New Delhi: If this Lok Sabha election is seen as a competition about who is the biggest loser among opposition parties, the Left clearly emerges as number one.
Decimation would barely be an exaggeration, with the once-thriving bloc leading in barely six seats, completely losing its grip over what were once its strongholds.
The numbers aptly tell the story of a diminishing Left. In 2004, the Left parties together won as many as 60 seats, out of which the biggest Left party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), alone won around 44. It became a national force to reckon with, extending support to the Congress-led UPA government.
By 2014, however, the Left front had come crashing down, managing just 10 seats.
A disappearing force
This election, the CPI(M) is leading in three seats, the CPI in two and the Revolutionary Socialist Party in one. The leads are in Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, which means the parties have been wiped out in West Bengal and Tripura — states it dominated for decades.
In Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) is leading in 18 of the 20 seats, while in West Bengal, the BJP has sprinted ahead to emerge as a close second to the Trinamool Congress and in none of the 42 seats is the Left even in the second position.
Meanwhile, in Tripura, the BJP is ahead on both seats, but most importantly, it is the Congress that has come second and not the CPI(M).
It isn’t just nationally, the Left front is an irrelevant political force even in states — out of power in both Tripura and West Bengal, and increasingly seems to be slipping in Kerala where it is in power under Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
In the assembly elections in Tripura early last year, the BJP snatched the state — a hitherto unexplored territory for it — so decisively that it left the Manik Sarkar-led government stunned. In West Bengal, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee elbowed the Left out a while ago and in Kerala, the Congress seems all set to push it out in the next assembly election, if Thursday’s numbers are anything to go by.
Essentially, while on the one hand the Left has witnessed a steady erosion in its existing bases, on the other hand it has been unable to capture any new ones.
What went wrong
The CPI(M), RSP and Forward Bloc are nearly dead, with no prominent leaders or known faces to put forth.
Meanwhile, the dominant Left party, the CPI(M), has leaders who may be well-known, but they are so insulated from ground realities and have been so busy fighting among themselves that the party itself barely had a fighting chance.
Till April last year, a year before the Lok Sabha elections when it should have been readying its ground strategy, the CPI(M) had spent months fighting over one document — the party’s political resolution.
The CPI(M) made it to the news not for achieving anything politically, but for the very open war between party general secretary Sitaram Yechury and his predecessor Prakash Karat. The divide was over their respective lines, with Yechury wanting to leave doors open for an “understanding” with the Congress and Karat determined to rule out any electoral alliance or understanding with the Congress whatsoever. In the last Party Congress, it was Yechury’s line that prevailed even though the friction continued.
The party, of course, has attempted to pass this off as ‘internal democracy’.
An ageing, out-of-sync force
The Left is increasingly looking like a completely anachronistic force, out of touch with ground realities and unable to grapple with changed socio-political dynamics.
Moreover, a sizeable number of Left cadres drifted to the TMC in West Bengal earlier, and now to the BJP — both there as well as in Tripura.
Its inability to keep together its flock, coupled with an unwillingness by youngsters to join it has sounded the death knell for now.
The CPI(M) acknowledged this way back in its organisational report in the 2015 Party Congress, even though not much has been done since then to correct this gap.
After the Lok Sabha election trends became clear Thursday, the CPI(M) politburo issued a statement acknowledging the “severe setback”.
“The CPI(M) has suffered a severe setback in these elections. We shall introspect the reasons for this and draw proper lessons for the future,” said the statement.
“There are very big challenges ahead regarding the defence of our secular democratic Republic, the institutions of Constitutional authority, people’s rights and livelihood issues. The Polit Bureau calls upon the people to safeguard harmony and to unitedly come forward to meet these challenges in the future,” it added.