Kolkata civic polls: Left pins hope on Red Volunteers to recover lost ground

The CPI(M)-led Left Front, which had ruled the state uninterrupted for three decades, has for the first time failed to open its account in the 294-member House
Last Updated : 10 December 2021, 11:39 IST

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Pushed to the margins of West Bengal politics; the CPI(M)-led Left Front is pinning hopes on its young brigade of 'Red Volunteers' to recover its lost ground among the urban electorate in the upcoming Kolkata civic polls.

The CPI(M)-led Left Front, which had ruled the state uninterrupted for three decades, has for the first time failed to open its account in the 294-member House during the assembly polls held earlier in the year. It had last won civic polls in the metropolis in 2005. Faced with an existential crisis, the CPI(M), this time, decided to field young candidates from its Red Volunteers brigade -- a group of young Left activists in their twenties, who earned accolades for their humanitarian services amid the COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdown.

The Left Front is contesting 127 of the 144 seats in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, of which 47 are members of the newly formed brigade. According to CPI(M) sources, the party decided to field young candidates for the KMC polls and relieve some of the aged leaders as a part of the ongoing organisation overhaul.

"In the past two years, following the last state conference, we have slowly limited the number of aged leaders at all the levels of the organisation. As the party had been going through a major overhaul at the organisational level, we decided to field more young faces during the assembly polls. "Although all of them lost, the vote share that they managed to get was far higher than our average vote share. So this time, during the KMC polls, it was a conscious decision to field more young candidates," a senior CPI (M) leader said.

The Left Front, during the last Assembly polls, managed to bag only five per cent of the total votes polled. "While selecting the candidates, we zeroed in on such activists who have helped common people amid the pandemic. The way the Red Volunteers served during the time of crisis, people clearly understood that Left members are the ones that stand by masses," CPI(M) Kolkata district secretary Kallol Majumdar said.

Echoing him, CPI(M) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty said young activists, who have already reached out to those in need, will have greater acceptability among the masses. "The Red Volunteers did not rush to the aid of people with an eye on electoral gains. They helped the poor by opening community kitchens when leaders of other parties preferred to stay indoors. We think such people have greater acceptability among masses, and not the ones who are involved in stealing ration or pursuing divisive agenda," he claimed.

According to SFI state secretary Srijan Bhattacharya, there are around 1.5 lakh Red Volunteers in the state, out of which 25,000 serve in Kolkata. "Leftists never work for people with an eye on material gains. The number of Red Volunteers increased during the second wave of the pandemic as more people reached out to us for help," he said. In the last KMC elections, in 2015, the ruling TMC had bagged 124 wards, the Left Front won 13, and the BJP and the Congress five and two each respectively.

The CPI (M) decided to go it alone this time, leaving 17 seats for Congress and other "democratic forces". The grand old party, however, has fielded candidates in 121 wards. "In the past, we have seen that in areas where there is no Congress candidate, the TMC bagged the party's votes. So we decided to fight it alone. Our electoral tactical line is that the BJP is the main enemy and the TMC must also be defeated," he said.

The front has fielded 56 female candidates and 58 male. Seventeen nominees belong to the minority communities. The opposition BJP and the ruling TMC, however, declined to attach much importance to CPI(M) strategy for the KMC polls. "The CPI(M) is a spent force in West Bengal. It doesn’t matter who the party nominates, old leaders or Red Volunteers. The BJP happens to be the main challenger of the TMC," saffron party state president Sukanta Majumdar said. State minister and former Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim asserted that people would vote for the TMC, having witnessed the development work that has been undertaken in the last ten years.

"The development that the TMC board (in the civic body) has brought about since 2010 and the state government, since 2011, is enough to ensure our victory in the KMC polls. We are not bothered about the BJP or the CPI(M)," he said. The TMC, in the last assembly polls, stormed to power for the third consecutive time by bagging 213 constituencies, whereas the BJP emerged as the main opposition by winning 77 seats.

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Published 10 December 2021, 11:39 IST

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