09 Mar 2018 19:35 IST

All that’s Left

The biggest story was the BJP’s dethroning of the Left Front government in Tripura, which had been ruling the State for the last 25 years | Reuters

After the loss of Tripura, the Left is strong only in Kerala in India

After the decimation of the Left Front in the recently held Assembly elections in Tripura, there was a WhatsApp post doing the rounds, with a map of India showing only Kerala painted in red with the caption — ‘All that’s Left’.

That was a telling commentary on the state of Left parties in India today.

Dethroning the power

The BJP proved its dominance as a remarkable election-winning machine by forming governments in the other two North-East States — Meghalaya and Nagaland.

The biggest story, of course, was the BJP’s dethroning of the Left Front government in Tripura, which had been ruling the State for the last 25 years. For the Left, it was a devastating moment where another of its bastions fell. What must have been more harrowing for it was that in Tripura, it lost to the BJP and not its traditional rival in the State, the Congress.

Though the CPI(M)-led Left Front had been strong in only three States — West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura — its influence in national politics has been far greater than the electoral numbers suggest. The Left parties have always been a part of ‘Third Front’ coalitions (non-Congress, non-BJP coalitions) at the Centre in the past.

Left Timeline

~ 1989 : The first time the Left flexed its muscle at the national level was in 1989, when the National Front, coalition led by Janata Dal came to power defeating the Congress. VP Singh’s government survived on outside support from both the Left and the BJP. Not surprisingly, this coalition, riven by internal contradictions and leaders with giant-sized egos, fell apart in less than a year.

~ 1996 : In 1996, the United Front coalition came to power, led again by the Janata Dal, and it was propped up by the Left parties and Congress. In this front, the CPI actually shared power, with its veteran leader Indrajit Gupta heading the crucial Home Ministry.

It was also during this election that CPI-M was given the opportunity to head the United Front coalition and the then West Bengal Chief Minister Jyothi Basu was offered the post of the Prime Minister. But the party declined the offer, in what Basu himself termed later, a ‘historic blunder’.

But this coalition too came off its seams in two years, in which it saw two Prime Ministers ushering in a long period of single party domination at the Centre.

~2004 : The Left’s real moment of arrival came in the 2004 elections, where it sent 59 MPs to the Lok Sabha and gave outside support to the UPA-I. It also played a crucial part in the formulation of the ‘Common Minimum Programme’, whose objective was to bring about inclusive growth.

The beginning of the end

But the Left walked out of the UPA over its opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008. The UPA-I managed to survive without the Left’s support and came back strongly in 2009 elections. In this election, the Left’s tally in the Lok Sabha polls fell to 24 and perhaps marked the beginning of its downfall.

For the Left Front, things started unravelling during 2007-08 when the West Bengal government tried to usher in rapid industrialisation in the State by inviting both domestic and foreign investments. The Left Front’s ham-handed land acquisition programme for industries contributed to its downfall. The Opposition in the State, led by Mamata Banrjee’s Trinamool Congress, sniffed an opportunity and wasted no time in mobilising people against the government’s disastrous land acquisition scheme for industries.

The Left Front government, caught in a moment of hubris, thought it could bring in an era of rapid industrialisation, just as it had ushered in land reforms and tenancy reforms during the much storied ‘Operation Barga’ in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But the Left Front’s image of being a pro-people’s party suffered a blow, from which it is yet to recover.

The CPI(M) too couldn’t quite bridge the contradiction of the then Bengal government (led by Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, Ashim Dasgupta and Nirupam Sen) laying out the red carpet for private investments and party veteran Prakash Karat opposing ‘neo-liberal’ policies of the UPA government at the Centre.

The loss of West Bengal in 2011, after being in power for more than three decades, to the Trinamool Congress was truly the beginning of the end for the Left.

Way forward

The Left’s disastrous alliance with the Congress during the 2016 Bengal Assembly pushed in the danger of it becoming irrelevant as a political force. Now, after the loss of Tripura, the Left is strong only in Kerala, where it has alternated power with the Congress-led UDF.

This is a moment of reckoning for the Left where it has to seriously do some soul searching about where it is to go from here. The Karat-Yechury split (where Karat takes a more hardline ‘go-alone’ stand and Sitaram Yechury favours an alliance with Congress and other secular parties to counter the BJP) is likely to once again come to the forefront.

It will be interesting to see how the Left emerges from this debacle in the near future as a strong Left movement is vital for the country’s democracy.