With a change in leadership and an ongoing massive rectification drive, the CPI(M) for the first time in six years is showing some signs of recovery in West Bengal, which it ruled for over 35 years till its humiliating defeat in 2011.
The CPI(M), the largest constituent of Left Front, has been able to arrest the continuous erosion in its support base since the 2009 Lok Sabha election. It has not only retained but also managed to increase marginally its vote share in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) election held last month.
The KMC poll had been of immense significance for CPI(M), which was staring at the prospects of losing the main Opposition status to BJP, which was fast gaining ground in Bengal since the last Lok Sabha election.
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After its worst ever performance in 2014 Lok Sabha poll, when CPI(M) secured nearly 23 per cent votes, it managed to retain its vote share and increase it by more than one percentage point to over 24 per cent in the KMC election.
“Since 2008, we have been facing a downslide and it continued till 2014, when the vote share came down to nearly 23 per cent. It is really a good sign that we have been able to arrest this poll hemorrhage and increase our vote share by one per cent in KMC poll. It will help us in future as it will give a boost to the rank and file,” newly-elected CPI(M) state secretary and Politburo member Surya Kanta Mishra told PTI.
Though in 2008 the Left first witnessed its electoral slide after it lost zila parishads in East Midnapore, the cradle of Nandigram anti-land acquisition movement, and South 24-Parganas to the Trinamool Congress, it was in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls that the Left Front got a massive blow with the Congress-Trinamool combine winning 27 of the state’s 42 seats.
Since, the Left’s vote share has gone down in each and every election that followed. In 2009, the Left secured 43 per cent votes, while in 2011 Assembly polls it fell to 40 per cent and in the 2013 panchayat polls it went down further.
The lowest point in CPI(M) came in 2014, when its vote share came down to nearly 23 per cent with the party securing just two seats in Lok Sabha.
The loss in CPI(M)’s vote share has also fueled speculation of the Red Brigade losing its Opposition status to BJP, which secured 18 per cent votes in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
“After 2014, a large section of media had completely erased us as opposition but the results have shown that we are still the only alternative to the misrule of the Trinamool Congress. The communal polarisation that BJP and TMC were trying to create failed to fetch results,” CPI(M) Politburo member Mohammed Salim told PTI.
According to senior CPI(M) leaders, the change of guard from the top to bottom in the party leadership and an immense rectification drive to weed out the “rotten and ineffective elements” from the party have worked in its favour.
“The leadership change from the grassroots to the top, in all the tiers of leadership has helped in infusing the party with fresh blood and new ideas which in turn has helped us in reaching out to the masses,” Salim said.
More than 70 per cent chiefs of the party’s various units from district to local committee level were replaced in the organisational conferences held in the past few months. The party this time has changed secretaries in nine districts including Kolkata.
The charge of the state party unit also went from Biman Bose to a relatively younger Surya Kanta Mishra. It also elected Sitaram Yechury as its new general secretary at the last month’s Party Congress.
“We have brought in several young faces in the state committee this time and removed the old and rotten elements from the party. But we need to carry on this process more aggressively,” said a senior Central Committee member, who did not wish to be named.
Not only the increase in vote share in Kolkata, but winning Siliguri Municipal Corporation in the face of all odds is also an example of CPI(M)’s baby steps towards regaining its lost ground in Bengal. In most of the civic bodies where TMC is in power, the CPI(M) is the main opposition.
Another Left Front constituent, CPI, feels that if the elections were held in a free and fair manner, then the results would have been much better for the Left. “Had the elections been held in a free and fair manner, the results would have been much better for us. But yes we need to work much harder to regain the lost confidence of the masses,” CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta said.
Although the CPI(M) and the Left were able to retain ground in Kolkata and Siliguri and some other municipalities across the state but in most of the places it had to face defeat in the hands of TMC. “Yes it is true that we had lost most of the municipalities in districts. But after 2011, this time we have been able to put up a fight against the attack of the TMC and it has given us results,” Salim said.
Mishra also pointed out another factor which worked in the favour of Left — the alleged political understanding between the TMC and BJP over the Saradha scam and TMC’s covert support to BJP in Rajya Sabha.
“After the CBI started going slow on Saradha scam and TMC helping in the passage of various bills in Rajya Sabha, people understood that the so-called fight between Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi are shadow fights to fool the masses and BJP can’t be an alternative to the CPI(M),” said Mishra, who is also the Opposition Leader of the state.
The CPI(M) leadership was, however, still wary of its dwindling support and cadre base among the minorities, SC, ST and the youth, which was reported during the last party conference. It feels that this indications of the party’s turnaround will help in bringing back the support base.
CPI(M)’s ally Forward Bloc though had a word of caution for the Left and CPI(M). It said there is no place for complacency by defeating BJP in the fight for second position.
“We should not be in a hurry and there is no place for complacency. The people of Bengal had punished and the people will only bless us after the experience they are having in the TMC regime,” Forward Bloc Secretary General Debabrata Biswas said.
The Trinamool Congress, however, was indifferent towards the CPI(M)’s claim of getting back the lost ground.
“The CPI(M), BJP, Congress have lost the mass support. The people of Bengal is still with Mamata Banerjee because of the development under her leadership,” TMC Secretary General Partha Chatterjee said.
The BJP leadership denied to comment on the issue terming the KMC polls as a “rigged election”.