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24 February, 2015

Bleak outlook for the Left

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

 As the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the largest of India’s Left parties, prepares for its triennial national congress, the outlook for the future is bleak as there are no signs of recovery from the setbacks of recent years.

The Communist Party of India was the main opposition in Parliament in the early years of Independence. It stunned the world in 1957 by seizing power in Kerala state through the ballot box. A few years later the party split in the wake of the Sino-Soviet rift, and the breakaway CPI-M, outgrowing the parent body, became the major political force in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala.

In West Bengal and Tripura, it enjoyed a long run in power. In Kerala, a coalition led by it alternated in power with a rival front led by the Congress party.

As the Congress was reduced to a minority in Parliament, the CPI-M promoted the formation of non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party governments at the Centre but did not participate directly in them. It was the Left’s image as a progressive force that enabled the party’s general secretary, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, to bring together small national and regional parties to form coalition governments.

At one stage these parties wanted West Bengal’s charismatic CPI-M leader Jyoti Basu to be the Prime Minister. The party turned down the suggestion as it did not want to be part of a government in which it did not have a dominant position. Basu later termed the decision a Himalayan blunder.

In 2004, Surjeet’s successor, Prakash Karat, extended Left support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government from outside to keep the BJP out of power. He pulled the plug when the government concluded the civil nuclear agreement with the United States but could not bring the government down. The UPA won a second term in the 2009 elections.

In 2011, the regional Trinamool Congress brought the CPI-M’s unbroken 34-year rule in West Bengal to an end. The Left’s electoral rout was widely attributed to the pro-rich policies the government had adopted and the ruthless manner in which it attempted to seize farmers’ lands for industries.

Dr Ashok Mitra, a former CPI-M Finance Minister and well-known economist, said the party was defeated as its state leaders had deviated from communist policies and principles.

Last year’s Lok Sabha elections revealed shrinkage of the Left’s electoral base. The CPI-M’s vote share dwindled from 5.3% in 2009 to 3.2% and the CPI’s from 1.4% to 0.8%.

The results of two recent by-elections in West Bengal, one to the Lok Sabha and the other to the State Assembly, show that the party’s downward slide is continuing. The Trinamool Congress won both the seats. In the Assembly constituency, the BJP took the second spot pushing the CPI-M down to the third place.

In Kerala, the CPI-M has been debilitated by a feud between party veteran VS Achuthanandan and long-time state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. A new act of the long-running tragi-comedy was played out at the state party conference which has just concluded at Alappuzha.

The small northeastern state of Tripura is the only place where the party is intact. Small pockets of influence which it had elsewhere in the country have been swept away by the rising tide of communal and regional parties.

The state of the Left in Delhi, where Prakash Karat served as the CPI-M’s state secretary before his elevation to the Central Committee in 1985, is illustrative of its sad plight at the national level. Five Left parties jointly put up 15 candidates in the Assembly elections there. Together they polled a paltry 5,405 votes. The state has an electorate of more than 13 million.

Prakash Karat, who became general secretary in 2005, is due to relinquish the post at the party congress scheduled to be held at Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, from April 14 to 19. His poor stewardship of the party is generally attributed to his lack of experience in working class movements.

Sitaram Yechury, who is widely tipped to succeed him, shares Karat’s background. Both were student leaders catapulted into the top leadership without field experience.

The party’s West Bengal and Kerala units have powerful state level leaders but have not been able to throw up a single leader of national stature after Jyoti Basu and EMS Namboodiripad. Basu, who was West Bengal’s chief minister continuously from 1977 to 2000, died in 2010 and Namboodiripad, who was Kerala’s chief minister twice, died in 1998-- Gulf Today. Sharjah, February 24, 2015

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