Big brothers — and sisters, of course — are growing old? Getting tired of fighting scams? Too mired in fratricide? It seems so because the smaller and more nimble-footed are rushing in to grab political space.
At least, in the two former Left Front fortresses — communists always like to use martial expressions — of West Bengal and Kerala, the symptoms are getting more perceptible every day.
While the Left, especially the CPI(M), is suffering from bitter faction feuds and lack of ideas — not to speak of ideology — its centrist and rightist brethren are also down, with an added burden, scams.
The Left seems to have conceded more political space than the others, and allowed, albeit unwittingly, smaller outfits — which bank on caste or ideological identities or religious fundamentalism — to slowly emerge as a viable alternative.
For instance, Kerala has always voted either for the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front or the Congress-led United Democratic Front for years. But now, both the power combos are busy tackling their common demon — tired leaders and ruthless turf warriors.
With the bigger parties preoccupied with themselves, smaller players are inching forward, gathering momentum. In south Kerala many Dalit organisations have widened their bases, while in the north, fundamentalist outfits like the Popular Front of India (PFI) have consolidated their position.
The PFI had initially infiltrated the ranks of the Congress and the CPI(M), but eventually both parties realised the danger. In 2006, party worker Abdul Fazal was hacked to death in Kannur after he left the CPI(M) to join the PFI. Since then, the two parties have had an uneasy relationship. The CPI(M) is worried the PFI will hijack its minority base in north Kerala.
The reasons for the people’s disenchantment with the mainstream parties are quite perceptible. While the 90-year-old CPI(M) veteran VS Achuthanandan’s dictatorial style of functioning has made him unpopular among his comrades, his archrival Pinarayi Vijayan, the redoubtable state party secretary, enjoys brute majority in the party.
But the CPI(M) central leadership cannot write VS off yet, since Vijayan can never match his mass appeal.
In the ruling Congress too, at least four groups are active, prominent among them being followers of AK Antony and loyalists of the late K Karunakaran. And even the BJP, almost a non-entity in Kerala’s bipolar politics, is a divided house.
“There won’t be an immediate electoral setback in Kerala because the Congress’ undoing will benefit the CPI(M). But the CPI(M) will have to do something fast or its space will be taken over by fringe elements,” says K Venu, a former Naxalite and political observer.
In West Bengal too, be it the Leftist Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), the People’s Democratic Conference of India (PDCI), the Muslim-dominated All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) or the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) set up by former CPI(M) leaders, the young ’uns are turning heads.
And with the Left Front down and out, the Trinamool unable to live down the chit fund debacle and the Congress yet to shake free of the burden of scams unearthed in Delhi, chances are the small parties may attract a sizeable chunk of the votes in the upcoming panchayat polls.
Said Siddiqullah Chowdhury of the AIUDF: “People in villages are looking for an alternative. We managed to field 1,000 candidates in the panchayat polls last time. Of them, 350 won. This year, we are planning to field more than 10,000. Come assembly polls, we will give headaches to big parties.”
(With inputs from Ravik Bhattacharya in Kolkata)