When crisis hit the world economy in 2008, the CPM was quick to claim credit — with some justification — for safeguarding India by vetoing the Congress-led central government's attempts to open up the financial sector.
The power of Left's idea on financial capital was strong; but what influenced the Centre's policy was the power of its numerical strength, which the UPA government was dependent on. With the West Bengal bastion going out of its grip, the Left influence on national politics is set to diminish in the immediate aftermath.
In democracy what matters the most is the ability to win votes — a dictum that former CPM general secretary HS Surjeet stated and lived by.
It is no coincidence that the CPM enlarged its influence far beyond its numerical strength under his leadership, and through the years 1998-2008. In 2008, the party broke the understanding with the Congress on the question of Indo-US nuclear deal. And ever since, it has been a steady downfall, though both are not interlinked.
Under Surjeet, the CPM moved away from the 'third alternative' approach to national politics and firmly aligned with the Congress, identifying communalism as the main enemy. The CPM realised no alliance keeping the Congress out could take on the BJP. The formation of the UPA-1 government with the support of the Left made a fundamental shift in national politics — no party could henceforth live in denial and yearn for a 'non-BJP, non-Congress' government at the Centre, which is a numerical impossibility.
The realist politics that CPM played in making this shift was so smooth and smart that its core voters approved of it. In 2006, the party won impressive victories in West Bengal and Kerala, and defeating the Congress, which it was supporting at the Centre.
The next transition the CPM tried to was to align itself with the realities of a fast- moving, globalised, capitalist economy. The party miserably failed to manage that transition, as the West Bengal results demonstrate. Not only that, this attempt to transform exposed the weaknesses of the party organisation that had never been addressed during its days of glorious electoral victories.
From being an arbiter on many national issues, the CPM has been reduced into irrelevance, completing the process that started with the politics over nuclear deal.
Left has been influential at the national level in the realm of ideas on earlier occasions -for instance, Indira Gandhi valued communist leader Mohit Sen's advice. The Left's role —until the political dynamics changes again — will be limited to an intellectual influence on policies and debates at the national level.
That space too is currently limited unlike the days of Sen when civil society organisations were not as formidable as they are today.And there aren't many ideas that the Left can change the discourse of national politics with.