Thursday, February 11, 2010


The 2009 elections imposed on the Left the worst ever electoral debacle in the recent past. Obviously, the reasons for this have been a subject of debate in the media and the political parlons beyond the Left periphery too. The CPI (M) could win only 16 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2009. This is the lowest ever figure for this Party in the Lok Sabha elections. CPI (M) has won nine seats in West Bengal, four in Kerala, and two in Tripura and one in Tamilnadu. CPI (M) has got 5.33 per cent of the vote which is slightly less compared to 5.66 per cent in 2004. CPI (M) had contested 70 seats in 2004 and this time it contested 80 seats. The CPI, All India Forward Bloc and RSP have together won eight seats. The total Left tally is 24. The CPI has won two seats in West Bengal, one seat each in Orissa and Tamilnadu. Its percentage of votes is 1.43 compared to 1.41 per cent in 2004. The All India Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party won two seats each from West Bengal.

There are several political, organizational, and administrative reasons behind this debacle.

Left withdrawl of support to UPA government especially on the nuclear deal with US did not get approval from certain vocal sections of Indian society especially the urban middle class. From the left perspective, though its opposition to the nuclear deal and the eventual withdrawl of support was rather inevitable, however, it cost the left dearer in electoral terms. In this context, the observations made by noted Left intellectual and distinguished economist Prabhat Patnaik are worth noting.

… The Left’s error that accounts for its loss in the recent elections can be located here. As long as the urban middle class in India is not hit by the adverse consequences of globalization, it will continue to remain sympathetically disposed towards imperialism. Anti-imperialist ideological appeals alone, though they must continue to be made, will not sway it much. Two additional factors that will contribute towards this sympathy for imperialism are, first, the assumption of US Presidency by Barack Obama who represents “imperialism with a human face”, and, second, the strong opposition to imperialism coming at present from the Islamist movements with which broad sections of the Indian urban middle class have little affinity. As long as the Indian Left remains true to its ideology and the interests of its class base, the pro-imperialist sympathies of the Indian urban middle class will necessarily entail some estrangement of this class from the Left.

In the recent elections, it follows that a certain loss of urban support for the Left became unavoidable when it broke with the UPA because of its anti-imperialism. (In Kerala, such alienation from the Left was compounded by certain specific local factors: the secular segments of the electorate could not accept the Left’s relationship with the PDP, and the Left’s stand on the SNC-Lavalin Deal carried little credibility.)….
The infighting within in the CPI(M) and the differences among the Left parties have also contributed to the Left’s electoral reversals in Kerala.

But, Left debacle in west Bengal is also a result of certain controversial economic and industrial policies vigorously pursued by the Left front government especially such as land acquisition, doling out subsidies to corporate sector. Prof. Prabhat Patnaik further notes…

… If the Left had managed to increase its support among the workers, peasants, petty producers and the rural poor, then it could have offset this loss among the urban middle class; even if it had managed to retain its support among the former, its overall loss would have still remained limited. But, notwithstanding its opposition to imperialism, it did not have an alternative policy on development, different from what the neo-liberal paradigm dictated. In West Bengal, the government led by it pursued policies of “development” similar to what the other states were following and in competition with them. These policies, though subsequently reversed in several instances, had an adverse impact on the “basic classes” and caused a crucial erosion of the class base of the Left.

While some loss of peasant support on account of Singur and Nandigram was anticipated in West Bengal, it was thought that the Opposition’s thwarting of “development” would make the urban middle class switch to the Left as the preferred alternative (because of which pictures of the Nano car were posted all over the state as part of the CPI(M)’s campaign to remind the electorate of the Opposition’s intransigence in thwarting “industrialization”). As a matter of fact, however, the Left lost votes both among the urban middle class and among the peasants and the rural poor. It lost votes among the urban middle class because this segment could not stomach the Left’s anti-imperialism and its fallout in the form of a distancing from the UPA; it lost votes among the peasants and the rural poor because the Left’s anti-imperialism was insufficient, in the sense that it did not extend to the formulation of an alternative economic policy. True, the scope for a state government to produce such an alternative economic policy is limited; but no effort in this direction was discernible.

The Left, it follows, cannot pursue its resistance to imperialism unless it also evolves an alternative approach to “development”, different from the neo-liberal one which is promoted by imperialist agencies everywhere. The central feature of such an approach must be the defence of the interests of the class base of the Left. Development must be defined in the context of the carrying forward of the democratic revolution, as a phenomenon contributing to an improvement in the economic conditions of the “basic classes”, and hence to an accretion to their class-strength. It must be seen as having a class dimension and not just referring to the augmentation of a mass of “things”. A supra-class notion of development, such as the augmentation of a mass of “things” or the mere growth of GDP, is a form of commodity-fetishism, and a part, therefore, of the ideology of imperialism…

The Left has been in power in West Bengal for over three decades. This resulted in several organizational deviations within the Left movement. Notably, a section of the Left leadership got alienated from the people. Their life style and the way they deal with the people are no longer leftist in character. Corruption, arrogance, self centered approach crept into their functioning. Infact, the present Left leadership is primarily a generation that saw the Left as ruling party in West Bengal.

The Left government in West Bengal made serious mistakes in administration and at policy level that incurred the wrath of the people which formed the support base of the Left for all these years. The Left Front government was not so successful in areas like education, health, minor irrigation, public distribution system etc., which have a direct bearing on the lives of common people. The historic achievements of the Left Front government in areas like Land Reforms, Panchayati Raj failed to eclipse the lapses in these areas of public administration.

The concept of Third Front intensely proposed by the Left did not carry much credibility. Though, the forging of this Third Front could prevent the BJP from getting strong allies, it did not achieve the political task of dislodging the Congress government. The Left would have benefited more if its slogan was to strengthen the Left to defend the interests of the people. But, the slogan of the Left for Third Front government was cut off from political reality. In the absence of any pro people policy agenda or political consistency Third Front was the joke of the 2009 elections. However, one can not ignore the fact that there exists a large political space outside the congress and BJP. The Indian political system is far from being bilateral.

The Left contribution to Indian polity is immense. It continues to play a significant role in building a modern, secular, egalitarian India. It is still a formidable political force that stands for certain cherished values in democracy. It is difficult to imagine that the issues of poverty, deprivation, social, economic oppression would be heard so loud and clear in Indian democracy without a vibrant Left. The Left constitutes an ideologically different political force especially at a time when there is an increasing homegenisation of political content in the era of liberallisation and globalization. Even the die-hard opponents of the Left will accept this contribution of the Left to the polity. Therefore, the Left should overcome their lapses. Otherwise, the Left success in the ensuing Assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala will be in serious trouble if the 2009 LokSabha elections are any indication.

No comments:

Post a Comment