This is the worst performance for the Left, which drew a blank in its one-time bastion of West Bengal and won just one seat in Kerala, where it is in power. Its overall tally was five, down from 10 in 2014.
The Left has seen a steady decline since 2009, after recording its best performance in 2004, when it won 59 seats and emerged as a major political force and the architect of the UPA-I government. It slumped to 24 in 2009, 10 in 2014 and now 5. The CPI(M) fell from 44 seats in 2009 to 16 in 2009, 9 in 2014, and 3 — Alappuzha in Kerala and Coimbatore and Madurai in Tamil Nadu — this time. The CPI won two seats — Nagapattinam and Tiruppur in Tamil Nadu.
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Four of the five Left’s seats came from Tamil Nadu, where it is a fringe player, riding on the pro-DMK wave. In West Bengal, its sitting MPs — Politburo member Mohammad Salim in Raiganj and Badaruddoza Khan in Murshidabad — came third and fourth respectively. In Kerala, the Sabarimala controversy and Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad had their impact. The Left’s poster boy, Kanhaiya Kumar, came second in Begusarai.
In a clear indication that the Left votes have shifted to the BJP in West Bengal, the CPI(M) saw its vote share drop from 22.96% in 2014 to only 6.3%. The CPI vote share was down from 2.36% in 2014 to 0.39%.
In the past, the Left did well whenever there was a pro-Congress wave — it won 54 seats in 1980, when Indira Gandhi stormed back to power, and 33 seats in 1984, in the wake of her assassination. In 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, it won 56 seats.
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“In West Bengal, we were expecting 3-4 four seats for the CPI(M). There was massive rigging in constituencies that we were expecting to win. Also, it seems that in the wake of the anger against the ruling TMC, a section of Left supporters may have voted for the BJP,” said CPI general secretary S Sudhakar Reddy.
Asked if the Left has lost relevance in the wake of a right-wing surge, he said: “Yes, it is an advantage for the right wing. And going ahead, there will be more anti-people, anti-worker, anti-public sector policies.” Asked about the Left’s future, he replied, “We have to review”.
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“It is the worst-ever defeat for the Left. This is not the end of all,” said his party colleague D Raja. He said the verdict “shows the failure of secular, democratic Opposition parties, who could not provide a credible, viable alternative in every state by coming together and having proper seat-sharing arrangements by being accommodative to each other.”