Can India’s Left revive?

The Left Front, comprising the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and other smaller communist parties, over the last decade has suffered a sharp decline in electoral presence in Lok Sabha. As per Election Commission figures, the Left Front’s vote share fell below 5% in 2014 when it managed to secure only 12 LS seats. During the 2019 general elections, the perception of Left retreat continues, particularly in its three former stronghold states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, even as the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress seek to gain more traction in these states.

The IMPECT Study (#IMPECTStudy #WeAreWatchingYou) analysed an editorial story headlined ‘An India without Left?’ in the editorial page of The Hindu (Chennai edition) published on April 16. It was the only story observed in the period March 10 to April 18 in The Hindu (Chennai edition) which examines the Left’s footprint in the world’s largest democracy. Highlighting the central role of the Left, the authors have written about the necessity to take stock of the Left’s mass mobilisations ‘against injustice and inequity’, its contribution as ‘amplifiers of the voices of the marginalised’ which includes farmers, workers, women and Dalits. Various movements and agitations related to agrarian and urban distress have been cited. About the electoral reverses the BJP was handed in the Assembly polls last winter, the authors contend, “The Left and other left-liberal platforms — pushed by sensitive sections of the Indian public — fought against the dangerous cow protectors and the honour killing murderers. The most volcanic of these agitations were the cascading kisan mobilisations by the Left-led mass fronts in Rajasthan. These protests, along with those in Maharashtra and the peasant march into Delhi, put agrarian distress on the table”. The story however argues that despite such efforts, the Left failed to garner more seats because factors like “caste and other sectarian affiliations, as well as sheer money power, determine the outcomes.”

The authors assert that while the Left Democratic Front (LDF) has been providing good governance in Kerala and coped with massive challenges like flood relief, in the national scene the Left has inspired alternative discourses “after the disaster of demonetisation and the goods and services tax, after the daily reports of lynching and communal mobilisations, after the ghastly anti­science drift of intellectual institutions...”. They write about how the Left has been fighting the divisive ways of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Eulogizing the Left’s legacy, the authors ask whether anyone would have paid attention to the voices of the marginalised had the Left not existed. They end with the question — without the Left’s efforts, would humanity survive? The Hindu’s editorial story is an obvious exercise to remind people of the Left’s role and reinforce its place in the Indian socio-political context. But it has chosen to be silent about the Left’s shortcomings and why it has fallen into hard times.

The news portal Scroll.in, as part of its Election Fix series, published a story on April 1 headlined “Do India’s communist parties still matter?”, seeking to understand whether the Left is still relevant in Indian politics. The story points out that Kerala is the only bastion remaining with the Left where it is holding the reins, but anti-incumbency may work against it in the ongoing parliamentary elections. Moreover, Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s move to contest for his second seat from Wayanad muddles the political-electoral scenario in Kerala even more. “In an election that is supposedly built around the idea of Opposition parties working together to ‘save democracy’ by defeating the BJP, this decision presents a different picture: one where the Congress is pragmatically building its own base,” the story notes. Scroll.in further gives external web links of stories about opinion polls, one of which predicts a lead for the Congress-led coalition United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala. An ABP News-Nielsen opinion poll forecasts that the CPI (M) may not win a single seat in Trinamool-ruled West Bengal, where the Left failed to strike up an alliance with the Congress. The Scroll.in story concludes that, overall, it doesn’t foresee a promising future for the Left in India.

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