West Bengal and Kerala, strongholds of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, are among four Indian states going to the polls shortly. For the Left movement, the outcome of the assembly elections in these states is crucial.
In West Bengal, the Left Front, headed by the CPI-M, has been in office continuously since 1977. The severe setbacks the party suffered in last year’s municipal elections and the previous year’s Lok Sabha elections have damaged its winning record.
The Left’s main challenger in West Bengal is the All India Trinamool Congress, founded by Mamata Banerjee after quitting the Congress in 1997 saying it was soft on the CPI-M. It quickly became the main opposition.
In 2004 the Trinamool Congress aligned itself with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha poll and became a partner in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government. Now it is a partner of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. Last week Mamata Banerjee, as Railway Minister, offered a bouquet of projects to West Bengal to woo the voters.
The Congress, which has had a troubled relationship with the volatile Mamata Banerjee, has reconciled itself to being a junior partner of the Trinamool Congress.
The CPI-M is facing the electorate with a severe handicap as the bitterness caused by its high-handed action in Nandigram and Singur against those opposing forcible acquisition of land for industrial projects has not subsided. Mamata Banerjee personally led the agitation in both places.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya lacks the charisma of Jyoti Basu, whom he had succeeded a decade ago, and the LF partners who unquestioningly accepted the CPI-M’s dictates earlier are now remonstrating.
The CPI-M national leadership is hoping for gains in Kerala to compensate for likely losses in West Bengal.
In the last three decades, Kerala has voted the Left Democratic Front, led by the CPI-M, and the United Democratic Front, led by the Congress, to power in alternate elections. The LDF, which will have to make way for the UDF this year if the trend continues, is making a bold bid to break the jinx and win a second successive term.
The poll season began, as usual, with ministers laying foundation stones for projects and the parties organising marches to enthuse the cadres. Away from public gaze, other strategies were also taking shape.
An estranged relative of Muslim League leader and former UDF minister PK Kunhalikutty, whose name had cropped up in a sex scandal in the 1990s, and a television channel spilt into the public domain information on how he had got away without even figuring as an accused in the case. The government promptly asked the police to investigate the matter.
It also sought the Vigilance court’s nod for further investigation in the palmolein case which Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan had been pursuing from the time he was Leader of the Opposition. The prime accused in the case, former Chief Minister K Karunakaran, died recently. The fresh probe is aimed at bringing Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy into the net.
The CPI-M had demoted Achuthanandan from the Politburo in 2009 as a disciplinary measure. But his image as a crusader against corruption has brightened with the Supreme Court awarding a year’s rigorous imprisonment to Kerala Congress (B) leader and former UDF minister R Balakrishna Pillai in another case which too he had been pursuing independently of the government. However, it is not clear whether the party is ready to restore his Politburo membership and give him another term as chief minister.
Responding to the revival of the old cases against its leaders, the UDF also tried to breathe new life into some old allegations. Its primary target now is Achuthanandan’s son, VA Arunkumar, not any of the ministers against whom it had previously levelled charges.
The re-floated scandals are unlikely to sway the fronts’ traditional supporters whose loyalties are primordial. Will they persuade the non-partisan voters whose swing from one front to the other leads to a change of government? The answer to this question must wait.
Although the CPI-M does not figure in power play outside Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, its decline has implications for the nation as a whole. It will further reduce the influence of the Left which has raised its voice against the evils of globalisation even though it has generally comprised with them where it is in power. --Gulf Today, February 28, 2011.