Former Naxalite Dilip Simeon of ‘Revolution Highway’ book fame, had earlier named a memoir of his underground days when he turned cleaner to a truck driver as ‘OK, Ta Ta, Bye Bye’. This title holds good for the Left parties in Punjab as they have been losing their grip and rendered irrelevant even in five districts of the Malwa region where the ultraLeft once held its sway.
The past decades have seen the Left candidates left out but the situation is at its worst now with their space usurped by the Aam Adami Party (AAP), rising from strength to strength in the state. While committed Left voters have turned to the AAP, several office-bearers of the Left parties have also gone that way. It has been long since any Left leader won a parliamentary or assembly election and in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, the Left parties got only .17% votes. The NOTA (none of the above) had scored more!
In the current assembly elections, they have valiantly fielded some 70 candidates to mark their presence even though the outcome is anybody’s guess. A joint front of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party Marxist (CPM) and Mangat Ram Pasla’s Revolutionary Marxist Party of India (RMPI) has fielded 52 candidates. Former Budhlada MLA in the 90s and CPI state chief , Hardev Arshi, says: “It will be wrong to say that it is a three-cornered contest between Akalis, Congress and AAP because we complete the fourth corner and are making a big effort for change. I regret to confess that we have not been able to offer as strong an alternative as the AAP to the corrupt ruling parties in the state and, so, if the Malwa region is supporting the new entrant, it is fine for the Malwai comrades are a spirited and adventurous lot who take risks.” Arshi adds, “The anti-incumbency factor has been a strong factor in the acceptance of AAP.
“How long will we wait for things to change?” says Dalit icon Bant Singh, who moved from the CPI (ML) Liberation to the AAP, along with the legacy of the Dalit-revolutionary poet Sant Ram Udasi’s songs of the toiling folks. The Liberation group has fielded eight candidates and the 10 by the CPI (ML) New Democracy .
The Left political observers and even former activists hold the Left responsible for its own decline. Senior political analyst and chronicler of the Ghadar Movement Harish Puri says, “The decline of the Left in the country is nothing new; it has been happening since Independence. The Left parties have not been able to think anew and reinvent themselves. Bogged down by Marx and Lenin, they have never recognised the needs of the common people. They kept chasing the illusion of the revolution even in a democracy where change had to be brought about by democratic processes.” Former Naxalite Manmohan Sharma says, “In Punjab, the Left groups have not responded to issues such as caste, gender or farmers’ suicides and couldn’t offer any alternative models.”
The CPI and CPM offices in Chandigarh, once the hub of the intellectuals, are now deserted. There is no one there, young or old and even the caretakers seem to be taking a nap. Of course hammer-and-sickle flutter on faded red flags and the stone bust of Baba Karam Singh Cheema stares sadly in one and the trio of Marx, Engels and Lenin in the other. Hanging to the last straw at the CPI office is an AISF poster with a picture of Kanhaiya Kumar and the lost cry of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’.