Home >Politics >Policy >Left routed in West Bengal assembly elections, triumphant in Kerala
File photo of CPM general secretary general Sitaram Yechury. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
File photo of CPM general secretary general
Sitaram Yechury.
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Left routed in West Bengal assembly elections, triumphant in Kerala

Mixed outcome in the assembly elections will mean that Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of CPM will stop short of declaring victory

New Delhi: The assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala—states where the Left parties have traditionally been a key player—have yielded opposite results for the Left.

In Kerala, the Left parties won a majority, grabbing 90 seats in the 140-member assembly. But in West Bengal, they have been pushed to the margins, winning only 33 seats in the 294-member assembly.

For the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, the largest party in the Left Front, this was the first election under a new general secretary, Sitaram Yechury.

The party has been trying to regain its vote base in West Bengal, where it ruled for 34 years until lost to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the 2011 assembly election.

Thursday’s poor show in the West Bengal election has once again cast a shadow on the Left Front’s revival.

Yechury acknowledged this while addressing a press meet in Delhi after the results were announced when he said that the party needs to introspect on the verdict in West Bengal.

“We respect the verdict of the people of West Bengal who have returned the TMC government with a big majority. We will examine the result and review our performance in this election as far as the Left Front is concerned for the future," Yechury said.

“The people of Kerala have given us a big victory. It will be a clean government which will work towards fulfilling the promises that we have made," he added.

In West Bengal, the party made serious efforts to revive its base.

The understanding with the Congress—despite criticism from many senior Left leaders—was an attempt by the party to win greater support against the TMC.

The outcome of such a pact seems to have worked more in favour of the Congress than the Left—the Congress won 44 seats, while the CPM could win only 26.

The Left Front together won 33 seats—its worst performance in the state assembly election in four decades.

The defeat of five-time assembly member and CPM state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra points to the extent of the rout in the CPM’s one-time bastion of West Bengal, with its vote share shrinking to 19.7% in 2016 from 41.39% in 2011.

Party leaders say the attempts made to revive its support in the state proved to be too little, too late.

The CPM had held an organizational plenum to arrest the decline in its electoral base in December last year.

The party, once a key player at the national level, has now been reduced to just eight seats in the Rajya Sabha and nine in the Lok Sabha.

Analysts say the road ahead for the Left Front is tough.

“The organizational structure of the Left is absolutely broken. The CPM members were a large force; but over the years, their organizational strength has diminished. It was a key reason why the front decided to contest elections with the Congress. However, the results show that the CPM votes worked in favour of the Congress, and not the other way around," said Amiya K. Chaudhuri, a West Bengal-based political analyst and member of Lokniti (Institute of Comparative Democracy) Network of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a think tank.

“It may be a mixed-bag victory for the party. There is a serious internal crisis in the party, along with a lack of leadership. In such a situation, the road ahead is tough for the party, and also raises questions on its revival," he added.

In Kerala, however, the party has seen a revival, doing better than its 2006 poll win.

But the Kerala unit, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) has been witnessing internal tussle between two front-runners for the post of chief minister—V.S. Achuthanandan and politburo member and former Kerala state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.

The two campaigned separately for the election.

Analysts say that the party benefitted from the allegations of corruption against the incumbent United Democratic Front (UDF) and the lack of a third option.

“My impression is that the LDF has no problem in Kerala because it is a two-party contest. They did well in the last election as well. This was even when differences in the party continued. The UDF also helped in the party’s growth in the state, with a series of corruption allegations coming to the forefront," said K.M. Sajad Ibrahim, associate professor in the political science department of the University of Kerala.

“There is a radical difference in the two states (West Bengal and Kerala). In West Bengal, the party ignored the masses. In Kerala, the party still has a connect with the masses," he added.

The Left front, which contested the Tamil Nadu election as well, failed to secure a seat in the assembly for the first time.

However, it did manage a seat in the Puducherry assembly for the first time in 40 years.

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