In politics, numbers say the last word. And, on Thursday, the numbers clearly indicated that the CPI(M) and its Left Front allies in Bengal would need nothing short of a miracle to regain their position in the near future.
With 26 seats in its kitty, the CPI(M) has a vote share of only 19.7 per cent, as against 40 seats and 29.6 per cent in 2011 and 176 seats and 37.13 per cent in 2006. This is clearly the party’s worst ever performance in Bengal.
Being smaller parties, the Left Front partners are in an even worse position. The CPI has won only one seat and secured 1.4 per cent of the vote. In 2011, it had two seats and 1.84 per cent vote and in 2006, eight seats and 1.91 per cent votes.
The Revolutionary Socialist Party has bagged three seats during these elections (1.37 per cent vote share), down from seven seats in 2011 and twenty seats in 2006.
Forward Bloc, a party that suffered from infighting and saw its Dinhata MLA, Udayan Guha, switching over to Trinamool Congress last year, has won only two seats, with 2.8 per cent of the vote. In 2011 and 2006, the Bloc had won 11 and 23 seats, respectively.
Senior leaders blame the poor performance on the hastily-forged seat sharing alliance with the Congress. “While the Congress benefited from it, we suffered in many seats. The voting pattern somehow indicates that in pockets where the Congress is strong, their supporters did not vote for Left candidates in large numbers the way our workers voted for them because we are a regimented party,” said a senior state committee member of the CPI(M).
A sizeable section of Left leaders also feel that the BJP played spoilsport for them. “The tally of votes in as many as 60 to 70 seats indicates that many voters who supported the BJP in 2014 voted for either the Trinamool or Congress this time, instead of voting for us. Also, we didn’t get votes from Muslims in many areas,” said a CPI(M) state secretariat member who, like many of his fellow comrades, is not willing to buy Mamata Banerjee’s argument that the Left-Congress alliance lost because it did not enjoy the trust of people.
After their poll debacle five years ago, the CPI(M) had made valiant attempts to rejuvenate the ranks. On August 5, 2011, when they shared dais for the first time after the end of the CPI(M)’s 34-year rule in Bengal, then general secretary, Prakash Karat, and former chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, told party workers and sympathisers in Kolkata to be “humble, honest and introspective so that Marxism may rise again.” It was the 123rd birth anniversary of communist icon and the party’s founding member, Muzaffar Ahmed.
“They may physically eliminate us but they cannot throw us out of this soil,” Karat told the audience, in a rare exhibition of battle spirit. “Those who accused us of building authoritarian forces should take a second look now,” he said and reminded the audience that people like Ahmed were humble and modest, qualities that need to be inculcated in CPI(M) workers.
“We need to ask ourselves why we lost the polls, where we went wrong and why people thought we were not behaving the way communists are supposed to,” Bhattacharjee had said.
Karat has been replaced by Sitaram Yechury as general secretary and Bhattacharya is no longer the face of the Bengal CPI(M), but the 2016 Assembly polls prove that Bengal’s Marxists have not only failed to recover lost ground, but have been left out in the cold instead.
When the CPI(M) went to the hustings last month, the changes were not limited merely to the hierarchy in top leadership. In the last five years, more than 200 members of the party in Bengal had faced disciplinary action and even expulsion, such as former land reforms minister, Abdur Rezzak Mollah, and former Haldia MP, Lakshman Seth, two leaders who appeared almost indispensible till 2006.
“But reorganising the ranks and contesting elections are quite different things. In Bengal, we realised this as the polls drew near. Reports from the districts strongly suggested that workers at the grassroots wanted to go to the polls with something more potent than our existing organisational strength.And, at this juncture, came the Congress’s proposal for seat adjustment,” said the CPI(M) state secretariat member.
The big question before the Congress central leadership was: can the Left, an estranged friend of UPA I, become an electoral ally in Bengal, when the two forces were contesting each other in Kerala?
Tripura chief minister and CPI (M) politburo member, Manik Sarkar, and a sizeable number of central committee members from Kerala were opposed to an electoral understanding with the Congress.
Even in Bengal, senior leaders, such as Left Front chairman, Biman Bose, opposed the treaty and repeatedly asked Mishra and others not to share dais with Congress leaders during the campaigning.
As all the media attention shifts to Kalighat, it appears that the CPI(M) might have been in a better place had it taken on the Trinamool on its own.