For a party whose best and boldest cut their teeth with street agitation, the CPM is not used to having its own mobilise against the bosses. It was, thus, a rare sight this week when former and present card-holders protested outside the party’s West Bengal headquarters on Kolkata’s Alimuddin Street. Among the protesters calling for accountability for the CPM’s pathetic performance were the relatively younger voices from the Left like Prasenjit Bose, who in recent years have been expelled for contesting the party’s decisions. There are similar calls for accountability of the top leadership from seniors like Somnath Chatterjee, once the party’s guiding voice in Parliament, but expelled in 2008 when he refused to heed partisan calls above his duty as Lok Sabha speaker during the vote of confidence on the Indo-US nuclear deal. In the days leading up to the June 6 meeting of the CPM’s politburo, these voices are bound to get louder.
The CPM, which effectively leads the Left Front, is a yet more diminished force in the Lok Sabha, with just nine MPs. In West Bengal, it could win just two seats. Fifty years since the party was formed after it broke away from the CPI, it is not just that the Left continues to cede ground to its ideological adversaries — the Trinamool, the Congress and now even the BJP in Bengal. In significant electoral segments — prominently Delhi and Punjab — and in public debate, issues of marginalisation, welfare and probity that have defined the Left’s vital space are now seen to be more successfully represented by newcomers like the Aam Aadmi Party.
The challenge before the CPM is to weave diverse aspirations — many of which it has yet to acknowledge — in an inclusive narrative. To do so, it has to confront the series of missteps and evasions of the past decade, notably the mishandling of Singur and Nandigram. It has to evaluate its approach since that Lok Sabha mandate of 2004, when its critical support to the Congress gave it a distorted sense of importance and achievement, and more notably, since the handover of leadership to Prakash Karat determined a more doctrinaire, less pragmatic, less rooted politics. Only then can it find the coherence to explain to the people and its cadres what the party stands for and how it could deliver on that agenda.