Upholding principles was a luxury when there were charismatic leaders capable of winning elections without stooping low to indulge in identity politics, observes Virendra Kapoor.
They say adversity is a true test of character.
Well, from the way the Communists and the Congress party have stitched up alliances for the assembly elections shows neither is willing to defend their core character, their core beliefs for the sake of staying relevant in the fiercely contested electoral battle.
Their faith in secularism lies in tatters at the altar of opportunistic politics.
Having shouted from housetops they were secular, the self-proclaimed torch bearers of secularism have succumbed to the temptation of doing business with an outfit floated by a prominent head of a Muslim shrine in West Bengal and with a Muslim-centric party in Assam.
Neither the Indian Secular Front of the Furfura Sharif Abbas Siddiqui nor perfume king Badruddin Ahmed's All India United Democratic Front is secular by any stretch of imagination.
Yet, so woeful is the state of the Congress and the Communists that in order to stay in the contest they have signed up with the religion-based ISF and AIUDF.
Both in Assam and West Bengal the Muslim-centric parties call the shots in hastily-forged alliances.
Both the Congress and the Communists had never tired of proclaiming that secularism was a matter of faith with them.
They would never be tainted by any truck with parties pandering to religious sentiments, whether of the minority or the majority community.
Supping with the BJP was, of course, anathema.
Look at the irony. To blunt the BJP challenge, the Communist-Congress combine argue it is necessary to rope in the ISF and AIUDF.
Which says a lot. Without putting a gloss over it, what the Congress and the Communists are saying is that Hindu communalism is unacceptable, Muslim communalism is kosher.
The defenders of the secular faith not long ago had arbitrarily changed the Preamble of the Constitution to insert secularism in it.
The Communists were godless, religion was poison which would contaminate the pure bloodstream of its politics.
Now they have willingly got themselves vaccinated with large doses of religion for the sake of the Muslim vote.
In both West Bengal and Assam, Muslims constitute a disproportionately high percentage of the population.
In West Bengal, they number about one-third of the population, in Assam still higher.
Ironically, the two parties argue the new alliance will help them fight the BJP.
You can see the BJP further sharpening its attack, citing the Congress-Communist-ISF alliance as evidence of the 'appeasement' of Muslims.
It is another matter that the alliance with the Furfura Sharif cleric has further divided the Congress, with senior leader Anand Sharma questioning the decision, saying it would only help the BJP.
A member of the Group of 23, Sharma lamented the Bengal alliance undermined the legacy of Gandhi-Nehru who refused to compromise with communal forces.
West Bengal Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Choudhry countered Sharma's criticism, saying it would actually help the BJP.
Of course, Choudhary did not forge the alliance with the Muslim cleric on his own.
It was a conscious decision by the party high command.
The Nehru-Gandhis are desperate to re-discover the old Congress magic of Muslim-scheduled caste-Brahmin winning formula.
Pandering to Muslim communalism is an integral part of the strategy.
It may have gone unnoticed because it happened in the recent by-elections to the municipal corporations in Delhi that the Congress surprised everyone by winning a Muslim-centric seat.
Muslims in Delhi may be returning to the Congress after having flirted with the Aam Aadmi Party which during last year's protests over the CAA was less than enthusiastic in defending their cause.
Meanwhile, it is unlikely to be smooth sailing for the front in Bengal given the public recrimination between Siddiqui and Chowdhry.
The Congress draws its strength from the Muslim-dominated constituencies in Malda, Murshidabad districts.
But the young ISF cleric seems to believe that as a Muslim leader his claim on his community's votes is stronger.
The Congress has had an alliance with the Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala for several years.
It is for the first time it teamed up with Badruddin Ajmal in Assam.
This too has caused consternation within the local unit.
In fact, the Muslim vote in Bengal would have been further consolidated had the alliance between Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM and the Furfura Sharif cleric, which at one stage had seemed like a possibility, fructified.
Such an alliance would have made Mamata Banerjee's task of retaining power far more difficult because it would have deprived her of a good percentage of the Muslim vote in this election.
If the alliances in West Bengal and Assam has bared fissures in the Congress, the CPI-M too is beset with its own problem on the same account.
The acting secretary of the CPI-M's Kerala unit, A Vijayaraghavan, has been accused of Islamophobia by leaders of his party for arguing that minority communalism is far more toxic than majority communalism.
Vijayaraghavan seems to echo the warning of Marxist veteran V S Achuthanandan who a few years said that Islamic radical groups were 'using money and marriages to make Kerala a Muslim majority State.'
When all is said and done, one thing becomes clear about the largely sterile secular versus communal discourse.
Such labels have lost their relevance in today's politics.
Nobody is secular or communal. Everyone is opportunistic sans nary a care for ideology, principles or programmes.
Upholding principles was a luxury when there were charismatic leaders capable of winning elections without stooping low to indulge in identity politics.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com