The distressful performance of the CPI(M) in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls has uniformly delighted the Indian corporate bosses, big media, political analysts and a large section of the ‘conditioned’ civil society. Except in the north-eastern state of Tripura, where the party was able to maintain its dominance by winning both the Lok Sabha seats, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s overall performance in the country was terrible. The party suffered a serious setback in the ‘red bastions’ of Bengal and Kerala. To some extent, the Kerala results were expected where internal strife between Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan and the state party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan has greatly affected the party’s electoral prospect. The Kerala electorates also have a tendency to switch their political preference from one election to the next. But the Bengal electorates have delivered the most startling verdict. As a result, an ecstatic mood is visible among sections of the ‘awake and aware’ Left intellectuals who have gone into raptures over the outcome and came out in open with their daggers of intellectual reproach to pounce upon the ‘utterly vindictive’ and ‘arrogant’ leadership of the CPI(M). The General Secretary of the party Mr. Prakash Karat is their primary target. Calling him the ‘Commissar’ who ‘understands nothing of India and even less of politics’, the mocking tone of their criticism is clearly determined by a longstanding contention against Mr. Karat and the party. (Source) Many of these intellectuals who furtively eulogize the Maoists and their tactical line on elections are leaving no stone unturned to bash the Marxists for their electoral debacle. To them it was ‘a resounding slap on the face of the CPM’. Moreover, the ‘joyous news’ has encouraged the celebrated anti-communists and turned them completely berserk to announce that the Left is now history! (Source) Almost immediately after the election results were out, the Anandabazar Patrika group has planted a fictitious story to establish a deep feud between the Bengal CPI(M) and the party’s Central leadership, also aiming at the party’s General Secretary. To take advantage of the situation, the media group also spread a speculative newsroom scoop about Buddhadev Bhattacharyya’s willingness to resign as Chief Minister! This entire disposition is quite comprehensible due to the fact that the Marxists had fostered end number of enemies as a result of the particular brand of politics they have practiced during the last five years.
To find out why the CPI(M) has suffered so badly, in this discussion we will attempt to probe the imperative aspects of the episode, remaining confined only to Bengal. It is just not an election debacle for the CPI(M) but a much deeper and serious crisis for the Left movement in India. The crisis is enormous, complex and multidimensional which is virtually impossible to tackle within the limited space of a blog post.
Neither the CPI(M) nor the opposition Trinamool Congress (TMC) or the Indian National Congress (INC) had ever predicted such a fantastic outcome during the poll process. However, it was almost certain that the TMC-INC combine, forged just before the elections to prevent the anti-Left vote to split, was going to perform well. This was predicted after the experience of last year’s Panchayat polls where the Left Front and the CPI(M) has lost several of their grass root strongholds. According to the inner party predictions and pre-poll surveys conducted by various media groups, the combine was expected to win near to eighteen seats. But no one could foresee the final tally where the CPI(M) was left with only 9 seats and was wiped out in ten districts out of nineteen in the state. There is no doubt that it will take quite some time for the awestruck CPI(M) state and central leadership to restore the conditions in their favor after such a magnitude of thrashing. The overall repercussions that will automatically follow will also be rather difficult to deal with in the coming days. For the honest and sincere party workers and sympathizers, it is tough to keep faith on the maxim – tomorrow is another day.
What went wrong? Why did the loyal supporters and sympathisers of 32 long years increasingly distanced them from the CPI(M)? Did the party leadership put too much weight on the 2006 assembly poll slogan ‘agriculture is our base, industrialization our future’ and closed their eyes about the discontents that was emerging from the Buddhadev Bhattacharyya government's land acquisition policy? Did the party ignore the core areas of its strength – the poor and underprivileged rural populace and failed to convince them about the seemingly pro-capital stance of the Left Front government? Is it because of the arrogant attitude of the grassroot party functionaries who have turned into present day landlords in the eyes of the people? Is it because of the corruption and nepotism practiced by a good section of the party leaders which has led to their detachment from the people? Has the CPI(M), which is generally perceived as a cohesive, dedicated, closely controlled and regimented party has actually been metamorphosed into an inefficient, dishonest and sick organization? Is it because even after identifying the rot within its different layers, the leadership was unable to take proper action from the fear of losing the image, mass character and dominance of the party? Any of these or a combination of these rudimentary causes could be the reason why this time the people have decided not to trust the party which was reelected just three years ago in 2006 by a mammoth people’s mandate. The fall of communist character within the CPI(M) is highlighted by many pundits as the core reason behind the election debacle. There are plenty of ready facts to support this argument but did these detrimental features suddenly develop within the party over the last three years? If not, then how does it explain the party’s triumphant victory in the 2006 assembly polls?
