The CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat moves in mysterious ways, he blunders to perform, it would seem. Why else would he dilly-dally with announcing the candidature of Kerala chief minister VS Achuthanandan from his constituency in Palakkad even as the other candidates are being finalised.
The chief minister may be getting on a bit but he, like the prime minister, is still a major vote-catcher and can ride on his reputation for integrity. It is not as though the Left is sitting pretty either in West Bengal or Kerala. In Bengal, despite trying to portray the Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee as a flaky leader with no agenda, the reality is that the Left is battling anti-incumbency and a problem of leadership. Ms Banerjee holds out hope for change though we are yet to ascertain what that might be.
For a party which seems allergic to the Congress high command style of functioning, the Left’s reliance on the dictates of its unelected leaders in Delhi is passing strange. The politburo headed by the inimitable Mr Karat appears quite fond of deciding the fate of the party in the states where it still has a presence through the curious process of bypassing the opinions of elected state leaders. During the last assembly elections, Mr Karat was loath to hand over the chief ministership to Mr Achuthanandan even when it was crystal clear that the party rode to victory on his coattails. In West Bengal, Mr Karat and Co did not back chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s efforts to bring industrialisation to the moribund state.
Change has been anathema to the politburo in both states that have been hobbled by aggressive unions and chronic lack of employment. That Ms Banerjee too has not spelt out her blueprint for change or her vision for a young population is worrying but people seem willing to take a chance on someone, anyone, who is not from the Left.
The Left in Kerala could have taken advantage of the fact that the Indian Union Muslim League, an ally of the rival United Democratic Front, is embroiled in a sex scandal. But it has been too busy with its own factional squabbling. If the Left loses these two states, and there is every indication it will, the party will be marginalised as never before. It has no political space at the Centre anymore, no second rung leadership to speak of and no new thinking to offer.
The best that Mr Karat can say is that his party will not disappear in both states. But for Karat in Blunderland, its presence could well be like that of the Cheshire cat.