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Aishe Ghosh, Kanhaiya Kumar are doing what Left leaders should have done long ago

JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh’s decision to contest West Bengal election marks a welcome change in what has been at the root of Left's decline in India.

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Has the Indian Left entered a new phase in its politics? JNU Students’ Union president Aishe Ghosh is the latest young leader from the Left parties to look beyond the university campus into the electoral politics of the real world. Ghosh has decided to contest the upcoming West Bengal assembly election as the CPM candidate from Jamuria. Previously, Kanhaiya Kumar, also a JNUSU president in the past, had unsuccessfully contested from Bihar’s Begusarai seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Now with Aishe Ghosh, there are clear signs of a welcome change in what has really been at the root of the Left’s political and electoral decline in India — leaders who never fought an election shepherding the parties after getting their hands dirty in grassroots politics. The decline of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — the dominant party in the Left Front — has been phenomenal, from an impressive 43 MPs in the 2004 Lok Sabha to an embarrassing three seats in 2019. And all this happened under the watch of general secretaries like Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury. The fate of the CPI, now led by D. Raja, is hardly different. All of them started off as student leaders, but never chose to go to the hustings once they entered mainstream politics, instead picking the convenient Rajya Sabha route.

With Ghosh and Kanhaiya’s forays, things could be turning around for the Left. It is imperative that those who lead the CPM and the CPI have first-hand experience of electoral politics and understand realpolitik, particularly given the dismal state of the parties. If at all the Indian Left can be revived, it is possible only through a grounded leadership, one that is in sync with the current realities.

And contesting elections is the best way to achieve that. It is only when you fight an election that you will invest enough in reaching out to the voter personally. When you connect with voters, you will know what they want and need, and your hunger to win elections will make you adapt accordingly. This is essential for anybody leading a party, else there’s not much you will do other than give lofty sermons to those running the race while not being aware of the ground situation yourself.

Also read: Why liberals are wary of Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF’s return in Kerala

The decline of the Left

The Left Front in India has been in a free fall ever since it quit the UPA 1 government in 2008 over the signing of the India-US civil nuclear deal. The reasons for its decline are plenty — from anachronistic thinking to a dogmatic ideology, contempt for electoral politics and refusal to adapt to a changing electorate. But at the heart of this is a rudderless, completely disconnected leadership that knows little about how to manoeuvre the murky world of electoral politics.

Take the CPM for instance. The party was at its political peak in 2005, when Prakash Karat took over as general secretary. By 2014 and towards the end of Karat’s term, the party was down to just nine seats from the 43 it boasted of earlier. Not just nationally, but the CPM began losing its grip in states too. Mamata Banerjee ended the over three-decade-long rule of the Left Front in West Bengal in 2011.

Yechury taking over the reins in April 2015, following a heated internal battle during the Visakhapatnam Party Congress, was seen as a ray of hope. The leader was seen as pragmatic, modern and less out-of-touch than his predecessor. Sitaram Yechury was also more popular among journalists, many of whom were openly rooting for him against the much-older candidate S. Ramachandran Pillai, who is part of the Karat camp. Having attended and covered the Party Congress, I found the competitive spirit and killer instinct of the CPM’s top leadership on top octane — ironically far more pronounced than during any Lok Sabha or assembly election.

The CPM’s fortunes, however, did not quite change. The steep decline continued, and the party out-performed its disastrous 2014 Lok Sabha performance in the 2019 election. Things only got worse in the elections that followed. In the 2016 West Bengal polls, the CPM-led Left Front won only 33 seats, with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress winning 211 of the 293 seats it contested. In the 2017 Tripura election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swooped in to snatch one of the last bastions of the Left.

Under Harkishan Singh Surjeet, general secretary of CPM from 1992 to 2005, the story was quite different. The astute politician from Punjab knew Indian politics like the back of his hand, forging alliances and leading the CPM to national prominence. The less said about the fortunes of the CPI the better.

It isn’t just about winning elections. It is about the loss of relevance, marginalisation, and the deep rut that the Left parties find themselves in today.

