The Left-wing parties which wield power in three states in India are going downhill. The Communist Party of India-Marxist, which leads the pack, was routed in local self-government elections in Kerala last week. It had received a severe drubbing in the municipal elections in West Bengal in May.
The Left Front, headed by the CPI-M, has ruled West Bengal continuously for more than three decades, setting a record. The Left Democratic Front, also led by it, has been voted to office in Kerala in alternate elections for as long.
Coming after the heavy losses in last year’s parliamentary poll, the reverses in the local elections are a major setback for the CPI-M as it prepares for the Assembly elections, due next year, in the two states. The other Left parties count for little.
The CPI-M has established procedures for evaluation of its performance, identification of mistakes and initiation of remedial action. However, the time available to it to take corrective measures and avoid a third successive reverse is too short.
Lately, the corrective system has not been functioning well. The party’s state and central committees had conducted mandatory reviews after the Lok Sabha poll but no meaningful measures ensued.
When the country gained freedom in 1947, the Communist Party of India was committed to a policy of violent revolution but it participated in the elections. In the first national elections on adult franchise, held in 1952, it emerged as the largest opposition group in the Lok Sabha, winning more seats than the Socialist Party which polled more votes.
Five years later, the world sat up and took notice as the CPI formed the government in Kerala. That was the first time Communists had come to power through the ballot box anywhere. The government, sadly, was short-lived. The Centre dismissed it in 1959 as violent protests against land and educational reforms initiated by it swept the state.
Despite the rude experience, the CPI remained on the parliamentary path. When the party split in two in the wake of the rift in the international communist movement both the factions continued along the same course. Although communist influence in the country shrank, the CPI-M outpaced the parent body and emerged as the strongest political formation in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.
In all these states the CPI-M is now facing a problem which other parties that are a part of the power structure have faced before. It is problem resulting from prolonged exposure to and involvement in power politics. As a party with an assured place in the ruling Establishment it tends to attract those seeking political power more than those wanting social and economic changes.
Party documents show that it is losing long-term cadres who are not interested in the loaves of office. The annual dropout rate has been above 10 per cent in Kerala for some year. It is one of several states where more than 40 per cent of the party members are comparative newcomers.
Elections are a costly process. In a five-year period, parties now face three separate elections — one to the Lok Sabha, another to the Assembly and the third to the local bodies. At one time the CPI-M could proudly say it relied entirely on small contributions from the poor. Material that surfaced in the recent past indicates that the Kerala party has benefited from the munificence of some businessmen with dubious backgrounds.
The absence of charismatic leaders like EMS Namboodiripad and Jyoti Basu, who had led the party in Kerala and West Bengal along the parliamentary path in the early years, is a major handicap for the CPI-M in facing today’s challenges. To make things worse, the central leadership is in the hands of persons with little grassroots level political experience.
Under former general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the CPI-M had carved out a place for itself in national politics by acting as a catalyst in the formation of non-Congress governments when elections threw up a hung parliament. His successor, Prakash Karat, helped in the formation of the last Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government and the party was able to influence its working to some extent.
Karat’s attempt to bring down the UPA government on the issue of the civilian nuclear agreement with the United States backfired. His effort to put together a non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party alternative in advance of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections also failed. The party needs a win in the Assembly elections to retain its relevance at the national level.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 1, 2010.