According to the initial findings, there are three major interlinked reasons behind the disaster in Bengal. The first of the reasons is the startling pro-Congress wave in the country for a stable government at the center that has entirely rejected the Left Front and the CPI(M)’s call for a third alternative. Riding on the wave, the TMC has gained considerably in south Bengal to rout the Marxists. At the all India level, the vote share of the INC has increased by 2 per cent while CPI(M)’s vote share in Bengal has decreased by 6 per cent. This statistics is a clear indication that the pro-Congress wave was not the central reason behind the poor show of the party. Secondly, as the biggest constituent of the Left Front government, the CPI(M) has failed to appropriately explain to the agricultural poor, small farmers and labourers why the government got involved in acquiring fertile land for industry. Instead of gaining their confidence, the party was caught up in direct confrontation with them. The party leaders cannot coherently explain why the industrialization drive in Bengal was different from the capitalist model of market economy. The twin episodes of Singur and Nandigram were the epicenter of the land-industry controversy. Particularly, the fateful events of Nandigram had ripped open a can of worms, of various shapes, sizes and colors, which had ultimately turned lethal against the party. The party tried hard to control the all-out attack but failed to counter it. The TMC successfully manipulated this failure to build-up grave discontent within the masses with the active assistance of various comprador agencies and their peers including some prominent intellectuals. The cunning tactics adopted by the ‘magnetic’ Trinamool chieftain to extend her sweet lap towards all anti-CPI(M) forces including the Maoists for an all-out attack was one of the key reasons behind the reinforcement of public opinion against the CPI(M). Sensing that the state government is on back foot, the Trinamool chieftain almost ran a parallel government in the state, dictating terms and conditions to every government policies and programs. During the election campaign, the party had tried to relate the opposition’s violent anti-CPI(M) agitation with the semi-fascist terror atmosphere perpetrated by the Bengal Congress against them in the seventies. But 32 years is too long a time for people to even forget the face of their real enemies. The land acquisition controversy has gravely affected the party and was directly responsible for the erosion of a traditionally loyal and sizable Muslim support base of the Left, particularly in the rural centers of Bengal. The abrupt upshot of the Rizwanur Rehman case (Source) and TMC’s bitter and aggressive campaigning following the half-truth findings of the Sachar Committee Report concerning the backwardness of the Muslims in Bengal was the other contributory factors behind the loyalty shift of the Muslims to the opposition. The third potential reason was the accumulated ‘sins’ from three decades of uninterrupted power and the disdainful behavior and fraudulent activities of a section of arrogant and overconfident party leaders who had completely lost touch with the people to feel there pulse. All the three reasons clubbed together will make clear why large number of people has lost their trust on the party and its leaders – at least for now.
Few months before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Left parties withdrew their support from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government over the issue of the Indo-US Nuclear deal. The CPI(M) under Mr. Karat undertook a pivotal role to strongly opposed the deal from an ideological standpoint. There were reasonable arguments to oppose the various tricky aspects of the nuclear deal which the party leaders had credibly raised at that time. But all these remarkable efforts looked like a grave tactical blunder when the party leadership failed poorly to convey the logic behind their opposition, the subservient attitude of the Prime Minister and the American lobby within the UPA, the Congress government’s disgraceful surrender before US imperialism and the evil designs behind the deal to the general public. The whole nuclear deal debate was reduced into an intellectual squabble between pro-deal and anti-deal argumentative groups and could not accurately expose the hidden threat – the threat of a close strategic and military tie up with the US that will drastically overturn India’s independent foreign policy.
CPI(M) leaders might have anticipated that opposing the deal from an anti-imperialist ideological standpoint will largely elevate the party’s image. But nothing of that sort happened. Instead, when the INC confederates smoothly roped in the Samajwadi Party in support of the government, the Left and the CPI(M) at one shot lost its significance in national politics. They were unsuccessful to convincingly establish the point that supporting the Congress led UPA government was only a strategic compromise, keeping in mind the horrendous deeds of the former BJP led NDA government and its fascist associates. The support was not given as a blank-cheque to the Congress Party to rule the country according to their wish. It was based on a Common Minimum Program (CMP) from which the UPA was gradually but deliberately shifting away. Halfheartedly conducted propaganda by the party mass organizations was too feeble to counter the overwhelming publicity from the neo-liberal bourgeois media in support of the deal and the party lost its credibility in this extensive media war. The CPI(M) and its leaders turned into a villain in the minds of the people for destabilizing the government and ‘betraying the nation’. Moreover, the Left in general and the CPI(M) in particular had surprisingly ignored the opportunity to convert the nuclear deal debate into a major election issue. The party did not even try to explore the inherent possibilities of the topic for which it has taken such an extreme step and risked its political future. This gave chance to people like the expelled leader Mr. Somnath Chatterjee to describe the party’s central leadership as ‘narcissistic’. They had similarly failed to reap benefits from the impressive role they had played to stall the anti-people policies of the UPA government. The Congress on the contrary, had successfully twisted the Left’s positive contribution to the UPA government into their favor.
