Red Alert For Left

Sitaram Yechury

Shrinking role of left parties in Indian polity needs serious Polit Bureau introspection


Has the ‘great decline’ of the Left in Indian politics accelerated? The cancellation of the nomination of Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Bikas Ranjan Bhattacharya’s candidature for a Rajya Sabha seat from West Bengal and the unopposed election of all six All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidates point towards the receding footprint of the Left, both in the state that was once its strongest bastion, and in the Parliament.

The Parliament, that once resonated with the strong voice and debating skills of the Left members, is certainly going to miss the likes of former Left MPs such as Somnath Chatterjee, Basudev Acharya, AK Gopalan, P Sundarayya, Saifuddin Chaudhury and Ahilya Rangnekar.

This situation has arisen due to a lack of numbers that the Left party has been suffering from for some time. From 59 MPs (excluding the Lok Sabha Speaker) during the United Progressive Alliance 1 (UPA I) government in 2004, of which CPM had 43, the Left’s number has reduced to 19 at present. The CPM now has nine MPs in Lok Sabha and eight in Rajya Sabha.

Though it has been reported that Bhattacharya allegedly could not submit an additional affidavit before nominations closed at 3 PM on 28 July, party sources indicate that factors like lack of numbers in the state, disagreement within the state unit of CPM and party’s inability to get support from Congress made the situation difficult.

Without realizing the implications of leaving Congress state unit in West Bengal, the CPM leaders announced that they would not take support from the grand old party in 2017 Rajya Sabha Polls — a move which is beyond any imagination because the it was same Left parties that had gone beyond the wishes of the state unit and forged an alliance with the Congress Party. Interestingly, that alliance was an open alliance where each party cadre had to transfer their votes in favour of other party. Here, in Rajya Sabha polls, the Congress party had extended the olive branch by sending fillers to support the Left candidate for sixth Rajya Sabha seat falling vacant in West Bengal, but the state unit declined to accept this support and the central committee aka Polit Bureau accepted the state unit decision. Phew!

“Even if Bhattacharya had submitted his papers on time, winning the election wouldn’t have been easy for him. He might have failed to make it to the Rajya Sabha. An absence of numbers in the (West Bengal) Assembly made the situation tougher for the party’s state unit. Asking for TMC support was beyond question, and due to Party’s decision not to align with Congress, the task of getting votes became difficult,” a senior CPM leader from Kolkata told the Dayafter on the condition of anonymity.

After the humiliating defeat of the Left-Congress alliance in the 2016 West Bengal Assembly polls, the CPM politburo decided not to have any further understanding or alliance with the Indian National Congress.

The CPM-led Left Front has 32 MLAs in West Bengal Assembly. The Congress has 44 MLAs and the ruling TMC has 211. Although five MLAs of the Congress and one from the Left have switched over to TMC, they are yet to resign as MLAs of their parent parties.

Bhattacharya was named as a nominee, after the CPM central committee rejected West Bengal unit’s proposal to send party general secretary Sitaram Yechury to Rajya Sabha for the third time. With the alleged failure of Bhattacharya, a lawyer by profession, to file his nomination — the ongoing feud between CPM’s Bengal unit and Kerala hardliners has resurfaced.

In a recently held party meeting in Kolkata, the Prakash Karat camp had slammed the party’s Bengal unit.

MB Rajesh, a CPM MP from Kerala, had reportedly said, “The leaders at Alimuddin Street (Party headquarters in Kolkata) can’t get away from their responsibility. Whether there’s conspiracy by the ruling TMC government in the state in getting Bhattacharya’s nomination cancelled is a matter of inquiry, but the West Bengal unit can’t get away with its failure,” he added. Besides declining numbers, internal friction has also impacted the Left.

Over the years, CPM has also failed to get new blood and a strong voice in the Parliament. Many members were repeated in consecutive terms. After the 2014 Lok Sabha election, CPM went for an introspection to identify the factors that led to the party’s debacle in the polls.

Among several factors that had affected CPM, the report stated that neo-liberal policy and rapid urbanization leading to new townships impacted the party’s voter-base. It also had an adverse impact on the working class and agriculture laborers, the report mentioned.

“The time hasn’t yet come to write obituary of CPM. The party is revitalising and reinventing itself by connecting in a big way with the youth, Dalits, tribal and women. No doubt, the party’s introspection report has mentioned about the complacency as it was in government for 34 years in West Bengal, but the party has strengthened its movement at ground level,” CPM Central Committee member, Badal Saroj told the Dayafter.

The party report also agrees to the fact that there has been a decline in Left’s ideology and principles. A case in point is CPM’s suspended Rajya Sabha member Ritabrata Banerjee. He was suspended from the party for his flashy life-style, contrary to the party ideology.

However, the Left parties have failed to realize that over the years, their ideological line peppered with statements like ‘anti-people policy’, ‘neo-liberal economy’, ‘imperialism’, ‘bourgeois’, etc have failed to impress the new-age voters and consumers. Merely slamming the BJP won’t bear fruits.