Also read: In West Bengal, an injured Mamata Banerjee is more lethal for BJP. Over to Modi

The leadership factor

Kanhaiya Kumar may have lost the election in Bihar, Aishe Ghosh may or may not win in the face of an aggressive Mamata Banerjee and a resurgent BJP in West Bengal, but what matters is that these young leaders have shown the courage and foresight to jump into the poll fray.

Not taking a cue from their predecessors and seniors, these young leaders have understood the importance of fighting an election — something endemic to democratic, electoral politics. This also helps infuse young blood into the party. In its draft political organisational report in 2015, the CPM had candidly admitted to the issue of ‘ageing’ and ‘not growing’, and of a ‘decline in mass base’. While the admission happened, the course correction did not. How could it, after all, with a leadership that has continued to remain in a cosy cocoon, more interested in fighting among itself and foolishly cribbing about ‘neo-liberal’ and ‘fascist’ aspects of Indian politics.

Aishe Ghosh and Kanhaiya Kumar may not turn out to be any different or more sensible, but at least a start has been made. The first step is for leaders of the Left parties’ student wings — AISA, AISF, SFI, etc. — to transition from student politics to fighting assembly/Lok Sabha elections, and not reducing themselves to fancy speech-givers whose only audience is the Left cabal on Twitter, if at all that. Look at how many student leaders of the ABVP (the student wing of the RSS) and the NSUI (of the Congress), end up joining the respective parties and contesting polls.

For any political party, a leadership that is connected to the ground and resonates with the voters is of utmost importance. Thus, Rahul Gandhi has led the Congress to a mere 52 seats in Lok Sabha and Narendra Modi has led the BJP to 303.

For the Left Front, its hope lies in adapting itself to a changed environment with the help of a young, flexible leadership. Kanhaiya Kumar and Aishe Ghosh have made a much-needed start, many others need to follow.

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  1. What is left and where is left? The original left in Russia has disappeared the left in China only exists for retaining concentrated power and in India the left is only for opposing Modi.
    Aishe Ghosh, Kanhaiya Kumar are doing what Left leaders have already done long ago.

  2. Communist ideology is not working and dead, see Russia. In China it is only namesake and leaders have turned dictators. In India on death bed , only some are still hanging around as they have no choice. Some of these students were using universities, scholarships etc to gain some publicity by organizing meetings, strikes etc, using universities as launch pad,media for publicity to get into politics .

  3. Communist ideology is not working and dead, see Russia. In China it is only namesake and leaders have turned dictators. In India on death bed , only some are still hanging around as they have no choice. Some of these students were using universities, scholarships etc to gain some publicity by organizing meetings, strikes etc, using universities as launch pad,media for publicity to get into politics .

  4. When I read this article.
    It reminded me of Mahajan’s speech in Lok Sabha.

    “Even the Chinese communist know that there is nothing left in the left.”

  5. First of all Aishi Ghosh did not make the decision of contesting. CPI(M) decided it.
    Secondly, Aishi Ghosh is a product of what left leaders are doing for ages. She is not an isolated phenomenon. Thirdly, those who are saying leftism is a dead idea they must know that democratic set up was also a dead idea itself 200 years of its genesis. It took 2000 years for democracy to prosper. Leftism is a young and noble idea. It is a science which needs more time to come to its actual form.
    Lastly, Industries did not shoo away from Bengal because of leftists. Morarji Desai and Pranab Mukherjee were responsible for poor condition of bengal’s poor industrial condition.

  6. Print and other such media should be banned . They blemishes any nation’s integrity by falsehood and biased reporting.

  7. Compared to many asian countries part of western Europe political environment is influenced by pro left – liberal idealogies. Even in US Bernie talks on some type of socialism which no was imagined a decade back. Only religion based politics is more reactionary. Humanity and rationalism will survive always.

  8. Time is very ripe to shake the hot pot of politics and write the obituary of communist “vichar dhara”. Whole world has abandoned communists let’s make India communism mukt

  9. These young left leaders have not taken decision to fight elections. The decision was taken by the party.

  10. One remembers that photograph of her, head in a bandage. That image came before my eyes, when seeing CM Mamata Banerjee in hospital. Brave ladies. If I had two postal ballots, would mail them to both these avatars of Shakti.

