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Left Politics: DECLINING, NEEDS RE-THINKING, By Sagarneel Sinha, 22 November 2018 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 22 November 2018

Left Politics


By Sagarneel Sinha


The Left parties, which once used to have a say in national politics, have presently diminished to near political irrelevance. More so after losing citadel West Bengal in 2011,  then performing poorly in 2016 Assembly elections, with no signs of recovery yet and the  significant blow in 2014 General elections.


The Left, which includes the CPM, the largest leftist party, CPI, All India Forward Block and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), in the last Lok Sabha polls managed to galvanise only 13 seats with CPM getting only nine (plus 2 independents), CPI and RSP satisfying each with one seat -- a reduction of 48 seats in comparison to whopping 61 seats of 2004 General elections -- its highest tally. Adding to its fear, the Left lost another citadel, Tripura to the BJP this year, and now remains only with Kerala, where traditionally power ping pongs between the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF).


Clearly, the Left has always been limited to Tripura, West Bengal and Kerala -- although it does have a dwarf presence in States like Assam, Manipur, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, Telangana, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. With 2019 elections only a few months away, it seems that the prospects are not so bright for the Left, apart from Kerala. The big question then is what should it do in order to reclaim lost ground?


First of all, the major problem of Left parties is the incorrect approach of understanding Indian politics due to which they fail to connect with the fast changing electorate. They have no idea about the ground situation and voters’ aspirations. The Left parties still practice the ideals of 18th century great philosopher Karl Marx, word by word, although he never claimed his thoughts as the Gospel Truth. They still believe that religion is opium for the masses as said by Marx.


However, they fail to realise that Marx actually willy-nilly had praised religion, which provides peace to the masses including the ill-fated labourers, who way back in Marx’s era had to face atrocities at the hands of the cruel landlords, who treated them savagely. So, for a successful revolution to overthrow the oppressive ruling class religion was acting as a wall and Marx called for its demolition.


Today, in the 21st century and in a country like India, where religion has always played a major role in shaping the society since ages, Left’s atheist ideas regarding religion as untouchable have contributed to its downfall and continue to do so. The ongoing unrest regarding Sabarimala in Left-ruled Kerala wouldn't have been much stormy had the State government understood religion properly.


West Bengal, where the Left has been a major force, had a long history of social reforms in British India led or inspired by some of the great thinkers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda etc. and Nayanara Guru in Kerala. The Left could have followed their footsteps along with Marx ideals -- only those which resonate with the modern thinking, but they picked Lenin -- who proposed the idea of rule of majoritarian proletariat (a version similar to totalitarianism) and the cruel dictator Stalin -- both of whose ideas fail to echo with the Indian thinking. This is one of the reasons that despite being part of the Indian freedom struggle, the Left still has to overcome the tag of “foreigner” or “anti-Indian” among the masses.


Another reason for the downfall could be the party’s continuous policy of focussing on anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. Imperialism has lost its relevance in India after the fall of the British empire and there is no need to abolish capitalism. Rather, it requires to be controlled with social welfare policies like the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland, which are always rated high in terms of economic and social index. However, the Left’s refusal to adopt new economic and social ideas has only alienated the party from the growing population of youth and the middle class. Presently, 65% of India's population is less than 35 years of age and the middle class constitute about 40-50% of the population.


The most significant cause perhaps for the Left’s decline is the failure to adopt an independent political line, often ending up allying with the Congress at the national level and with the major regional parties at the States. This has only hurt its prospects. Presently, the Left parties are still confused in deciding who is the worst enemy – the BJP or the Congress? Apparently, a section of the Left thinks that BJP is the bigger enemy because it uses the majority Hindu vote bank.


Here, too the religion factor plays a role as Left still sees it through negative lens. Leftists should look at the rise of the BJP-- from a party of two seats in 1984 to 282 in 2014 in the Lok Sabha, which became a reality because the saffron party has been successful in adopting a different independent political line from the Congress, communists and the socialists.


However, a section of leaders, both from CPM and CPI, have been very vocal for alliance with the Congress without learning any lessons from the alliance debacle of 2016 West Bengal Assembly elections, where Left performed poorly but the Congress performed fairly with its help. Left parties should focus instead on Left unity on national level, which itself is a divided house. The RSP and Forward Bloc are part of the Congress-led UDF in Kerala and in the Telangana elections the CPI is contesting in alliance with the Congress, while the CPM is contesting separately under the banner of Bahujan Left Front. In West Bengal, there are reports of developing coldness in relations between CPM -- the senior partner of the Left Front and two junior partners, Forward Bloc and RSP, who are hesitating to ally with the Congress for the upcoming General elections.


Lastly, the Left’s failure to realise the caste factor has only worked against its favour as the working class unfortunately too sees itself through the lens of caste identity. Additionally, the Left has no national leaders to speak of with a thorough understanding of electoral politics. The parties’ top decision bodies hardly accept any new faces, with special a lack of youth and women representation.


In conclusion, it can be said that for the Left to gain its lost ground, it has to adopt new ideas and of course needs to add new faces -- a chunk of youth leaders to the highest decision bodies, which are always reserved for the old guards, who unfortunately have almost zero appeal among the electorate. Indeed, it’s time to think out of the box. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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