The reduction of the CPI(M) in parliamentary terms to just 10 seats in the recent Lok Sabha elections has not surprised many. The all India vote share of the CPI(M), CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc has also fallen considerably from 7% to 4.5% in 2009. The Left parties have always had strongholds in three states: West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. In Tripura, the Left has managed to retain both the seats under the leadership of Manik Sarkar. In Kerala the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front has improved its seat count from four seats in 2009 to eight seats in 2014.
The worst defeat for the Left came in West Bengal where 34 years of Left Front rule ended in 2011 and the party ended up with just two seats out of 42 in the state. This defeat hardly comes as a surprise as the trends were already evident in the panchayat elections last year and the 2011 Assembly elections.
When the 2011 Bidhan Sabha votes were analysed in the state, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its allies (including the Congress and SUCI) were seen to be maintaining majority in the corresponding 34 seats in the Lok Sabha. In the general election this time, the TMC won 34 seats on its own, while the opposition votes became divided among the Congress, the CPI(M) and the BJP. Though the CPI(M) has insisted on rigging by the TMC and there were many incidents of violence before the elections, the decline in support for the CPI(M) is not difficult to understand (though it actually got around 30% votes in Bengal as opposed to around 40% garnered by the TMC), given the horrors of its actions towards the end of its regime in Bengal.
But the defeat of the CPI(M) could be good news for the Left in India. One, this could finally jolt the party out of its complacence. Instead of acknowledging the trend, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat insisted the results were “distorted” and said it did not reflect the people’s support for the Left. This reflects a denial of the party’s mistakes in the past in Bengal, where forced land acquisitions and police atrocities led to multiple movements in the state finally leading to the removal of the party from power. It also reflects the inability of the party to fathom its own desperate need to reinvent itself. The political positions of the Left are not the real cause of its decline, but the need to align those positions with a growing and changing India.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharya came to power in 2006 in Bengal with a majority higher than in 2001, and people believed in his ability to bring more industries and create better employment opportunities in the state. But the government resorted to similar oppressions that were trademarks of other parliamentary parties. The CPI(M)’s claim of bring the true representatives of the Left suffered a permanent setback.
But there is good news for the Left forces in India that are not necessarily part of the CPI(M). The Leftist ideology is not uniform, but what it essentially stands for is growth in the economy that must include redistribution to reduce inequities in the economy and society. And there are various movements and groups that are fighting got justice in the country. There are movements for right to information, right to food, against forceful acquisitions for building dams, mining or other industries. The country has also seen movements against oppressions of women, Dalits and also in support of gay rights in more recent times. In fact the recent support for the movement against corruption also reflects the angst of the Indian population (largely urban middle class in this case). There are movements by the workers themselves for better pay and working conditions, like the strikes in Maruti and other news of troubles in Bajaj Auto, Alfa Laval etc have shown.
These movements are crucial and continuing, despite not only being detached from the party, but also sometimes being directed against it, Nandigram, Singur or Lalgarh, being the most recent examples. It is essential to understand that the CPI(M) party does not have a monopoly over “Left” in India, and neither should it ever have so.
The defeat of the CPM is time for the other Left forces to reinforce themselves, to continue their struggle against the inequalities and injustices rooted in the Indian society and polity, and also an opportunity for them to uphold the ideology and principles they stand for even as the CPM fails to do so. The ensuing struggles of people all over India to get a better share of India’s growth story is the real story of the Left in the country emphasising not only on its continuing impact and relevance, but its dire need.