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After national polls, Left may aim for centre stage

After national polls, Left may aim for centre stage
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First Published: Wed, Dec 24 2008. 10 49 PM IST

United front: CPI national secretary D. Raja says parties should work towards creating a non-Congress, non-BJP formation. Rajeev Dabral / Mint
United front: CPI national secretary D. Raja says parties should work towards creating a non-Congress, non-BJP formation. Rajeev Dabral / Mint
Updated: Wed, Dec 24 2008. 10 49 PM IST
New Delhi: Though India’s Left parties are unlikely to do better than last time in the next general elections, analysts say they may emerge as key players in the formation of the next government, along with their regional allies.
“After the elections, the Left would play the role of a catalyst,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, political analyst and chairperson of the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies (CMS).
United front: CPI national secretary D. Raja says parties should work towards creating a non-Congress, non-BJP formation. Rajeev Dabral / Mint
The political grouping was ruled out as an electoral force to reckon with after it withdrew support to the Central coalition in July, but it is back in action now thanks to the Union government coming under sharp attack over inflation, economic downturn and terror attacks.
Comprising the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, the Communist Party of India, or CPI, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, or RSP, and the Forward Bloc, the Left withdrew support to the United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, opposing the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Alliances the Left has entered into with N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party, or TDP, in Andhra Pradesh and with J. Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or AIADMK, in Tamil Nadu, are expected to help them in a big way since these regional parties are expected to do well this time around.
But, Rao added, “it (the Left) would have to handle the coordination responsibility”. Andhra Pradesh elects 42 members to the 545-member Lok Sabha and Tamil Nadu 39.
“The AIADMK currently has no seats in the Lok Sabha while the TDP has only four. Both are definitely on the upswing and will increase their tally substantially in their states. Thus, an alliance between them and the Left is going to be mutually beneficial,” said V. Krishna Ananth, Chennai-based columnist and political analyst.
The Left bloc’s efforts to form a third alternative—or a non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, government—at the Centre have been picking up momentum by holding parleys with parties such as Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, or BSP, and the H.D. Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular), JD(S), on poll strategies.
The Left parties currently have 58 seats in the Lok Sabha.
That they did reasonably well in the recently concluded polls—in states where it traditionally had a negligible presence—also seems to have emboldened these parties in the run-up to national polls next year.
For instance, in Rajasthan, traditionally known to be a two-party state, the CPM increased its seat tally from one to three, besides improving its vote share in the northern parts of the state where its influence has been growing.
Says S. Ramachandran Pillai, CPM politburo member: “We are talking to other political parties in most states. In Kerala and West Bengal, we have a united front, and in Tripura, a Left Front. In Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, we are a growing force and we have also entered into an electoral understanding with the TDP and AIADMK, respectively.”
“In Karnataka also, we have good relations with the JD(S) and we have decided to stand together, even as further discussions are on. As far as the northern belt is concerned, in Bihar, Rajasthan, etc., we don't have understanding with any regional party. So the Left will stand together,” he added.
However, the BSP’s reluctance to enter into any pre-poll alliance might pose difficulties for the Left, even resulting in electoral losses. This was evident in the Rajasthan elections, where both the CPM and the BSP improved their individual scores but the two ended up cutting into each other’s vote share.
The Left agrees. “This is definitely true (that the Left and the BSP could have made a greater impact had they fought together). However, the BSP has a policy of not entering into pre-poll alliances and we cannot force them to change their position... We are in discussions with them though no conclusion has been reached regarding pre-poll alliances,” Pillai said. “But we share good relations... The BSP and the Left are similar since both are against the BJP and the Congress.”
According to D. Raja, national secretary, CPI, “there is space for a non-Congress, non-BJP formation and we should all work towards that”.
“The BSP, however, would arrive at a decision only after the election dates are announced,” said a leader of that party, on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, a senior Left leader, who has been part of top-level electoral discussions but didn’t want to be identified, said Mayawati has assured the Left that the BSP would get 50-plus seats in the forthcoming elections.
“If the BSP gets 50-plus seats, the Left gets around 40-45, the TDP 10-plus and the AIADMK 20-plus, we would together have around 150 seats. This would make this front a major force in the forthcoming elections,” the leader said.
But infighting in some strongholds is likely to cost the Left parties dearly.
“In Kerala, the Left is caught in its own internal squabbles and the number of seats may fall because it had reached its peak last time. In West Bengal too, there is an anti-Left feeling and some of its traditional supporters might go against it because of its land use policy. However, how much the opposition will cash in on that remains to be seen,” added Ananth.
According to Bidyut Chakrabarty, professor at the department of political science, Delhi University, “there is a contradiction at the grassroots and internal opposition within the Left about some alliances it is forging with parties... Thus, there is tension within the Left itself”.
According to Rao of CMS, the Left on its own is stagnant and it has only retained its base, not expanded it. “They need a coalition with other regional parties and then they will matter.”
K.P. Narayana Kumar and Liz Mathew contributed to this story.
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First Published: Wed, Dec 24 2008. 10 49 PM IST