The CPI(M) has also paid a heavy price for its unrealistic overdrive to forge alliance with dubious political parties in a deviant urge to build up a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative third force. To occupy the non-Congress, non-BJP space, the party leadership had browsed for ‘progressive’ bourgeois allies and embraced almost every political party who was free floating in the uncertain pre-election political milieu. The hobnobbing of party leaders with political groups of unconvincing background, most of them former allies of the ultra-rightist BJP, has not gone down well with the masses. The leadership was unable to even convince a large section of their dedicated party workers to carry the idea of the third alternative among the electorates. The election outcomes have again proved that an opportunistic alliance based on simple electoral gains and devoid of specific programme oriented political struggles is neither creditable nor viable. CPI(M) Politburo member Sitaram Yechury has rightly described it as a ‘cut-paste job’ done on the eve of the elections. But how did leaders of the stature of Mr. Karat or Mr. Yechury and the entire CPI(M) central committee got carried away by such an enthusiastic gamble? This question still remained unanswered. What was the rationale behind allying with political buccaneers like Deve Gowda and Mayawati, who within three days after the results were declared, jumped in the UPA bandwagon to offer their unconditional support? The party leaders cannot evade this pertinent question by simply stating the terrible step of tactlessness as a mistake.
Today, many of the Left Front partners are putting the entire blame for their poor show on the ‘big brother’ CPI(M) and trying to wash themselves clean in front of the public. Central leaders are blamed for ‘blindly toeing the line of Prakash Karat’ and ‘following the agenda set by CPI(M)’. During the Nandigram incident, several Left Front partners and their upstart leaders had embraced the short-cut way to fame by openly and consistently criticizing the CPI(M) leadership in harsh and offensive language and tried hard to prove how pure Leftist they are. But unknowingly or intentionally they became a pawn in the cunning game of the anti-left forces and their valued representative – the Trinamool chieftain. The Left Front as a whole lost its trustworthiness and appeared to be deeply stained during that time. Though just before the Lok Sabha elections, the dissent Left Front leaders tried to showoff their unity with the CPI(M). But how much this showoff has been conveyed and accepted in the grass root level after all the previous acts of dissent is doubtful. Even if we consider that the unity was nearly total, the wise electorates, frustrated by the attitude of the left leaders were definitely not convinced. And they were absolutely right to do so. After the election results were out, the anti-CPI(M) rhetoric erupted again from several Left Front partners. This proves that a lot of things are not hale and hearty in the Left Front. A void has developed after the demise of the pragmatic old guards and the bigheaded new generations leaders seem to be more engaged to destroy than build.
Accepting the verdict, the CPI(M) politburo in a recent statement has stated that “Both national and state specific factors are responsible for the poor performance”. The politburo has also affirmed that the party will now “seriously examine the reasons for these reverses…conduct a self-critical review to form the basis for corrective steps” and will make “all out efforts to regain the support and confidence of the people”. To what extend this ‘self-critical review’ is conducted and ‘corrective steps’ is taken will determine how the party confronts the populist politics of Mamata Banerjee and her coterie of despotic, deceitful, vicious and repulsive leaders to ‘regain the support and confidence of the people’. Instead of acting as the crisis managers of the bourgeois parties, the party leaders should concentrate on streamlining the mass fronts. For quite some time, the mass fronts have grown droopy about prolonged mass struggles and has almost drifted away from the ideology of a Marxist-Leninist party. If the CPI(M) honestly introspects, corrects their mistaken policies and tactics and effectively turn the election debacle into a watershed, it will be the ideal homage to the countless party workers who had selflessly dedicated their entire life for the party and the Left movement in the country. The task is easier said than done.
In spite of their failure to act in response to the needs of the poor, in spite of the neo-liberal, anti-people policies of economic reforms it has pursued during the last five years of their governance, the centrist Congress Party has nevertheless received a comfortable mandate to rule the country for the next five years. Due to the enormous error of political judgment committed by them, the CPI(M) and the Left could not gain a bit from the prevailing discontent among the masses. This is the biggest irony of the 2009 general elections.