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Introspection needed as Left suffers worst setback in 20 years

Introspection needed as Left suffers worst setback in 20 years
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First Published: Sun, May 17 2009. 12 32 AM IST

Updated: Sun, May 17 2009. 12 32 AM IST
New Delhi: Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, had repeatedly said in the run-up to the 2009 polls that the outcome of these elections would be different from that of the one in 2004, indicating that the Left won’t back the Congress after the polls.
The Left parties may stick to their stand, but Saturday’s results show that the Congress and allies don’t need their backing to form the next government.
Poor show: CPM general secretary Prakash Karat is likely to face a lot of flak for the party’s performance. Rajkumar / Mint
While the Congress-led coalition had won or was leading in 258 seats by 8pm on Saturday, the Left parties, led by the CPM—which won a record 61 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha in 2004—suffered the worst electoral setback in over two decades.
As of 8pm, the Left had won or was leading in only 24 seats, with the CPM being reduced to a fringe player in both its bastions—Kerala and West Bengal.
In the elections held five years ago, the CPM alone had won 44 Lok Sabha seats and in Kerala, the CPM-led Left Democratic Front had won 18 of the state’s 20 Lok Sabha seats. The Left parties had won 35 of 42 seats from West Bengal.
Back in 2004, some smart political strategizing by then CPM general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet is widely believed to have brought the party and other Left allies to the national spotlight when it supported the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, from outside. The Left later withdrew support to the government in July over the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Also See Redrawn Lines (Graphic)
In West Bengal, where the CPM has ruled for at least three decades, its controversial handling of the Nandigram and Singur issues as well as a weak organizational base worked to the advantage of the rival Congress-Trinamool Congress combine, say analysts. In Kerala, the party, plagued by internal squabbles, failed to retain its hold over its traditional bastion.
In 2007, violent local protests over acquiring land in Nandigram to build a chemical industries complex had led to at least 14 deaths. The government later shelved the plan. Tata Motors Ltd had to shift its proposed factory for the world’s cheapest car Nano to Gujarat from Singur in October following a campaign by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress against land acquisition for the factory.
“The debacle in West Bengal is a reaction to the CPM’s land use policy in the state. Nandigram and Singur have been catalysts for this verdict and its traditional supporters have also voted against it. As far as Kerala is concerned, the party’s internal problems led to its defeat...,” said V. Krishna Ananth, Chennai-based political analyst and columnist.
In West Bengal, the Left Front was taken by surprise. In Kolkata, its chairman Biman Bose said, “We will discuss and investigate why this happened and take steps for correction. I think, there was a pro-Congress wave like in 1971. This time it worked in favour of the party. Also, the Congress might have been seen as the only party that could provide a stable government at the Centre.”
CPM politburo member and Kerala’s home minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the setback in Kerala was “beyond what we had expected.” “We had expected to win some eight seats. But the wave at the national level was in favour of the Congress-led government.”
Meanwhile, a politburo statement read out by Karat said: “The CPM and the Left parties have suffered a major setback in these elections. This necessitates a serious examination of the reasons for the party’s poor performance. The CPM will continue its cooperation with the non-Congress, non-BJP secular parties with whom we have been working.”
Karat is likely to face a lot of flak for the party’s debacle in the polls. “Karat knew the intensity of the crisis in the party but didn’t do much about it. He refused to address the party’s ideological issue in these states and failed to clearly lay down what the development model would be. Now, with the Congress getting a clear verdict, they won’t need the Left to form the government... Karat pushed the CPM into the parliamentary process and got busy with alliance making instead of solving its internal issues,” Ananth said.
The CPM, on its part, denied that this verdict is a setback to Karat’s leadership. “It is absolutely incorrect. There was a wave in favour of the Congress at the national level. There are other reasons at the state levels. We will examine the reasons for an introspection,” said S. Ramachandran Pillai, a senior politburo member of the party.
The question that crops up now is where the CPM stands in terms of its political future. Some analysts say the CPM now has little option but to seriously review its party line. “The Left got discredited due to their extraordinary efforts to form the Third Front,” said Sudha Pai, professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The CPM politburo is scheduled to meet on 18 May and the central committee a day later. An all-Left meet is expected to take place on Sunday morning. A meeting of the Third Front had also been called on 18 May but following poll reversal, its fate remains undecided.
Meanwhile, other Left parties such as the Communist Party of India, or CPI, too, conceded poll defeat on Saturday, claiming they would all need to rethink their political strategy. “All Left parties will sit together and discuss this verdict. we will review our tactics... Congress is now in a position to form the government so let them. We have sat in the opposition all our life and will continue to do so,” said A.B. Bardhan, general secretary, CPI.
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint
Liz Mathew, Ullekh N.P., Aveek Datta and Romita Datta contributed to this story.
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First Published: Sun, May 17 2009. 12 32 AM IST
More Topics: India votes 09 | Prakash Karat | CPM | CPI | Left |