Crisis of credibility
The death knell is sounding for the Left with the BJP quickly replacing it as the prime opposition in West Bengal
If the bypoll results from Rajasthan have been a warning for the BJP, the message of it replacing the CPI(M) as the main opposition party in West Bengal sounded the death knell for the Marxists. This certainly is ominous, particularly for Prakash Karat, and also for the communist forces in the country.
These results, nevertheless, also send an inclusive message: people are yet to be brought under a single umbrella of majoritarian thought. This does not owe itself to any leader or ideologue, instead, this is an inbuilt liberal and centrist commitment of the people. The more the majoritarian forces turn intolerant and resort to violence to throttle the voices of protest, the people are becoming more detached and developing an acute dislike for totalitarianism. The results make it explicit that people have not subscribed to this ideology and its call for ultra-nationalism.
While the BJP's defeat in Rajasthan is being projected as a vote against incumbency, interestingly, it emerging as runners-up in Bengal is being portrayed as increased currency for the Hindutva ideology. In the by-elections to Uluberia Lok Sabha and Noapara Assembly seats, the BJP finished second, increasing its vote share only for the reason that the CPI(M) failed to present a united face. The factional feud, the division between the Yechury faction and Karat factions, has adversely affected the rank and file and their resolve to fight back.
Obviously, the CPI(M)-led Left front was pushed to the third position while Congress candidates lost their security deposits in both the seats, including Noapara, which it had won in 2016. After the worst ideological spat between Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Karat on the issue of electoral relation with the Congress, this defeat has not come as a shock. It was to happen. The disillusionment amongst the rank and file has been quite intense. What is interesting is that they openly blame Karat for the present condition of the party.
If the party sources are to be believed, a major section of the Marxist supporters voted for the TMC candidates to ensure the defeat of the BJP. Defeating the BJP was the primary political objective of the party's supporters and cadres. No doubt, Karat personally does not hold the BJP as a totalitarian outfit; for the Marxist rank and file, politically, it is more dangerous than the Congress. The party has fought the Congress in the past. Nevertheless, it would be a tough proposition to fight the Hindutva apparatus and ideology once it comes to have a hold in the state. BJP continues to be a political party with a unidirectional orientation.
No doubt, the advent of the TMC has been the primary reason for the decimation of the CPI(M), but it cannot be denied that the differences between the two leaders contributed a large part to the decline of the party in Bengal. The party lost in 2011 due to the clash of personalities. Karat could not provide a direction to the state leadership to cope with the Nandigram and Singur challenges. It would not be out of place to mention that Karat failed to realise the social and economic situation in both the places. The two top leaders of the party have been at loggerheads for long on this issue. Karat interpreting Marxism in his own way has harmed the party the most.
The political differences of the leaders simply eroded the base of the party. The party could not do better in the 2016 Assembly elections as those opposed to this line portrayed the electoral understanding with the Congress as revisionism. In that election, the Congress gained more seats than the CPI-M. It was after this development that the Karat line acquired an edge over the Yechury line. Even in 2016, Karat had vetoed the 'alliance' idea.
From the early eighties, the then younger leaders of the party were pursuing an inconsistent political line and approach towards the unity of democratic and Left forces. They had put forward a condition that any party criticising the Left Front government could not be a party to such a front. Supporting the Left Front was a precondition for joining the forum. One thing is absolutely clear that the leaders pursued a dogmatic approach towards any kind of unity move. The CPI(M) leaders ought to look at the unity move in the national perspective. Karat's current line of thought ought to be seen in his backdrop.
It is an open secret that the BJP has improved its strength since the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The party has been steadily expanding in states where it barely had any electoral presence in the past. The reason is that it is being viewed as a viable political alternative; certainly not as a party only representing the Hindutva philosophy. The urban middle-class for its selfish interests has been extending support to it. The Rajasthan verdict clearly shows that the urban middle-class would prefer to rally behind anyone who guarantees economic benefits to them. For them, parroting the slogans of nationalism, patriotism and Hinduism is nothing but a ploy to get maximum out of the current government. They benefitted the most from the Manmohan government and now they are out to exploit the lotus government.
The Marxists must realise that once they lose their base in West Bengal they would become irrelevant in the scheme of national politics. They must understand the geopolitical importance of Bengal. It is an irony that at a time when the Marxists are putting their energy and skill in broadening alliances with anti-BJP forces, including Mamata Banerjee, they are wedged in a messy wrangle. After indulging in polemics for a year on the issue of identifying the class character of the Indian state and accusing others of being "revisionist" and "adventurist", they are now treading on the path of disappearance. It is really sad that their failures have earned a bad name and a maimed image of Marxism. It is unfortunate that the CPI(M) is bleeding in its support. Veteran comrades concede that the party is reeling from a crisis of credibility and a loss of public faith. What is worse is that it is even facing the threat of a split over Karat's insistence.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)