In the hullabaloo over the BJP’s massive mandate and the Congress’s humbling defeat, political commentators have missed out on some other important outcomes of the Lok Sabha elections. The election results confirm the long-term declining trend of the Left parties in India. The Left Front’s national voteshare in 2014 has been the lowest ever (4.8 per cent), from the high of 10.6 per cent in 1989. The Left Front in the 14th Lok Sabha (2004-09) had a sizeable contingent of 62 MPs and that has declined to only 12 MPs in the current Lok Sabha.
The Left in the new Lok Sabha is represented by just two parties (and two independent MPs) — the CPM and CPI. The CPM has five MPs from Kerala and two each from West Bengal and Tripura, while just one MP (from Kerala) represents the CPI in Lok Sabha. As a result, both the CPM and CPI may lose their national-party status according to the new guidelines of the Election Commission of India. Two other political parties, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the All India Forward Block (AIFB), have been part of the Left Front for a long time. The AIFB failed to open its account in this election, whereas the lone RSP member in the Lok Sabha is not part of the Left Front as the RSP in Kerala joined the Congress-led alliance before the elections.
Can the Left Front revive its electoral fortunes? The data presented in Table 1 makes it clear that the Left’s decline is not just Bengal-centric as the Front’s voteshare in other parts of India has reached its nadir. The Left used to have pockets of influence in some states of eastern India (Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa) and southern India (Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu) in earlier decades. In its traditional bastions of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, the decline in the Left Front’s share is largely due to its abysmal performance in West Bengal.
While the Left Front won both seats in Tripura with very big margins, its performance in Kerala is not extraordinary, especially when the ruling Congress-led alliance in the state held on to its voteshare despite such a strong national mood against the party. So, though the Left’s decline is all-India, its route to revival passes through West Bengal.
A deeper analysis of the electoral trends from West Bengal portends ill winds for the Left, especially because of the rise of the BJP as a third force in state politics. The recent attacks on BJP workers are an indication that the party is gaining popularity. On the other hand, the Left’s support base in the state has been shrinking since the panchayat elections of 2008. During the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and the 2011 assembly elections, the Congress and Trinamool Congress (TMC) alliance pushed the Left Front to a distant second. This election, the TMC further marginalised the Left by winning 34 of the 42 seats.
The Left had hoped continued…