The Left Challenge
Editorial: May 2016
Hardnews Bureau Delhi
In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the main communist parties (the CPI and CPI(M)) together managed to get a mere 4.1 per cent of the total vote count. This was the lowest percentage they got since they started contesting separately in 1967. In 2004, the two parties surprised themselves when they won 53 seats with 7.1 per cent votes, which allowed them to be kingmakers by stitching together, for the first time, a Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. It was a turning point for the nation because the BJP, after the Gujarat 2002 carnage, and riding on the hype of ‘India Shining’, was roundly given a drubbing.
In many ways 2004 should have been the turning point for the rise of the Left in India. However, due to a series of gross political miscalculations, the Left, especially the CPI(M), lost grievously after opposing the Congress on the civilian nuclear deal with the US. Many political observers felt that the communist parties should have participated in the UPA government to give it more stability and that they should have taken on the communal forces decisively from a position of strength.
True to their wont, the Left leadership was found to be leaden-footed. They did not use this historic opportunity to enlarge their presence beyond the enclaves of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. States like Punjab, Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where the Left had significant presence, were lost. Post-1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, an impression was created that communism as an ideology had failed. The impact of this ‘end of ideology’ on Indian politics was also profound. The Congress has been a beneficiary of this attrition for years; other ‘friendly’ parties like the Samajwadi Party managed to ensnare senior Left leaders like ZA Ahmed, and blunted the Left support base.
In 2009, the party’s decline began rapidly. Some say that Mamata Banerjee’s phenomenal rise was linked to the forces that helped Manmohan Singh win the vote in Parliament on the civilian nuclear deal. In the Assembly elections in West Bengal, she destroyed the CPI(M). After that it seemed that the Left Front would never really rise again in West Bengal. However, surprisingly, this phenomenon too seems to have shifted paradigm?
After the anointment of Sitaram Yechury as the general secretary, a dramatic softening towards the Congress was visible. West Bengal, with a strong presence of the minorities and working class, presented an opportunity for the Left to collaborate with the Congress and fight the Trinamool Congress and BJP that had done remarkably well in the 2014 polls. This alliance took cognisance of the growing anger among the working class, student community and minorities over the anti-poor policies of the Indian State.
The turmoil in JNU, where the secular and Left student leadership has been targetted for defending their right to freedom of expression, helped in spreading Left consciousness in many campuses across India. Young leaders like Kanhaiya Kumar have displayed courage and fearlessness in taking on a government that has showed no moral restraint in targetting the young generations. Kanhaiya drew the contours of the emerging social coalition against the BJP and openly challenged the communal and divisive forces. In many ways, the rise of this consciousness epitomised by Kanhaiya, Shehla Rashid Shora, Rohith Vemula’s friends, the Dalit movement, and FTII students, is reshaping the future of Indian politics.
It is still too early to predict how it will shape up, but the Left-Congress alliance, backed by the students’ protests, provides the first inkling of how the opposition to the ruling BJP will look. Even if the Left Front does not win in West Bengal and Kerala, they will have a strong control on the evolving secular and pluralist narrative against the polarising polices of an RSS-backed regime that has shown no love for the poor and instead has only chosen to glorify organised hate politics and repression camouflaged as pseudo nationalism.