The party has hit its rock bottom, concedes Sitaram Yechury, a polit bureau member of the CPI(M).
And fairly quickly too.
As recently as 2008, CPI(M)’s general secretary Prakash Karat was a major figure in national politics, sought after by the media owing to the influence he wielded while his party lent support to the UPA I government.
But now the party is down to nine MPs in the Lok Sabha, getting 2.1% of the national vote; and it is losing ground in strongholds like Kerala and West Bengal.
For a country that is naturally a fertile ground for Left politics owing to high poverty levels, the CPI(M) oddly comes across as irrelevant, watching its space taken over by the far Left, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and social movements across India.
Change may be in the air. The party is now confronting its failures, discussing an internal report at the ongoing 21st party congress at Visakhapatnam.
The report, whose contents have appeared in the media, points to its shrinking base, its failure to rally support for its campaigns, the reluctance of the leadership to take up issues relating to ‘socially oppressed sections’.
The party profile is discouraging, too: 77% of its members are in the 32-70 age group. Only 6.5% of its members are under 25, a staggering indicator of insignificance in a country where 65% of the population is under 35.
Mr Yechury, who is reportedly in the running to succeed Mr Karat as general secretary, has said that the party needs to strengthen its organisation, work towards Left unity and reach out to other democratic forces.
The CPI(M) has been famously sclerotic in the past and it is not clear if it can transcend internal rifts and effect desired changes.
It should at the very least make a good fist of reaching out to the urban youth, whose concerns on livelihoods and rights broadly align with its own.
It especially doesn’t make sense to neglect social media when it has become such an important vehicle for opposition politics.
Three of CPI(M)’s most articulate speakers, Messrs Karat and Yechury and Brinda Karat, are not on Twitter. The party, if it wants to stay relevant in the coming years, should focus on social media avenues, which are popular with the youth.
There are lessons to be learnt from the way other political parties, especially AAP, have used this space to connect and spread their base.