By Roger Alexander
For the Left the Day of Judgement has arrived. Starting today, April 30, polling starts in West Bengal over three phases. With Nandigram and Singur (and also Lalgarh and Darjeeling) staring them in the face, the comrades will get their just deserts. And rightly so, sing the choirboys of the corporate media.
The refrain over the past month has been that, thankfully, the Left will be unable to “call the shots”, or enjoy “power without responsibility” anymore. This will be the last charge of the Red Brigade. And Prakash Karat, we are told, will be lucky to put even 40 MPs in the next Lok Sabha.
With the Left “projected” to win as few as 5 seats from Kerala and 2 from Tripura, Karat has his task cut out. Unless it wins 33 seats from West Bengal, it's curtains for the Left Front. “Good riddance,” is the unanimous verdict.
Representatives of the Left parties invited as punching bags at prime time debates have literally been at the receiving end over the past month. And with programme anchors jumping into the debates as inquisitors, the Left seemingly doesn't stand a chance. No wonder stockbrokers are cheering.
Time now, therefore, to examine the facts. Is the Left Front in Bengal in for a hiding? We know that in 2001, when the Trinamool and Congress forged a Mahajot against the Left, the alliance came a cropper, winning only 88 seats in a 294-member house. The Left Front won 199 seats.
In the 2006 assembly elections, the Trinamool won just 30 seats and the Congress 24. The Left Front won 233 seats. In the 2004 Lok Sabha election, Mamata Banerjee was the sole Trinamool MP from West Bengal. That she hardly participated in parliamentary proceedings is another matter.
But those were the halcyon days of the Left's supremacy, we are told. Let's talk about now. Let's talk about Bengal and the Left post-Nandigram and Singur. These two villages will determine who is the winner in 2009, it is claimed.
If you look at the picture of last year's Panchayat polls, the Left has certainly lost considerable ground. Here's what happened: The Left lost considerable ground. Its vote percentage at the Gram Panchayat level came down from 65.7 per cent in 2003 to 52.3 per cent in 2008. But the point to be noted is that it still won more than 50 per cent of the vote.
In the interregnum, i.e. since June last year till now, the Left has been in firefighting mode.
To begin with, the Left was quick to accept that the results were not what had been expected even though “the level of victory was politically significant and important” (meaning they could have done worse).
But in the final analysis the Left Front came through generally triumphant even in places where the chips were down, and things weighed heavily especially against the CPI(M).
Still, the bottom line is that the CPI(M) especially did rather badly in some districts. The reasons are obvious. First, the Left failed to effectively counter the Trinamool campaign against land acquisition for industry and development. Indeed, it failed miserably to convince even its own supporters with hard data.
This happened because the politically important issue of involving the participation of the aam admi in the running of the Panchayat institutions was neglected, more so because of the disunity within the Left Front which had a “baneful effect” on the poll outcome, as the CPI(M) State Committee's analysis quaintly put it..
However, Karat & Co came to the conclusion that “the adverse results would not constitute a permanent political process, or event. The CPI(M) can and shall forge ahead in an organised way with a mass participation of the entire Bengal Party unit along with, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder to the Party’s sympathisers and supporters.”
Then Mamata delivered a Puja gift. Tata Motors was hounded out of Singur. The industrialise-or-perish debate was revived and now forms the crux of the debate in the present election campaign.
So now we have the CPI(M)'s fabled party machine pitted against a Mahajot backed by the anti-Communist media, creating a level playing field, as it were.
In this high-stakes contest, who will triumph? My own take is that an opportunistic Mahajot has its own internal contradictions. There are reports of Congress workers refusing to campaign for party turncoats who have been given the Trinamool ticket. And of Trinamool rebels contesting against Congress candidates.
Suitably chastened by the debacle in the Panchayat elections last year, the Left parties seem to be more united and working resolutely to recover lost ground.
Ironically, Ratan Tata's decision to drive out of Singur in search of profits elsewhere has given a fillip to the Left's industrialisation campaign against Mamata's save-farmlands rhetoric, enabling the former to aim for a win in at least 30 constituencies.
Roger And Out