End of road for the Left?

After continuous poll drubbings, Left parties now face a big threat to their existence.

Ritesh K Srivastava

Poll debacles always bring with them tough questions for political parties, forcing them to analyse what went wrong and who is to blame. The same has begun with the Left Front, which is in a soul-searching mode after a political tsunami led by Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee dismantled its strongest and safest bastion in West Bengal.

The Left Front’s shameful debacle and ouster from power in West Bengal after three decades has triggered speculations whether it’s the end of road for Communist parties. The shattering results of Assembly Elections in West Bengal and Kerala have prompted one to wonder whether the sun is setting for the Left leaders or whether the ideology-based Left Front is on the verge of its extinction .

As a defensive CPI-M politburo is trying to deflect the blame for the poll debacle in Bengal and Kerala, it has also admitted in hushed tones that its regime committed “too many mistakes” to be corrected.

Although, the all-powerful politburo has ruled out a change of guard for the time being, giving a fresh lease of life to its otherwise arrogant general secretary Prakash Karat, it also feels the need to evaluate how much it gained under the latter’s leadership.

The declaration of poll results have removed doubts that in all these years, the Left government underestimated the threat posed by Mamata Banerjee’s party and her call for a ‘change’, which finally drew enormous support from the voters in the state.
This is evident from the fact that chief strategists of the CPI-M were so confident of their side’s victory that they predicted a comfortable win for the Left Front, winning nearly 200 seats in the 294-member West Bengal Assembly.

However, their predictions were proved wrong a day later as the Left Front could only win around 60 seats.

All this points to the fact that the anti-incumbency factor was at work and benefitted the Trinamool Congress, which took full advantage of people’s growing disenchantment and frustration with the Left rule.
The party, which once ruled three states - Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura-, now enjoys power in just one state of the North East. It also appears that the Left Front had not learnt any lessons from its continuousdrubbings since the 2008 Panchayat Polls and in 2009 Lok Sabha Polls, when it suffered huge losses at the hands of Trinamool Congress.

The Left leaders are now shifting the blame on anti-Left wave started by their Trinamool opponent, which, they believe, created a false perception that Buddhadeb government is anti-people and reversing its own land reforms programme.

In a bid to save themselves from criticism, they now claim that Mamata’s Trinamool Congress has been the beneficiary of the change, which the voters wanted in West Bengal. This is true to some extent since it took 34 long years for the Trinamool leader to be able to uproot the Left Front government in the state.

But it is still beyond doubt that the unabated political violence, the issue of land acquisition in Singur and Nandigram, rising joblessness, government’s failure in mobilising huge investments from the corporate world and a retarded pace of industrialisation among many others, reversed the electoral gains made by the Left Front in the previous years.

By all means, it’s a big turnaround for the Front, which attributed its electoral success in 2006 to merits of the Left rule which included land reforms, a democratised Panchayat system, progress in agriculture, and assurances of democratic rights for the working people, for unity, integrity and communal harmony.

The only consolation for the CPM-led Left Front, which was completely routed out in West Bengal, was its decent scoreboard in Kerala, where the Left Democratic Front (LDF) lost to the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) by a narrow margin.

The fact that the UDF got a slender majority of only two seats over the LDF is likely to give a major reprieve to the Left Leaders, who could relax a bit that there has been no anti-incumbency trend in Kerala. However, they accept that the leadership crisis, caste and religious forces certainly influenced the outcome of the Assembly elections.
The CPI-M leaders, while boasting that the UDF`s victory became possible due to the combination of forces against the LDF, also stress that the people in Kerala have endorsed the actions of the LDF government in the last five years.

After the humiliating defeat of Left parties in West Bengal and Kerala, questions are being raised on the Front’s stature as a political party with a pan-India presence and its very existence in national politics.

Although, the Left Front is hopeful that it will survive the historic poll drubbing as its existence is not vote-based and instead issue-based, it would still be required to address the real issues related to ‘aam admi’ and connect with the masses.

As the Left Front leaders prepare themselves for donning the chairs in the Opposition row for the next five years, they will have to ensure that they do not play an ‘obstructionist role’ like the main opposition BJP at the Centre.

Left’s biggest stalwart Jyoti Basu is dead, Somnath Chatterjee has taken retirement from active politics and with the dramatic exit of VS Achutanandan and Budddhadeb Bhattacharya, the Front also faces a leadership crisis in Kerala and West Bengal respectively and needs to enhance its grassroot information network in Tripura - its last bastion.
The CPI-M’s Central Committee is expected to meet in June and the national conclave of the party would be held at the end of the year, which will pose tough questions for Left leaders and may call for a change of leadership.

Even after their historic defeat, CPI-M leaders are rubbishing suggestions that Left ideology, policies and programmes are "irrelevant" and “impractical” for the country in the present context. They confer that they still have an opportunity to prove their detractors wrong in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and assembly polls in Tripura.

But if they lose, they are likely to soon become big political dinosaurs.

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