Current state elections crucial for future of the Left in West Bengal and Kerala

With just five members in the Lok Sabha, Left Parties find themselves marginalised at the national level. They need to perform well to remain relevant

Current state elections crucial for future of the Left in West Bengal and Kerala

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 flourish. Voters of both West Bengal and Kerala are crucial for the future of Left parties.

Today, the CPI and CPI(M) together hold five seats in the Lok Sabha since 2019. Since 2004 there has been a steady decline in their Lok Sabha seats. Their failure to attract the youth and command a presence in the media have resulted in the left parties gradually losing much of their relevance in Indian politics. Small regional parties today have more seats in the Lok Sabha than the combined strength of CPI and the CPI(M).

The first major electoral jolt to the Left came from West Bengal when it lost the state to Trinamool Congress in 2011 after ruling the state for 34 years. The Left front also lost the 2016 polls to TMC though it won in 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 important for the Left. The state has been alternating between the Congress-led UDF and the Left-led LDF. 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 India (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 1970s and the decade after in uniting the opposition. During the Rajiv Gandhi regime, the left parties joined hands with 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 has been downhill for the parties.

In Kerala, The LDF had 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. The Pinarayi government has made inroads into the UDF's traditional vote banks and 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 seen as his strengths. In West Bengal, the Left parties are fighting to retrieve lost ground and increase their vote share.

Good electoral performances in Kerala and West Bengal are therefore crucial for the Left and will come as a morale booster. It is for the Left leadership to take the right steps. A democracy like India needs a strong left along with centrist parties when the country is moving towards the right wing.

( The writer is a senior commentator. Views are personal)

(IPA Service)

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