Kolkata: With West Bengal becoming ‘Left-mukt‘ in the recently-held assembly elections, comrades who ruled the state for 34 years seem too zapped by the poll outcome to think of a roadmap for their future.
They blame the Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for taking identity politics to such a level that it left no space for Communism. Some of them believe that the Left may not return to power “anytime soon” but they will eventually “fight back”. Ask them when and how, and the Bengal comrades seem to go blank.
Not only has the CPI(M)–led Left Front drawn a blank, for the first time since the 1952 elections, it has been progressively declining since 2011 when Mamata Banerjee dethroned the front to take power in the state.
The Left Front won 62 seats in 2011, which dropped to 32 in 2016 after it allied with the Congress. It now has nothing.
Its vote share, which was around 40 per cent in 2011, slipped to around 20 per cent in 2016. But the 2021 assembly elections saw the front face the humiliation of being left with just 5 per cent of the vote-share.
Kanti Ganguly, former Left minister and a veteran CPI(M) leader said the party needed to introspect.
“The party needs self-criticism and introspection. It is true that people of Bengal chose the Trinamool because it was a fight against communal facist force,” he said.
“But why did they not trust the Left? We could not reach the grassroots. The decline started long ago,” he added. “We could not shield our cadre from Trinamool’s torture, so some of them joined the BJP and some took shelter in Trinamool. Our organisations on the ground faced erosion.”
A senior member of the party’s central committee, however, said communist politics would never be completely wiped out. “The CPM in Bengal has to start from scratch. Communist politics or Leftist thoughts never cease to exist,” he said. “But the political party here has to begin afresh. Young candidates who contested elections have to be pushed for greater roles in the structure. The party has to get rid of old faces.”
“The young leaders will not have to carry the baggage of our past, which people like I, Biman da (Biman Bose, Left Front chairman) or Surjya da (Surjya Kanta Mishra, state secretary) have been carrying for long,” he added.
The CPI(M) politburo has promised a serious review of the party’s performance in Bengal.
“The performance of the CPI(M) and the Left has been very disappointing,” it said in a statement issued on 5 May. “The people’s urge to defeat the BJP has led to a sharp polarisation between BJP and TMC, squeezing out the Sanjukta Morcha. A serious self-critical review of these results will be undertaken by the party to draw lessons.”
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‘Battle of communal forces’
A number of Left Front leaders blame their marginalisation on “communalisation” of politics in West Bengal.
Ashok Bhattacharya, former Left minister and one of the CPI(M)’s senior leaders, said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in her quest to destroy his party, invited the “communal BJP” into the state.
“When politics is taken over by religion and caste, there remains little space for communism,” he said. “The party tried to push out veteran candidates to bring in new faces. Around 90 young candidates were given tickets but they failed to draw votes. Left politics, however, will not end here. It will return again but the leaders must regain the lost faith of the people.”
Hannan Mollah, the 80-year-old CPI(M) politburo member seconded the view that the party became a “marginal force” in the battle of two communal parties.
“The communist party got trapped in this identity politics. The state was polarised at many levels. We became a marginal force,” Mollah told ThePrint. “Majority Hindus voted for the BJP while all minority and secular people voted for the Trinamool Congress. In fact, our secular and minority votes went to Trinamool en masse.”
Santosh Rana of the CPI said the Left Front itself failed to stop communal politics in the state.
“There has been absolute polarisation in Bengal on religious lines. We as Communists failed to stop this polarisation by both BJP and Trinamool, because our organisation on the ground became weak,” he said.
“We could not support our cadres, leaders, who became the victims of political violence in the past 10 years. But I believe that our comrades will fight back. We may not return to power soon but we will surely bounce back in Bengal politics as a major force.”
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‘A disconnect with the masses’
Even as senior CPI(M) leaders blame ‘communal and identity’ politics, a section of communist leaders from the Left Front constituents such as the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Forward Bloc and CPI say the front has lost touch with the electorate.
The leaders say the young Left candidates did not reach the villages and did not study Bengal’s changing socio-economic situation.
“The young faces are active on social media but not on the ground. Leaders can’t build their base through Facebook or Twitter; they need to do it on the ground,” said Naren Chatterjee, senior leader of Forward Bloc.
Chatterjee also said that the front has gradually lost its support.
“How did we cede space to Trinamool and BJP in our strong areas such as the tribal-dominated districts of Jangalmahal or the minority-dominated districts like Murshidabad? This loss of support did not happen overnight, it has been happening for the past 10 years. And we could not arrest this bleeding,” he added.
Mahendra Roy, former RSP MP, said the Trinamool’s cash schemes and freebies had made the electorate “freeloaders”.
“The Trinamool Congress did not generate any real employment but recruited youth in contractual jobs that have no job security. So the party cadre get such jobs,” Roy said. “Apart from these, people get cash through government schemes. These are not transferring benefits or bringing development, but giving free money or bribes. We did not counter such actions by Trinamool.”
Political analyst, Prof. Partha Pratim Biswas, said the front also made blunders in its alliance.
“The alliance was in confusion. First, they had confusion over the alliance with the Congress. The CPI(M)’s state unit wanted the alliance but its politburo and central committee were in deep discussion mode forever,” Biswas said. “Then just before the elections, the front allied with the ISF. It was a political startup and a symbol of another identity politics.”
Biswas added that for the Left to revive, it needed a “new structure and new faces like it did 50 years ago”.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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