Indian Left at a loss

Earlier this year I had a chapter in The Politics and Culture of Globalisation; India and Australia.  The chapter addressed Indian Communism. Since then the Indian Left has suffered a severe setback in the national elections. The alliance of the two Communist parties (the CPI(Marxist) and the CPI), the All India Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party won only 24 seats in the Lok Sabha. Recent examinations of the election result by the Left parties are broadly similar. The most wordy analyses are by the CPM in reports by General Secretary Prakash Karat and the Central Committee review adopted on 20-21 June. Forward Bloc covers similar ground. They stress the continuation of the secular wave that advantaged Congress, the welfare policies of the Congress government, in particular the Rural Employment Guarantee, and the fact that the ‘Third Force’ the alliance of non-Congress non-BJP parties that the left sought to lead lacked any coherent appeal. The largest swing against the left was in its West Bengal baliwick where the the left has governed since 1977. Major factors here have been ‘Bureaucratic behaviour, corruption and malpractice’ (Karat) and peasant resentment at the annexation of farm land for industrial projects. In Kerela another factor was the CPM’s pursuit of cooperation with the Islamist peoples’ Democratic Party which alienated secular voters, whist in West Bengal the perception that the Left had not corrected the disadvantaged position of the Muslim minority (highlighted in the Sacher report) alienated Muslim voters. The CPI provides the most objective evaluation:

in several states, state-specific factors have played a decisive role, for example in West Bengal and Kerala. It is from these two left-ruled states that the Left had secured the overwhelming number of seats in 2004. But developments in between had greatly dented the image of the Left in the two states. We had never expected a repeat of the 2004 result in Kerala. Severe infighting within the major constituent; open conflict among the partners of the Front; the offer of the Ponnani seat to the fundamentalist PDP which the CPI opposed, their presence on election stage at several places along with a dissident BJP group and the charge of corruption in the Lavalin case taken together badly affected the election prospects of the LDF.In West Bengal, the ‘Mahajot’ between the Trinamool and the Congress, the fall-out of the Singur and Nandigram episodes which came from following the capitalist mode of industrialization offering under concessions to the corporate houses, the apprehension cunningly spread among farmers that their land will be acquired by government in the name of speedy industrialization, the alienation of the masses from sections of cadres and leaders whose style of living and behaviour lacked Communist values and modesty, corruption and nepotism among those who wielded authority at different levels had lowered the image of the Left Front built through 32 years of service to the people…Some sections of Muslims and dalits who were the solid supporters of the Left Front were expressing misgivings. The Sachar Committee Report had drawn attention to the neglect of the muslim community. The CPI took note of this and during the past two years it submitted two memos to the Left Front Government on the genuine and long-standing grievances of the muslim people, but they were not given due consideration. This resulted in large scale alienation of the muslim minority…The West Bengal reverses and the subsequent developments exemplified by Lalgarh are extremely worrisome. The performance of the governments both in West Bengal and Kerala, unilateralism in the functioning of the ruling fronts, and continued alienation of various segments of the masses for different reasons need to be self-critically analysed.

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