Left outfits in the state are upbeat over the response two public meetings of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader Kanhaiya Kumar got in Mumbai and Pune. Some in the Left camps are even thinking about using Kanhaiya’s popularity to attract the young and the restless, which they think can help their parties regain some of their lost political space.
It is true that Kanhaiya is a good orator and has become popular to some extent, especially following the curiosity about him owing to the extreme ways adopted by some outfits to oppose him. Thanks to the live coverage of the drama surrounding his arrest and the unruly lawyers thrashing him in a Delhi court, he has become a known name across India. He is also aiming to start a nationwide movement to highlight the issues that were raised following the suicide of Hyderabad University student Rohith Vemula. At this juncture, nobody knows whether he will became a nationally popular leader or slowly fade into oblivion. Still it is too early to think that he can help the Left parties win over a large number of youths in Maharashtra.
The state once had strong Left movement with Mumbai being a major centre of influence. Most influential trade unions were run by the Left outfits and enjoyed support among a large section of the population. Till the 1980s, the Left and the Socialists (who had left of the centre political ideology) were a significant political force in Maharashtra. Prominent Left parties were Communist Party of India (CPI), CPI (M) and Peasants and Workers Party (PWP).
Things started changing first with the Ram temple agitation that attracted large sections of the population and later opening up of Indian economy in 1990-91. In a city like Mumbai, the Left politics started losing relevance and influence as the city’s economy started shifting from secondary (industrial) based to a service (tertiary) sector-based one. Consumerism did not remain a bad word – in fact, it became a part of our lives. The class-war was no more an attractive topic not just for middle classes and youth but also the working classes.
While the trade unions lost their influence in the post-liberalisation era, on the political front too the Left parties lost space to other parties. The Shiv Sena and BJP took the opposition space and won power when people wanted to oust the ruling Congress. During this time, the Left parties did little to remain relevant.
They also had a dearth of young leaders who could attract the youth. In fact, no serious attempts were made to promote young leadership. As such, it is no wonder that the influence of the Left parties has now remained limited to a handful of pockets in Maharashtra such as Raigad district, Jawhar in Palghar district well as in north Maharashtra and Solapur.
The only prominent Left stronghold is in Raigad district, where the PWP holds fort. It has three legislators and retained power in the zilla parishad (district council) and a few local bodies. In these cases too, the Left influence remains either owing to a strong local leader such as its MLA Ganpatrao Deshmukh in Solapur or the presence of its trade unions. The PWP is controlled by the Patil family led by legislator Jayant Patil and has been periodically working out local political equations, including alliance with the Shiv Sena, to retain its upper hand in Raigad politics. None of the Left outfits have a leader who has statewide appeal. In this background, will someone like Kanhaiya help the Left to get young followers? Difficult as it seems now. Even if one considers that Kanhaiya manages to create an atmosphere like what Anna Hazare did during the UPA’s tenure at the Centre, the beneficiaries could be the Congress-NCP and not the Left.