  11. Left is not relevant in this day and age. China abandoned communist principles and adopted capitalism. Russian downfall has happened long ago. Where left is in majority it’s poverty reeks as industries die. Case in point West Bengal before left reigned supreme it was the commercial capital , after it became an industry graveyard. Same goes with Venezuela. Even they have worlds largest petroleum reserves, they were no as rich as Saudi Arabia. Courtesy left policies. Left is a curse on humanity. The amount of hypocrisy they reek is unbelievable. They talk about liberalism in a democracy. But they never comment on China. Ready to do Chinese bidding in a heartbeat. Whether it is 1962 or recent events. Collaborate with Muslims , never comment on Islam, though Islam has many fallacies such as triple talaq, intolerance for Hinduism. Where left is a majority they control Islam, where Islam is a majority they kill all leftists. Case in point both our neighbors. They thrive in democracies by targeting non Muslims like in India and US.

    • The left expects RSS and BJP to prove it’s patriotism.
      But no one questions on what basis was CPIM formed in 1960s.

      The author has forgotten to mention about the presence of Vijayan camp as well who was pivotal in not letting Yechury get a seat in Rajya Sabha

  12. And , They will not get even 5 % of popular votes but that is not enough to stop presenting them as top class HERO & HEROINES by bought –up leftist media. The leftist are bound to lose every where on this planet except in one party democracies of Russia,China , North Korea etc., but will find good space in leftist media in this country ,in papers and web portals like………….(you know the name )

  13. They’re forced to fight elections as there is no one “left” in the party anymore.

    The Left has been on a “secular” decline and along with the Gandhis in Congress have no place in today’s polity.

  14. Wow… Earth shattering development. My God… AISHE GHOSH herself… Yes herself… Yes herself… Fighting elections. By the way, kanhaiya already did, and came 3rd but thats ok. But wow! Aishe HERSELF. Its like Lord Krishna HIMSELF picking up arms in Kurukshetra. Like WOW! I wonder whether this was preceeded by some alignment of stars OR akaashwaani… Like in case of Jesus & Krishna. But man what an earth shattering development, AISHE GHOSH herself…. WOW. Ican understand why this warranted a separate stand alone article, keeping in line with Sh Shekhar Gupta’s vision….. But like… Yes…. WOW!

  15. POOHI is a CONGRASS journalist.

    She thinks that ultra left wing radicals and jihadist coming together with the FAMILY would bring back the glorious days where corrupt journalist and undereducated jhollawallas were the real powerful middlemen with a finger in every scam.

  16. Creating chaos and anarchy? Well, Left leaders were doing this from very long, just that people of India realized their evil machinations and packed their bags state after state at the hustings.
    Aishe Ghosh and Kanhaiyya Kumar are nuisance limited to Mehrauli Ring Road, and are written about by journos limited by their cranium capacity.

    • Can someone please ask her about her position on Marichjhapi? This was the largest massacre of Dalits and Scheduled Castes in India under the governance of Shri Jyoti Basu. And you will hardly hear of it. That is the influence Left has on media, while talking about Godi Media.

    • I think whatever you said was meant to be understood negatively. I do hope you understand that they are not loud mouthed. It’s called being outspoken. Like why is India so against women even speaking out their beliefs. Should they cease to exist, will that be better? Whatever these women say it’s their right. You can have a different opinion or ideology or belief but bashing them just based on their gender is wrong. As a fellow human being I hope you understand that we are just humane, all of us just trying to live life. Treat everyone equally.

    • I think whatever you said was meant to be taken negatively. I do hope you understand that they are not loud mouthed. It’s called being outspoken. Like why is India so adamant on treating women like shit. Should they cease to exist? Whatever these women say it’s their right to do so and you can disagree with that but hating on them just because of their gender is wrong. We are all just trying to live life, do the right thing. Treat everyone equally, live in peace.

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