The CPI-M's troubles seem to be brimming over. As if its worst-ever electoral performance wasn't enough, the party has now become embroiled in two other critical situations in its putative strongholds of West Bengal and Kerala.
The crisis in Lalgarh is a virtual repeat of the earlier one in Nandigram, which earned the party so much disrepute. The reason for its current predicament is the same - the old Marxist penchant for highhandedness when dealing with their opponents.
In Lalgarh, a landmine explosion last November aimed at a convoy carrying Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and then union minister Ram Vilas Paswan led to police and Marxist cadres terrorising the local population - as in Nandigram earlier - to ferret out the suspected Maoists who were believed to be behind the blast.
The police tactics involving intimidation and worse have long been a feature of Marxist rule. The involvement of lumpen elements associated with the party has also been a standard practice on such occasions. In the past, the CPI-M got away with it because of a weak and divided opposition.
But the situation has changed since the Trinamool Congress' successful anti-Left agitations in Singur and Nandigram, in which the Maoists were also involved.
As a result, the police action in Lalgarh led to the formation of a Nandigram-style people's committee, which dug up roads and felled trees across them to convert the entire area into some kind of a "liberated zone" favoured by the Maoists.
The latest operation by the police and paramilitary forces may enable the state government to re-establish its authority in the region. But the importance of the episode lies in demonstrating that the CPI-M has lost its earlier commanding presence in the state. Singur, Nandigram and now Lalgarh have shown that the government's writ does not run much beyond Writers Building in the heart of Kolkata.
The retreat is evidently due, first, to the loss of the CPI-M's, and the Left Front's, moral authority, partly because of the opulent lifestyle of some of the comrades, to which the Front chairman, Biman Bose, referred in his post-election analysis. The second reason is that ordinary people are clearly no longer scared of the Marxist militia, whose last act of infamy was the "invasion" of Nandigram while the police looked away.
It may not also be out of place to recall that among those who egged on the cadres was politburo member, Brinda Karat, who had asked for the so-called Dum Dum 'dawai' or medicine to be applied to the occupants of Nandigram at the time who were mostly Trinamool Congress supporters. The dawai was the tactics of taking law into one's own hands which was once practised by the Marxists in their days in the opposition.
However, the Trinamool Congress' role in these incidents hasn't been beyond reproach. Apart from its covert cooperation with the Maoists, it has had no hesitation in adopting the same violence-prone tactics for which the Left is known. Arguably, the latter would not have listened otherwise, used as the comrades have been to riding roughshod over the protests of their adversaries.
But the Trinamool Congress' recklessness has enabled the Maoists to make considerable inroads into West Bengal areas bordering on their strongholds in Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand.
The result is an extension of the "red corridor", which will leave the Manmohan Singh government with no alternative but to deploy paramilitary forces. And this, in turn, will encourage the Maoists to provoke them to act harshly, which will only further alienate the innocent locals from the government.
For the CPI-M, the next two years till the assembly elections are likely to be some kind of lame duck period when the state will be seen to be pushed by events instead of controlling them. For a start, the chief minister's grandiose hopes of an industrial revival are all but dead. No investor will enter the state when the Maoists have established their bases less than 200 km from Kolkata.
Besides, Bhattacharjee is now seen as a babe-in-the-woods, totally clueless about the raging political storm and administrative failures. The contrast between him and the towering figure of his predecessor, Jyoti Basu, is obvious.
The Marxists will also be wary of their Left Front partners upping the ante against Big Brother, partly to get their own back after years of humiliating subservience and partly to distance themselves from a weakened CPI-M to retain their own support bases. Already the CPI has suggested that the Left Front should not go to the polls with Bhattacharjee as chief minister.
As if these problems in West Bengal were not enough, the CPI-M is having to cope with the probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into a scam involving the party's politburo member and secretary of the Kerala unit, Pinarayi Vijayan. The Marxists may have described the investigation as politically motivated, but that hasn't stopped Vijayan's long-term opponent in the party, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, from approving the governor's decision to permit the CBI to go ahead.
The events in West Bengal and Kerala along with the electoral reverses show that the CPI-M is facing the worst crisis in its career. Its earlier recoveries, for instance in 1977, were made possible by the Congress' missteps, such as the Emergency of 1975-77, and the Bofors scam of the late 1980s.
But now, not only are the Congress' fortunes looking up, but also the Bharatiya Janata Party's appearance as the other pole of Indian politics has denied any space to the CPI-M. It is only an incorrigible optimist who will hope for a bright future for the party.