By Kalyani Shankar
The ongoing Assembly elections in five states- Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, West Bengal, and Assam will decide whether the left parties will survive or vanish. Voters of both West Bengal and Kerala are crucial for the future of the Left parties. The communists are ruling only in Kerala.
Today, the CPI and CPI(M) together hold five seats in the Lok Sabha reduced from their kingmakers days of 1996 and 2004 to becoming almost its worst-ever period since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Since 2004, continuous decline in the Lok Sabha elections, lack of media presence, or attracting the youth have resulted in the left parties gradually losing relevance in Indian politics. The small regional parties are having more seats in Lok Sabha than the combined strength of CPI and the CPI(M).
In recent times, the first major electoral jolt to the Left came from West Bengal when the comrades lost the state to the Trinamool Congress in 2011 assembly elections after ruling the state for 34 years. The Left front also lost the 2016 polls to TMC though it won Kerala. The Left lost Tripura assembly elections in February 2018, when the BJP unseated the CPI(M) from power. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Kerala gave a decisive verdict to the Congress-led UDF. The Congress got 19 sets and the CPI(M) only one out of the total of 20 seats.
The country’s current political shifts have raised questions about the continued relevance of the Left and its future. That is why the Kerala polls are essential. Known as the ‘Gods own country, ‘the state has been alternating between the Congress-led UDF and the Left-led LDF. This time it is the turn of the UDF. The left could adapt to the demands of electoral politics and accommodate different and even contradictory views in Kerala. Still, in a close fight, it is anybody’s guess who will win.
One has to understand the history of the communist movement in India to understand their present crisis. The CPI was born in 1925. After India’s independence in 1947, the Communist Party of Indi (CPI) became the main opposition party. The erstwhile Madras Presidency saw the presence of Communist legislators, and also the movement picked up in the linguistically carved out Andhra Pradesh. The movement was led by strong leaders like E M S Namboodipad and Jeevanandan.
EMS Namboodiripad headed the first Communist Party government in April 1957 in Kerala. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru dismissed his government in 1959 following ‘Liberation Struggle.’ The CPI-M came after the party split in 1964 on ideological grounds. The Left played an essential role during the late 1970 and the decade after in uniting the opposition.. During the Rajiv Gandhi regime, the left parties joined hands to oust him and form an alternative government led by V.P. Singh. Throughout the 1990s, the left parties continued to influence coalition politics at the national level. In 2004, the Left had a significant contingent of 62 seats to support the Congress-led coalition to keep the BJP out of power. In UPA I, their influence peaked, but their decline started after 2008 when they decided to withdraw support to the UPA government on the Indo-US nuclear bill. But since then, it is continuous downhill for the party.
The Left Front in West Bengal is yet to recover the shock it received in 2011. There is no leader to match Mamata Banerjee in the state. Mamata systematically finished the Left and the C0ngress in these ten years. But the Kerala story is different and more positive for the Left before the coming assembly polls on April 6. With confidence Here, the Left parties have to face Congress and the BJP, which is aiming to improve its performance in the state. However, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan faces the polls with confidence despite allegations of corruption, the mess up in the Sabarimala issue, etc.
Secondly, the LDF has won 516-gram panchayats to the UDF’s 374 and 10 district panchayats to the UDF’s four recently. The BJP failed to make much headway, though it did notch up a few seats in the gram panchayats. Thirdly, the LDF is quite resurgent compared to the UDF. The Pinarayi government has made inroads into the UDF’s traditional vote banks. Fourthly, it stitched up an advantageous alliance with Kerala Congress (Mani), a regionally powerful party that significantly influences the Christians. Above all, Vijayan’s crisis management and welfare schemes are his strengths. The Congress does not have a leader to match Vijayan.
A win in Kerala will be a morale booster for the Left parties. It can become relevant if the party is in step with the changing times and also all left parties are united. It is for the leadership to take the right steps and Kerala could be a beginning. A democracy like India needs a strong left along with centrist parties when the country is moving towards the rightwing. (IPA Service)