Left foresaw its fall

The voter in the latest Assembly elections evicted the corrupt and the entrenched

Left foresaw its fall

After hours of brainstorming, an undecided Central Committee for the first time in its history went for a vote on the issue.

Thirty-five thumbed down the proposal of joining the Government, while 25 voted in favour of it. Four remained neutral. Basu later called the Central Committee’s verdict a ‘HISTORIC BLUNDER’.

May 13, 2011: The colossal edifice of the CPI(M)-led Left Front built in West Bengal over the past 34 years crumbles.

Mamata Banerjee-led All India Trinamool Congress sweeps the State Assembly polls – riding on a wave, which gained momentum from the agitation against land acquisition in Nandigram and Singur in 2006 and 2007, gave the Left Front its first shocker in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and finally threw it out of power in what until a few years ago appeared to be the most impregnable citadel of Communism in India.

The Left also loses Kerala and only has the tiny north-eastern State of Tripura as its last standing. Basu is no more, but he would have possibly called it a ‘HISTORIC FALL’. There are plenty of other mistakes the leftists committed in the 15 years between the historic blunder and historic fall.

And the CPI(M) leaders will surely spend hours sipping black tea at the party’s headquarters in Delhi’s A K Gopalan Bhavan introspecting, analysing those mistakes and trying to make sense of the debacle in West Bengal, which even blunted the Left Democratic Front’s spirited defence against the anti-incumbency wave in Kerala.

Prakash Karat is likely to find himself at the centre of an in-house storm. As the CPI(M) general secretary since 2005, Karat presided over a process that finally ended reducing, not only his own party, but also smaller allies, to insignificance in national politics – within just six years of the leftists staging their career-best performance in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls to win as many as 62 seats.

Karat’s detractors in the party’s Politburo and Central Committee are now likely to raise the pitch, attacking him for pursuing what they call unrealistic and suicidal strategies.  

Popular disconnect

The CPI(M)’s ‘Bengal brigade’ have for long been questioning the rationale of withdrawing support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government in July 2008. After supporting the UPA to form its first Government in 2004, there were talks within the CPI(M) on several occasions to condemn the Government’s failure to check spiraling price rise of food and other essentials, and even pull out if need be.

The CPI(M) top brass, however, paid no heed citing the party policy of strengthening secular forces to keep communal forces out of power, a stand reaffirmed at the party congress in Coimbatore in March 2008. But when the party did pull the plug, it was not against the emotive issue of price rise, but to protest the India-US nuclear deal, something that the average working class in the country hardly connect with.

The pull-out cost the leftists dearly. First, it set the stage for a tie-up between Congress and All India Trinamool Congress, which had by then emerged as a potent threat to the ruling Left Front in Bengal. Second, it robbed the leftists of the opportunity to take credit for some of the landmark initiatives of UPA-I like Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which they had actively helped to shape.

Third, it denied the party the ability to influence the policies of the Union Government as it had assertively done to block moves to raise Foreign Direct Investment cap in the insurance sector and banking reforms to allow more privatisation.

Living up to its tradition of committing blunders and then admitting them with a straight face, the CPI(M) in its party congress in Vijayawada in August 2010 officially accepted having committed mistakes, albeit in a nuanced way.

While Karat’s detractors among the party’s central leadership and Bengal unit attacked him in Vijayawada, his loyalists  countered by pointing out that it was the failures of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharya Government with regard to the disputed land acquisitions in Nandigram and Singur that offered Mamta Banerjee’s AITC the opportunity to turn the peasants’ agitation into a mass movement against the Left Front.

The blame game was followed by a collective admission of mistakes and prescription for course correction. “The party is opposed to the taking away of lands of farmers without their consent by corporates with government connivance. The party will stand by the peasantry and the tribal people who are opposing their lands being taken away,” Karat wrote in the CPI(M) organ People’s Democracy, reviewing the political and tactical line adopted in Vijayawada. But it was too late to tame the wave of change in West Bengal.

Course correction

The CPI(M) is now set to start a process for a threadbare analysis of its rout in the Assembly polls. The Politburo is likely to meet on Monday, followed by a meeting of the Central Committee and possibly yet another party congress. There will be prolonged churnings, ranging from ideological issues to the mistakes in West Bengal and failure to check corruption in the party’s higher echelons in Kerala.

Karat is also likely to come under attack from a section of leaders from Kerala for siding with discredited state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, who was instrumental in denying ticket to Chief Minister V S Achutanandan initially. The party later changed the decision and fielded VS, who continues to remain at the centre-stage of Left politics in that State.            

The narrow defeat in Kerala may give some solace to the CPI(M) leaders, but does not give any cushion to diminish the impact of the rout in West Bengal, which has been the bedrock of the Left in India. The CPI(M)’s 34-year-long rule in the eastern State powered the Left in rest of the country and at the Centre – both in terms of moral inspiration and logistic support. With the party out of power in West Bengal, the going is now sure to get tough for the communist apparatchiks in New Delhi.

The CPI(M) is likely to feel the impact as early as August, when the party’s most vocal and articulate ideologues Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat’s terms in the Rajya Sabha will end. Both were elected from West Bengal, but can now hardly return to the Upper House from the State. The Left’s pitch against ‘neo-liberalism’ of the Manmohan Singh Government is likely to be blunted.

The CPI(M), as the country’s lead Communist party, will surely come out with a recovery plan, but it will take effect only if it is worked upon on the ground. The party needs an overhaul to rid it of policy contradictions like the one it manifested by calling multi-nationals blood-suckers and at the same time inviting them to West Bengal.

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