The Left parties have made a comeback of sorts in the recently concluded state elections in Bihar.
The Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) formed an alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and won 16 out of the 29 seats allotted to them.
The most noteworthy performance was of the CPI(ML), which won two-thirds of the seats contested, 12 out of 19. This has provided some cheer to the supporters of Left parties and their ideology.
The Left parties, comprising the CPM, the CPI, the All India Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party, have occupied a significant place in Indian politics. However, lately they have witnessed a steady decline. From 55 seats in the 2004 Lok Sabha, their tally has reduced to a mere 6 seats in 2019 general elections.
Performance of CPM and CPI (combined) in Lok Sabha Elections
Source: www.indiavotes.com, www.politicalbaaba.com
The Left front used to occupy power in three states -- West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. Their citadels in West Bengal (34 years) and Tripura (20 years) have fallen to Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, respectively.
In Bengal, Mamata ended Left rule in 2011. In the 2016 state Assembly elections, she won a successive second term. The Left and Congress alliance were the runners-up. The BJP lost significant vote share in 2016 compared to the 2014 general elections where it had bagged 17% vote share.
In the 2019 general elections, however, the BJP pulled off a surprise performance and the Left front couldn’t even win a single seat from Bengal.
BJP has taken over from the Left as the main opponent to Mamata. The Left lost deposit in 40 seats and was relegated to being a non-entity.
The Left front now faces an existential crisis in the state. It has formed an alliance with the Congress again in the hope that some of the votes lost to the BJP could come back due to the local nature of state elections and the absence of the ‘Modi factor’ in these polls.
Given the sequence of events and the situation in Bengal, it is clearly a BJP versus TMC battle, with the Left nowhere in picture. It has been unable to effectively oppose the policies of both Mamata and the Modi government.
It is a contest against two opponents, and not just one, for the Left.
The Left front’s vote share has nosedived from 43.3% in the 2009 general elections to 7.5% in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, a precipitous decline. This has mostly been grabbed by the BJP, which has witnessed an increase of 34.5% in vote share during the same period.
Vote Share of Parties in Bengal
Source: www.indiavotes.com, www.politicalbaaba.com
The 2021 Assembly elections in Bengal will define the future of the Left politics in the state.
In Tripura, the party lost conclusively to the BJP in 2017 after a 20-year-long rule. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won 43 seats, while the CPM could win only 16. BJP’s Sunil Deodhar, hailed as the man behind the victory, called it ‘Communism-mukt Bharat’.
In the 2019 general elections, the Left’s poor form continued, with the BJP winning both the seats with almost 50% vote share. The CPM was pushed to the 3rd position, with Congress emerging the runner-up.
In Kerala, currently the Left front is in power. The state has a history of throwing out incumbent governments since 1982. Going by this trend, the Left could lose the upcoming elections in 2021 at the hands of Congress, its alliance partner in Bengal.
If it loses Kerala, then it will not be in power in any state in the country. From there on, the BJP’s gameplan in the state would kickstart.
The BJP has an ideological tussle with the Left. BJP is not focusing on the elections in Kerala this time around as it is preoccupied with Bengal.
With the BJP in a strong position in Bengal in 2021, irrespective of the fact that whether it wins or loses, the 2026 state elections in Kerala could be a truly triangular contest.
The CPM is considered as the Hindu party in Kerala, while Congress gets the votes from the Christian and Muslim communities. The BJP has made some inroads into the Ezhava and Nair votes. This is one of the prime reasons why there is bad blood and violence between the cadre of the Left parties and the BJP.
The BJP could give a final push to oust the Left from Kerala. Going by past trends this possibility cannot entirely be ruled out. The political landscape of Kerala provides a fertile ground for BJP’s politics.
After the loss of power in Bengal, it took 10 years for the BJP to dislodge the Left as the main opposition party in the state. How long will it take in Kerala? Only time will tell.
The year 2021 could be marked as a defining chapter for Left politics in India. The Left front needs to break the trend and win in Kerala and/or must regain its lost position in Bengal.
Otherwise a serious existential crisis is looming large over the Left parties and their ideology in the Indian political landscape.
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