Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal, the state’s traditional Left supporters seem to be shifting towards the BJP. With the Left’s steady decline in the state, many say a vote to the CPM won’t be enough to challenge Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, and believe that the BJP is better suited to do that.
ThePrint asks: Is vote for Left a waste in West Bengal or will it find relevance only in an anti-BJP coalition?
Vote for Left will be a waste because this is an abnormal election and ‘tactical voting’ is needed
Professor of Political Science
I do not normally subscribe to the idea that votes are wasted, for they express voters’ preference for specific candidates or parties, irrespective of whether the candidates win or lose.
However, this time around, it is an abnormal election against what is easily the most violent regime in the history of Independent India. In such a context, ‘tactical voting’ becomes an imperative and most people begin to choose the lesser evil. Given the Left’s precipitous decline in West Bengal over the last decade and its reduction to, at best, the third spot electorally, most people are finding it difficult to decide in its favour.
Even those vehemently opposed to the Trinamool Congress will try and swallow a bitter pill, because a vote for the Left will really be a wasted one. The CPI(M) has lost large number of its voters over the past decade, first to the TMC and then to the BJP, and stands reduced to the third, possibly even fourth, position. So even if it manages to recover some ground, which is doubtful, it will at best raise it to number two – and that’s not good enough. It is right to say that had an anti-BJP coalition been worked out, the Left Front might have had greater claim to that vote.
A true Leftist will have no qualms in accepting that BJP is the only alternative in West Bengal
State executive member, West Bengal BJP
In West Bengal, the common people have made up their mind. They have come to the conclusion that they have had enough of this extortion, mafia and crime rule, which means that they have had enough of Trinamool Congress (TMC). Just like every other citizen of the country, the people of West Bengal too have aspirations in life. They are seeing the all-round development of Modi government brought about in the last five years. This development, sadly, has not touched West Bengal. Various central government schemes were forced out of the state by the ruling TMC government.
The Left Front’s rule in West Bengal for 34 years has cost the state heavily. They perennially accused the Centre of step-motherly treatment, even though they would often support the central government from outside, or even form a coalition with them. Despite this, they kept blaming whichever party was at the Centre.
In this political tug of war, the state has suffered. Thirty-four years of Left’s rule combined with over six years of TMC’s rule means that the people of West Bengal have endured great trouble for four decades.
A true Leftist will have no ideological qualms in publicly accepting that the BJP is the only viable alternative. Modi government’s policies are meant for the masses; they are meant for those on the bottom-most step of the ladder. A true Leftist will recognise this.
Left-TMC may have ceded some space to BJP but party is far from numbers Amit Shah is day-dreaming about
Economist and political analyst
The Left Front government in West Bengal can be faulted on many counts but not on communalism. It is therefore surprising that there has been a steady increase in the BJP’s vote share at the cost of the Left.
This is a reflection of two related phenomenon. First, there is a growing resentment against the Trinamool Congress (TMC) regime because of large-scale corruption scandals, worsening employment situation, and an undemocratic attitude where the opposition cadres and common people are hounded if they dare to speak out against the government. But the Left has singularly failed to build up any mass movement, banking on such resentment.
The lack of any attempt to introspect and rectify their mistakes has hurt the Left’s credibility. The alliance with the discredited Congress (in 2016) further alienated them. Many important MLAs and MPs have either shifted to the TMC or the BJP, weakening the Left. As a result, many are seeing the BJP as an option within the opposition space.
This is further bolstered by the attempts of communal polarisation that the BJP has orchestrated, to which the TMC has no credible secular response. It is helping the BJP that they have never enjoyed power in West Bengal and so are being seen as untested in Bengal politics.
However, Bengal is still a difficult ground for the BJP. Lack of credible leaders, a scam tainted erstwhile TMC henchman being its leader, lack of organisation, failures of the Modi government and a brand of politics that is alien to Bengalis, will ensure that the BJP is far from the number that party president Amit Shah is day-dreaming about.
Left’s leadership has lost credibility & that’s why it is losing the rural voter-base
It is true that the BJP, of late, seems to be offering a lot in West Bengal. All their promises of development, jobs, and progress may appear tempting to some voters.
The BJP has lost significant voter-base in north India, and it is looking to compensate by building a base in West Bengal. The BJP also realises that the TMC is a major force to reckon with, not just in the state but also at the national level.
As far as the Left is concerned, it is simply failing to get its act together. The trouble lies in its leadership, which has lost credibility. After Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Jyoti Basu, there is a leadership vacuum in the Left.
That’s why the Left is not able to protect its rural voter-base. Some traditional Left voters have now become disillusioned and think that the BJP will be able to fight the TMC better.
That said, I do not see a significant increase in the BJP’s vote-share in West Bengal. Last time, the party got only 10 per cent votes in the state.
It would be better for the Left if it forms an alliance with the Congress to protect its voter-base, but for certain reasons, it may choose not to do so.
Majority in Bengal will vote against BJP — Left, TMC, Congress supporters included
Assistant Professor, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata
A majority in Bengal will vote against the BJP in this Lok Sabha elections. In this respect, the choice is to vote for the strongest candidate against the BJP. In most cases, the voters will back the Trinamool Congress candidates against the BJP instead of the Left.
In constituencies like Malda and Murshidabad, the voters might pick the Congress. However, in some constituencies like Raiganj, Murshidabad, Jadavpur, Bankura, Uluberia, Diamond Harbour, Bishnupur, and Jhargram, the Left might still put up a good fight. It is because of the Left’s old base in these constituencies and also its reliable booth-level organisation in these constituencies.
Left leader Sitaram Yechury’s recent clarification that the Left will support a secular government at the Centre might attract some vacillating anti-BJP voters who were unsure between the Left and the Trinamool. However, in Bengal, the anti-BJP voters will mainly flock behind the Trinamool with the hope of an alternative anti-BJP coalition after the polls.
The Trinamool Congress wants to play a decisive role in forming an alternative government at the Centre given the precedence of the Left’s similar role in the 1989, 1996 and 2004 parliament elections.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint.
For ThePrint's smart analysis of how the rest of the media is doing its job, no holds barred, go to PluggedIn