Decline of the Left: No easy way to recovery

It is not long ago when no policy decision could be taken by the government without the concurrence of the Left parties. Several policies including MNREGA were finalised in consultation with them during UPA-1.

But, the 2014 election results have effectively thrown them out of the mainstream of Indian politics.  The 2009 polls had reduced their status substantially when they got 24 seats and with 10 seats in 2014 elections they have almost been wiped out.

The CPM, the biggest of Indian Communist Parties, is going to lose its status of a national party.   

It is not only the question of seats, but also the vote share which is cause of worry for the Left parties. The fall in vote share is alarming. It has come down from 7 per cent to 4.5 per cent. The CPM lost its vote share from 5.33 per cent in 2009 to 3.2 per cent in 2014. The CPI met the same fate.

Its vote share fell down to 0.8 per cent from 1.43 in 2009. The decline of Left in its bastion in West Bengal is more worrisome. This time, the state returned only two members of CPM against 15 in 2009. Its vote share also declined from 41 per cent to 29.5 per cent. 

Kerala returned five seats for CPM and the vote share for the party remained only at 21 per cent against 30 per cent of 2009.  At the moment, Tripura can be identified as the only stronghold of the party where it is running a government and also has won both the seats of the state. The party has been polled a huge 64 per cent of the votes.  The wave of Narendra Modi could not touch it. 

The political control over West Bengal had enabled the CPM and the Left to play an important role in national politics. The reasons were simple; it sent a good number of Left MPs and during the United Front dispensation and UPA-1 regime gave a moral authority to them on account of their providing a stable and powerful government in an important and politically vibrant state of the country.  

It was important when most of the states were facing instability after the 1967 elections. West Bengal remained completely stable under the Left rule. The 34 years rule in West Bengal that ended in 2012  not only weakened the Left in their bastion, but also snatched from them the opportunity to play bigger roles in national politics.  

It is well known that the adventure of Nandigram and Singur, where lands were acquired for industries, turned out to be the watershed in the history of West Bengal. It alienated long time supporters, the farmers from the party. Despite the fact that Trinmool Congress government does not have a farmer-friendly policy, the CPM could not win the farmers back to the party fold. 

The Left Front of West Bengal also failed to unite other sections of the society against the misrule of TMC. The barrier seems to be insurmountable as people are not ready to accept the Front in its old avatar. They need a new party and the CPM is not changing to become one. The emergence of BJP as a third force with nearly 17 per cent of votes in West Bengal is not difficult to explain.

The party has been polled better than the Congress.  The growing discontent among the people might be the reason behind putting the party to this status. It is just behind the CPM which has been polled 22 per cent. The party has also earned over 10 per cent of votes in Kerala.  

Political equation

This would be the new challenge for the party. Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi attacked each other to change the political equations of the state to sideline the Left. The Left failed to devise a strategy to take on both the adversaries at a time.

A close look at Mamata’s strategy will reveal that when she took on the Left, she used all the forces including Maoists against it. Mamata has been successful in producing more enemies for the Left than any one could have imagined. 

But the CPM’s response is old and stereo-typed.  This reminds us of the party’s inflexibility during agitations in Nandigram and Singur. Party General Secretary Prakash Karat even termed the poll results of West Bengal as “distorted” and refused to accept it. It is true that several complaints of rigging came from West Bengal and the Election Commission could not do much.

However, it is also true that the CPM and its allies failed to mobilise people to resist it. After all, it is the part of a democratic struggle to make people stand to defend their voting rights. 

The decline in Left has also aggravated inter-party bickering. Most of the allies have been differing with CPM since the days of the Left rule in West Bengal and Kerala. This is getting aggravated in these difficult times. The differences have been so serious that the Kerala unit of Revolutionary Socialist Party fielded a candidate against the M A Baby and had him defeated. 

Both Kerala and West Bengal state units are plagued with severe infighting. If the Left is losing its ground in its bastions, it is not showing any sign of emergence in other parts of the country.

Though it is difficult to discover reasons behind  stagnation of the Left in other parts of the country, it can easily be assumed that its alliance with regional parties like Samajwadi Party, Biju Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United), Jantata Dal (Secular) or AIADMK never helped it to expand. It failed to market its achievements in West Bengal and Kerala  to the voters of other parts of the country. 

Whether the land reforms in West Bengal and the better performance on human development indicators in Kerala could have been made issues of election campaigning among the poor voters of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is matter of debate, but the success of Narndra Modi in selling the Gujarat model of development at national level should certainly inspire others to do the same.  

The Left has not only to reinvent itself to take on the new economic forces, but also will have  to discover new methods regaining lost ground.

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