Kolkata: Plagued by defections, rebellion and organisational glitches, the once invincible Left Front is hoping that the "worst" is over and will fight the upcoming Lok Sabha polls to prove its relevance in West Bengal.
However, it hopes to gain from division of anti-Left votes among Congress, BJP and the ruling Trinamool Congress.
"The Lok Sabha polls in Bengal, will be our fight to prove the relevance of Left Front in West Bengal," Forward Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas said.
Biswas feels it will benefit the Left that TMC, Congress and BJP were fighting the polls on their own and did not forge any alliance.
"The worst for the CPI(M) and the Left was in the 2009 Lok Sabha and 2011 Assembly poll. It is over. The Left will come out with good results in Bengal this time," CPI(M) leader Mohammed Salim asserted.
After 34 years of uninterrupted rule since 1977, the CPI(M)-led Left Front suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and its then ally Congress in the 2011 Assembly poll.
The issue that drove the voters away from the Left parties - forcible land acquisition - is still in the voters` minds and may yet again play a spoilsport.
The Left received its first big jolt in 2009 Lok Sabha polls when its lost more than half of its seats to TMC and Congress alliance in Bengal and came down to just 15 seats with the TMC-Congress alliance winning 26.
The erosion of Left votes gained momentum in the 2011 Assembly poll resulting in the fall of the Left bastion.
Identifying the reasons such as arrogance of power, rot and lacunae within the organisation behind the defeat, the Left, especially the CPI(M), started a rectification drive.
But it did not help the demoralised grassroot workers. Inevitably this was followed by a sharp drop in the party membership, specially in the youth and women wings. While the youth wing suffered erosion of membership from 84 lakh in 2010 to 58 lakh in 2011, the women`s wing membership plummeted from 57 lakh in 2010 41 lakh in 2011.
The Left, which is facing its toughest time in Bengal politics since 1977, is now pinning its hopes on the division of votes among Congress, BJP and Trinamool and anti-incumbency votes against Trianamool regime.
"It is always of great help in politics if your enemies are divided," CPI(M) central committee member Shyamal Chakraborty said. MORE PTI PNT MD SCH
Chakraborty`s views were shared by CPI leader A B Bardhan too, who stated that the combined vote share of Cong- TMC alliance was just 49 per cent during 2011 polls, compared to 41 per cent of the Left Front.
"If you take out the vote share of Congress from that combined one then Left is still the highest," he said citing Nalhati Assembly by-election where the Left candidate won due to division of anti-Left votes and the Howrah Lok Sabha bypoll, where the victory margin of TMC was slashed, even as the BJP shied away from fielding a candidate from that seat.
Although Bardhan claimed that the Left, especially the CPI(M), has taken several steps both within the party and the Front to regain lost ground, the results of several by-elections and last years` Panchayat polls in rural Bengal have shown that the Left still has miles to go.
In the meantime, the TMC`s vote share as a single party has gone up to more than 50 per cent.
However, according to CPI(M) central committee member Nilotpal Basu, it is not all that depressing. The by-elections and last years` panchayat polls results are no parameters to gauge Left`s support base in Bengal, he insists.
"During panchayat polls, in most of the seats the Left couldn`t field candidates. So it can`t be judged as a parameter. We have identified our mistakes and lacunae and have rectified it to a large extent," Basu said.
But the reality is harsh. In the Rajya Sabha election last month, three Left legislators defected to the TMC. The CPI(M) was also left red faced with the open rebellion of party`s minority leader Rezzak Mollah.
Mollah, a party MLA since 1972, floated a new outfit after describing the CPI(M) leadership as incompetent and anti-Muslim, forcing the party to expel him.
The Left leaders claimed that Mollah`s expulsion from the CPI(M) would not effect the poll prospects of the Left in Bengal, but Mollah`s charge that the Marxist party was centred around high-caste Brahmins might alienate the 28 per cent Muslims voters further.
The Muslim voting chunk wields considerable influence in at least 28 Lok Sabha seats out of 42 in Bengal.
The rural and minority votes are the two most deciding factors in Bengal politics, which by the present trend of panchayat polls seems to be siding with the Trinamool.
The Left Front, also received a jolt when its three-decade-old ally Kiranmoy Nanda of Samajwadi Party walked out of the Front after being denied a Lok Sabha seat.
"If the CPI(M) and the Left Front do not know how to respect or accommodate their allies, it is their problem. We will fight in Bengal alone," Samajwadi Party general secretary Kiranmoy Nanda told PTI.
According to sources, Mulayam Singh Yadav requested for a few seats, but the Left Leadership rejected it. The Left parties, however, are hoping to cash in on the anti-incumbency against the TMC, especially on the issue of rising crime against women.
"The people after 34 years wanted a change and Trinamool Congress was the best option available then. Now they have understood the difference between us and them. It will get reflected in results," RSP state secretary Khisti Goswami said.
However, TMC, Congress and BJP rejected the notion of division in anti-Left votes.
"The anti-incumbency votes that the Left is hoping to gain will actually come to BJP as the voters will exercise their franchise according to the national mood, which is to bring Narendra Modi to power," BJP leader Siddharth Nath Singh said.
Trinamool Congress felt that irrespective of the division of anti-Left votes, it will emerge as the biggest party in Bengal by winning majority of seats.
In a radically different postulate, political analyst Udayan Bandopadhyay feels that the division of anti-Left votes can actually do more harm than good to the Left.
"Congress and TMC are going to be the biggest beneficiaries of minority votes, but as far as anti-incumbency votes are concerned, if they get split between Congress, BJP and the Left, then it wouldn`t be of much help," he explained.