Decline and fall of the Left parties in India - GulfToday

Decline and fall of the Left parties in India

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

India CPI

CPI(M) leaders at the 22nd Congress of the CPI(M) in Hyderabad, India.

After the recent Lok Sabha elections, there was much discussion in the media, both in India and abroad, often in hyperbolic terms, on the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the fall of the Congress party. But the dramatic change in the fortunes of the Left received scant attention.


The Communist Party of India, the oldest of the Left parties, now in its 94th year, has just two seats in the new Lok Sabha. The breakaway CPI (Marxist), which outgrew the parent body and became the largest Left party, has three seats.

Their combined tally of five is the lowest in the Left’s parliamentary history.  Four of the five seats — two each of the CPI and the CPI (M) – were from Tamil Nadu, where both piggy-rode on the back of the regional major, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

The undivided CPI was the main opposition party in the first Lok Sabha, elected in 1952. It retained that position in the second and third Lok Sabhas too.

The Left’s decline began with the CPI splitting in 1964 following the schism in the world Communist movement resulting from ideological differences between the Soviet and Chinese parties. One of the issues on which the two parties differed was the role of India’s ruling Congress party.

Toeing the Soviet line, the CPI favoured cooperation with the Congress.  A minority in the party’s central committee, which opposed the official line, walked out and formed the CPI (M).

An intense struggle between the two factions to win over the party rank and file followed. The CPI (M), which branded the official group as rightist, earned the support of a majority of members in the party strongholds of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.

Vigorous pursuit of their different lines landed the two parties in opposite political camps.  The CPI became a supporter of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime. After the defeat of Rajiv Gandhi’s government, the CPI (M) and the BJP joined hands behind Prime Minister VP Singh to keep the Congress out.

Both the parties lost ground nationally during this period. However, the CPI (M) was able to acquire a larger-than-life image due to its strong position in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and the stellar role its General Secretary, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, played in the formation of non-Congress, non-BJP governments at a time of political instability.

After the Emergency, the CPI ended its association with the Congress and became a junior partner of CPI (M)-led alliances in the three Left strongholds.  However, the CPI (M) rebuffed its calls for reunification of the two parties.

The CPI (M)’s days of glory ended when Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress ousted it in West Bengal where it was in power continuously for 33 years.

Mamata Banerjee had broken away from the Congress and launched her own party as it was not receptive to her plea to adopt storm-arm tactics to counter the CPI(M)’s violent ways.

Last year the BJP administered the next body blow to the CPI (M) by putting an end to its unbroken reign of 25 years in Tripura.

That left the CPI (M) with a hold on power only in Kerala, where the Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front have been alternating in  power for nearly four decades.

In 2014 the CPI (M) won nine seats in the Lok Sabha — five from Kerala and two each from West Bengal and Tripura. The CPI’s lone Lok Sabha seat from Kerala gave the Left a two-digit figure.

This year the two parties drew a blank in the erstwhile strongholds of West Bengal and Tripura.  In Kerala, the CPI (M) managed to win one seat with a small margin. The UDF took the remaining 19 seats with wide margins.

The CPI (M) central committee, which met during the weekend to review the election performance, failed to provide any rational explanation for its dismal showing.

The party claims a tradition of self-critically examining its work and correcting mistakes. But in practice it has shied away from going into the causes of its continuous decline and confined its efforts to protect what is left of its turf.

In a book published posthumously four years ago, Praful Bidwai, a journalist and political analyst, argued that the Left is indispensable for the health of Indian democracy. But the leadership of neither of the two parties appears to be in a position to make the Left relevant in the present context.

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