Kerala is the only state, out of the total 29, where the Left parties are in power and a reversal of electoral fortunes would be seen as a major setback for the ideology.
The 2021 Kerala Assembly polls are crucial not only for the ruling Left Democratic Front but also for the future of Left politics in the country.
Kerala is the only state, out of the total 29, where the Left parties are in power and a reversal of electoral fortunes would be seen as a major setback for the ideology which would still be around but would have no political power.
The Left parties lost West Bengal in 2011 after ruling the eastern state for 32 years and were later voted out in Tripura in 2016. In West Bengal, the deadly blow came from Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and in Tripura, the BJP proved to be their nemesis.
In Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front is the main challenger to the LDF which is banking on the popularity of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the government’s welfare schemes and its relatively better performance in the December 2020 local body polls, to win a second consecutive term.
The 2020 Bihar assembly elections came as some sort of relief as the Left parties won five seats in the state, which returned the JD-U-BJP government for a fourth term.
At the national level too, reflected in Parliament, the presence of Left parties has reduced. As a block of 65 members in the Lok Sabha in 2004, the Left parties played a crucial role in propping up the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to keep the BJP at bay.
To retain an element of neutrality, the Left parties did not join the government but supported the UPA from outside.
Till they backed the government of then prime minister Manmohan Singh, the Left were instrumental in the passage of key laws like the right to information, rural job guarantee scheme, right to education and right to food security.
However, the grouping committed a big mistake in withdrawing support to the Manmohan Singh government over the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement in 2008.
The UPA survived and went on to increase its tally in the 2009 national elections to 206 out of total 543 Lok Sabha seats but the Left failed to gauge the mood of the country and came down from 62 seats in 2004 to 24 Lok Sabha seats.
That year marked the gradual decline of the Left which was further reduced to 11 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and just 6 in the 2019 national polls.
Before that, the Left tally came down to 32 out of total 294 seats in the 2016 West Bengal assembly polls though the CPI-M led LDF swept the Kerala assembly polls with 93 of the total 140 seats.
Despite this majority in 2016, the LDF in Kerala could win only one of the total 20 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 national elections, reflecting a drop in its appeal when it came to electing parliamentarians.
Interestingly, while the LDF in Kerala gained from the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act stand it had taken besides the various social welfare schemes of the Vijayan government, in West Bengal the grouping appeared to be reluctant to take on the ruling Trinamool Congress and inadvertently let the BJP walk away with its support base.
The story in Tripura was the same where the Left Front ruled for 25 years under former chief minister Manik Sarkar who enjoyed immense popularity but was defeated by the BJP in 2018.
A post-poll analysis among the Left Front leaders publicly stated the results were due to the BJP’s attempts to mobilize all anti-Left forces in Tripura but in private the leaders acknowledged the party had lost touch with the youth and called for a serious introspection.
The lessons learnt in Tripura may have had an impact on the Left Front’s strategy for the 2021 West Bengal assembly polls where the party veterans did make way for a number of young contestants and did not shy in joining hands with the Muslim-backed Indian Secular Front.
Other than Parliament, the long-time Left bastion Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi too has seen the various factions struggle to stay together as a group to counter the respective youth wings of the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP.
While majority of the Left parties subscribe to parliamentary democracy and regularly participate in the electoral process to be counted as public representatives and even gain political power, a small faction, which represents the extreme form of ideology, keeps resorting to the age old idea of armed struggle to overthrow the state and finds itself in the crosshairs of the security forces.
Even with their reduced presence in Parliament and in state assemblies the Left parties have been at the forefront of protests against the allegedly anti-people policies of the central government and often took to streets be it the issue of high prices of essential items, fuel or the controversial farm laws.
In the present times, many sympathizers-turned-critics of the Left in India have pointed out that the grouping as an organized entity was a thing of the past and needed to infuse itself with fresh ideas to stay relevant in contemporary politics.
The Left, pointed out these critics, was too rigid and doctrinal in its approach and made little or no attempts to understand or engage with tradition and society.
Interestingly, the Communist Party of India had won the Kerala elections as early as 1957 but the state government was dismissed two years later. Decades later, the CPI faced flak over its soft attitude towards China during the 1962 war and split into CPI and CPI-M in 1964.
The Left also faced constant criticism from the Congress for supporting the National Front government at the Centre in 1989 along with its arch rival BJP.
At the same time, the Left’s critics agree that such a grouping is needed to push democracy, flag economic inequality, question heartless capitalism and target corruption in the system.
For the Left being merely anti-establishment is no more sustainable but it is still needed as an entity to demand civil rights, gender equality and environment protection for the citizens.
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