"The tide has not turned against Mamata Banerjee yet. There are traces of disillusionment, but for now, while keeping the morale intact, we just have to wait it out."
This revealing quote of a very senior CPM leader sums up the state of the Left in West Bengal.
After three successive electoral setbacks – in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, 2011 assembly polls, and 2013 panchayat elections – the Left Front is ready for another setback, going by opinion polls.
Despite being in power for close to 34 years, its decline has been traced to political blunders like Singur and Nandigram, desertion of Muslims, and its urban and rural poor base. But why is it that they have not been able to recover, despite being in the opposition for three years now?
The CPM blames it on the lack of democratic space to conduct political activity due to the Trinamool’s high-handedness.
While these concerns are partially legitimate, Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, a politician scientist at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, says, "People perpetrating violence for the TMC are not very different from those who did it for CPM in its time. Though the scale was unprecedented in last year's panchayat election, these elements have just switched sides. The main question is whether the Left has the organisational courage to take it on."
The top leader cited above admits that the energy and motivation among cadres to take on the Trinamool onslaught is missing. "An entire generation has never experienced being in the opposition. They have turned passive." He however adds a caveat. "Keeping up the morale to resist is one issue. But if you resist, cases are unleashed against the cadres. So we have to be careful."
Abdur Razzak Molla, minister of land reforms during the CPM government who has now been expelled from the party, does not buy the explanation. He criticises leaders for being 'disconnected' from people's movements, and alleges there has been no 'rectification' at the Politburo or state secretariat level.
His fundamental critique, however, is about the party's 'Brahminical character'. "There are no Dalit or Muslim leaders in any of the districts. Even in a place like Murshidabad with 60 percent Muslims, there is a Brahman secretary. How can the party be revived without taking into account the specifics of our society?"
The party's candidate from Howrah, Sridip Bhattacharya, rebuts Molla and says the party is conscious of the caste question, the social question, and even the gender question. Another left activist, disillusioned with CPM, says Molla's diagnosis is correct, but his prescription flawed. "These communities cannot be neglected. But he wants to move to exclusive politics of identity at a time it is waning in Bihar and UP. Class must remain central."
"Mamata won largely because she appeared to segments of Bengal's electorate as the new left, while CPM looked like the right. The biggest challenge for the Left is to once again become the Left, retrieve its constituency both politically and demographically," Bhattacharyya adds.
The ideological confusion, the organisational disarray, the leadership crisis, where the old is fading but a new generation is not yet on the horizon, and the uncertainty about the next step all give away that the party is in a spot.
In these polls, the Left’s best hope is a split in anti-Left votes between the TMC, Congress and BJP.