Kolkata: As the Communists complete a year in opposition in their erstwhile citadel West Bengal, the road to regain lost ground seems long and bumpy.
After 34 years of uninterrupted rule since 1977, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front was routed by Mamata Banerjee`s Trinamool Congress a year ago.
Although a section of leftists anticipated the loss, after their dismal showing in the 2009 Lok Sabha and 2010 civic polls, the magnitude of their defeat stunned them. They crashed from 235 to 61 seats in the 294-member house.
Many grassroots level activists, from whom a Communist party draws its strength, became demoralised and inactive or were rendered homeless by aggressive Trinamool supporters.
A section of CPI-M members switched sides.
In the process, the membership of the CPI-M`s youth and women wings, which provides next generation leadership, dipped from 84 lakh and 58 lakh in 2010 to 57 lakh and 41 lakh in 2011 respectively.
The morale took a further beating when former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee virtually withdrew from the politburo and the central committee citing health reasons.
However, he visits the party headquarters daily and reads reports from the districts, besides addressing occasional public meetings.
"For the past one year we have tried to reach out to the masses. It is a continuous process. We will have to emerge the way people love to see a Communist party," CPI-M leader Nilotpal Basu said.
In the 1960s, the Communists were known for militant protests. After three decades of governance when many got used to perks that come with the office, it is not easy to be in the opposition.
Among the Left`s 61 legislators, only one, Abdur Rezzak Mollah, has served the opposition benches -- in the turbulent 1970s.
Communists admit that the biggest challenge is to clean the rot within. This has also hit them ideologically.
The second task to enthuse non-functional workers and infuse young blood.
Bhattacharjee and CPI-M state secretary Biman Bose, the party`s best known faces in Bengal, have cracked the whip.
Several members, including 23 state committee members, have been axed for corruption or courting controversy. Young faces have come in.
But some have accused the party leadership of fuelling factionalism and inefficiency. The leaders disagree.
"We`ve been weeding out people with vested interests. It is natural that when a member doesn`t make it to a desired committee, he will speak against the party. The process has to continue," CPI-M state secretariat member Mohammed Salim said.
The silver lining is the functioning of CPI-M`s Surya Kanta Mishra as the opposition leader in the assembly.
His sharp arguments laced with humour and wit have not only won the hearts of his comrades but often put the ruling alliance on the backfoot.
Mishra`s popularity has earned him a berth in the CPI-M politburo.
The regular goof-ups in the state government has also provided the CPI-M with much needed issues. A massive Left rally was organised here recently.
The defeat seems to have strengthened the bond among Left Front allies. In contrast, while in power, they were often at each other`s throats, said Revolutionary Socialist Party`s Kshiti Goswami.
But it is clear the Left has miles to go.
"The CPI-M still has a lot to do in terms of rectification and reaching out to the masses," said political scientist Sabyasachi Basu Rai Chaudhuri.