebuffed the oft-repeated theory that a three-cornered fight usually works in favour of the party in power.
"The theory that a three-cornered fight tends to help the ruling party is not right. In politics, two plus two is not always four. We will cut into anti-incumbency vote share, as well as the TMC vote bank.
"Many Congress loyalists have shifted their allegiance to other parties over the past few years. We would woo them back. The Left-Congress alliance would fight on the plank of development, corruption-free governance," he asserted.
Chowdhury had earlier served as the West Bengal Pradesh Congress (WBPCC) chief from 2014 to 2018. Under his leadership, the party had forged ties with the Left Front and fought the 2016 state elections.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, however, the proposed Congress-CPI (M) alliance fell apart after both the parties were unable to reach an agreement on seat sharing.
Claiming that the TMC and the BJP are two sides of a coin, he said the state government deliberately pursued appeasement politics to make way for counter polarisation by the saffron camp.
"The TMC has been an ally of the BJP in the past. It was the TMC, which brought the BJP to Bengal in the late nineties. It did nothing for the development of the Muslims, but pursued appeasement politics and destroyed the secular fabric of the state," Chowdhury, a vocal detractor of the Mamata Banerjee-led party, said.
The ruling party projected itself as the "messiah of the Muslims", and the BJP as the "protector of the Hindus", and they weakened the secular and democratic forces, such as the Congress and the Left, he claimed.
The veteran leader said the "dismal performance" of the BJP government at the Centre on various fronts, such as economy, employment and COVID-19 management, would haunt the saffron party in Bengal during the next assembly polls.
"The BJP has nothing to showcase as they have failed miserably when it came to development. And during the assembly polls, they would not have any surgical strike to talk about... Along with a surging anti-incumbency wave against the TMC in the state, the winds are also blowing against the BJP due to its bleak performance, nationally," he said.
Admitting that there were some gaps in the Left- Congress alliance during the 2016 polls, as it was forged in haste, he said efforts are underway to fix them.
Both the Left and the Congress, following their poor show in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, have been working together -- be it fighting by-polls or organising any mass movement.
"We are on the verge of giving the alliance a final shape. The cadres of both the parties are also in favour of the partnership," he said.
The Left-Congress alliance had won 76 seats in the 294-member-strong assembly during the 2016 polls. The TMC bagged 211 seats, the BJP just three.
A lot of water, however, has flown under the Howrah Bridge in the last four years, as the BJP made deep inroads and emerged as a prime challenger of the ruling TMC in Bengal, by pushing the traditional opposition parties, the CPI (M) and the Congress, to distant third and fourth positions.
The saffron camp reached its all-time high in Bengal politics last year when it stunned pundits by bagging 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, four less than the ruling TMC, and with a staggering vote share of 41 per cent votes.
The Congress managed to win two seats with around six per cent votes, whereas the CPI(M)-led Left Front drew a blank with just seven per cent votes.
(This interview was done by Pradipta Tapadar for PTI)