The ‘celebrations’ over the defeat of the Left in the recent assembly elections was rudely jolted by the substantial hike in the price of petrol. This, ironically, underscores the need for a strong Left in India, not only as the moral conscience-keeper of the nation but also as the crusader to protect the aam aadmi from such growing imposition of economic burdens.
In a democracy, elections always throw up a winner and a loser. Hence, the great hype over the defeat of the Left in West Bengal only highlights the significance of the unprecedented 34 years of continuously heading the state government, having won a record seven consecutive elections.
In Kerala, where incumbents have been replaced successively in every election during the last four decades, the victory of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) has been by the slenderest of margins in recent history. This can, at best, be described as pyrrhic because of the inherent instability that a coalition of ten parties can cause to a majority of two. With no anti-incumbency, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala has garnered more than 45% of the popular vote, just under less than 1% of what the UDF got. In absolute terms the difference between the two fronts across the state was just 1.55 lakh votes.
In Bengal, given the oddities of the ‘first past the post’ system, the Left Front with a vote-share of nearly 41% has recorded its lowest tally of seats. In fact, in these elections, more than 11 lakh additional people actually came out to vote for the Left than in 2009. Compared to 1 crore 98 lakh votes the Left received in the 2006 assembly elections where it won 235 of the 294 seats, this time it polled nearly 1 crore 96 lakh votes and yet ended up with 61 seats.
One of the reasons for this anomaly is the fact that in 2006, the opposition was divided. This permitted such gains for the Left. In 2011, the index of opposition unity was very strong, where despite an equal amount of votes, the number of seats got drastically reduced. Further, according to Election Commission estimates, between 2009 and 2011 nearly 48 lakh additional voters were enrolled in the state with 37 lakh new young voters. Of these increased number of voters, all of whom were born after the Left Front government came into existence in Bengal, over ten lakh voted for the Left Front, while over 34 lakh voted for the combined Opposition. This explains these results.
With a 41% vote share, the Left Front in Bengal commands a larger support base than what the governments in many states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra or even Bihar under the new posterboy Nitish Kumar currently command.
Leaving aside the congenital detractors of the Left, there is a genuine concern among very well-meaning people about the Left’s future. Such concern is understandable. In electoral terms, it is a fact that compared to the first elections that the CPI(M) faced after its formation in 1967, its current position is worrisome. In 1967, the CPI(M) had 19 members in the Lok Sabha as against 16 today. In the state assemblies in Kerala and West Bengal, it had 52 and 43 MLAs respectively — as against 45 and 40 respectively today.
But the Left’s influence on the evolution of modern India has neither been confined nor can it be measured by its electoral presence alone. Three visions contended in the nationalist discourse during the freedom struggle: the Congress vision of a secular democratic India; the Left vision that extended beyond this to convert political independence of the country into its economic independence, ie socialism; these together combated the twin expression of the third vision of Hindu and Muslim fundamentalisms that feed on each other. The Left played a very important role in the evolution of the modern India we know today, through the moulding of people’s consciousness, beyond its electoral presence.
Second, the various militant peasant struggles launched across the country against feudal oppression by the communists brought onto the central agenda the question of abolition of zamindari and other forms of landlordism. This, as a consequence, drew the vast mass of rural India into India’s democratic mainstream.
Third, the struggle for the linguistic reorganisation of states in independent India, pioneered and led by the communists, for Vishala Andhra, Samyukta Maharashtra and Aikya Kerala drew up the contours of the political map of modern India.
Further, in modern times, the implementation of land reforms in Kerala and West Bengal and the deepening of democracy to the grassroots through decentralisation of power preceded by a decade the panchayati raj amendment to the Constitution. This succeeded in bringing into our democratic mainstream hitherto dispossessed and marginalised people.
In today’s conditions, with the neo-liberal reforms creating two Indias that continue to be detached from each other and mega-corruption that robs India as a country and as a people of its true potential, it is the Left that steadfastly and consistently has kept a straight bat. The Left has traversed a long way and during the course of the journey there have been mistakes. It is important to recognise, correct and ensure that these are not repeated. This continues to be the Left’s motto. This is an intense battle, a class battle that in Bengal has already claimed three lives of our comrades in the past 48 hours.
It is a long and arduous journey ahead for the creation of a better India that would help all of us realise our true worth as a civilisation and a people. This is a journey that cannot be completed without the Left.
( Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP )
The views expressed by the author are personal