In a new political alignment in poll-bound West Bengal, state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury on Tuesday announced the inclusion of newly formed Indian Secular Front (ISF) of Furfura Sharif cleric Abbas Siddiqui in the Left Front-Congress alliance.
The Left Front and the Congress have already finalised their seat-sharing deal for the assembly election likely to be held in April-May, Chowdhury said.
"In the upcoming 2021 assembly elections, we will fight as an alliance of the Left Front, Congress and the Indian Secular Front," said Left Front chairman Biman Bose, who was also present at the joint press conference.
The ISF, floated by the influential Muslim cleric of Hooghly district's Furfura Sharif last month, welcomed the announcement and said that the new alignment would be a game-changer for the election.
Neither the ruling Trinamool Congress nor the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party attached much importance to the development, but both said that the other party will benefit from it.
Chowdhury said in the press conference that not just the ISF, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and several other smaller secular parties will also be accommodated in the alliance.
"The election will not be a two-cornered contest as projected by the Trinamool Congress and the BJP. It would be a three-cornered contest as the Left and the Congress are very much in the fight," he said.
The ISF said it would hold talks on seat-sharing with the Left Front and the Congress on Wednesday.
"We want to be part of this secular alliance to fight against the BJP and the TMC in Bengal. This will be game-changer," ISF president Naushad Siddiqui said.
Sources in the ISF said it has already placed a demand for 72 seats out of the 294 seats in the state.
"But we are flexible on the number of seats we will contest," Siddiqui said.
Last week, the Congress and Left Front finalised seat-sharing agreement for 230 seats, of which the Congress will contest in 110 seats. The 230 seats include the 77 they had won in the last assembly poll in 2016.
At the press conference, Chowdhury said that only a few seats are left to be settled and the total number of seats which the parties will contest will be announced later.
"Now that the ISF and other secular parties are also part of the alliance, we hope to fix the seat-sharing deal after discussions with the ISF," he said.
According to political observers, the inclusion of the ISF in the Left-Congress alliance added an edge to the coalition which has been eyeing to tap a portion of the 30 per cent Muslim electorate.
A deciding factor in nearly 100-110 seats in the state, people of the minority community, primarily Muslims, have acted as a bulwark for the TMC against its rivals till the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
"The inclusion of the ISF in the alliance has provided an added edge to the third force in Bengal ahead of the polls. We are confident that it would no longer be a two-cornered contest in the state," senior CPI-M leader Tanmoy Bhattacharya said.
According to observers, the Left-Congress alliance may not win the elections but will act as a catalyst in the victory or defeat of the TMC or the BJP.
"In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, a four-cornered contest helped the BJP coming up as the main opposition as the Left Front and the Congress had fought separately. But in the assembly polls, the performance of the Left Front and the Congress alliance would be very crucial," political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said.
"If the alliance manages to cut into the opposition votes, it would benefit the TMC. And if it cuts into the TMC's Muslim vote base, it would benefit the BJP. If the alliance performs well, the TMC is likely to benefit most, and if the alliance fails to evoke any response then it will help the BJP," Chakraborty said.
Both the TMC and the BJP, however, claimed that the Left-Congress-ISF alliance is not a significant issue.
"This time the elections will be between the TMC and the BJP. The role of this alliance will be to cut into some of the secular votes of the TMC to help the BJP. We are not worried about it. We have defeated the Left-Congress alliance and also the BJP in 2016. This time too they will be defeated," senior TMC MP Sougata Ray said.
West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh termed the Left-Congress alliance as the "B-team of the TMC".
"It is very clear that the Left and the Congress are working in tandem with the TMC to help them by cutting into opposition votes. But such tricks won't work as the electorate will either vote for the ruling party or us," he said.
In 2016, the Congress and Left Front had fought together and bagged 77 seats. The alliance broke up after the CPI-M led Left Front walked away.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the proposed Congress-CPI-M alliance fell apart after the parties could not reach an agreement on seat-sharing.
After the Congress bagged only two Lok Sabha seats and the CPI-M failed to open its account in the parliamentary election, the parties decided to come together to fight the 2021 assembly polls.