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Fading footprints

Reasons for the 'historically dominant' Left being reduced to zero in Bengal are many

Fading footprints
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The West Bengal legislative assembly elections results of 2021 have much political significance. One of the most striking outcomes of this result is that this new assembly of Bengal will not have a single MLA from the Left and Congress party. The Left, which has ruled Bengal for 34 years, has lost all the seats so has the Congress party. The Left, Congress and the Indian Secular Front formed a pre-poll alliance; only one ISF candidate could win from the Bhangar constituency. This massive defeat has many reasons.

On May 2, Bengal witnessed a humongous victory of the only woman chief minister of India, Mamata Banerjee. Her party, Trinamool Congress, won 213 seats and the Bharatiya Janata Party emerged as the opposition party with 77 seats. While the outcome clearly shows an anti-BJP mandate, it also shows that the people have not accepted the Left-Congress alliance as an alternative to the BJP.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, BJP secured 18 of the 42 seats of Bengal, which was the highest in the party's electoral history in the state. Various experts observe that one of the key reasons behind this result was the shifting of the Left vote to the BJP. The Left voters who opted to vote against TMC chose BJP over the Left itself. According to media reports, the General Secretary of CPI(M) Sitaram Yechury admitted this shift publicly. A media report quoted him: "Many people who voted for the Left parties in Bengal even in the 2016 assembly polls supported the Bharatiya Janata Party in the recent Lok Sabha election."

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Left could get around 6 per cent vote and the same was the condition of the Congress. But in the 2021 assembly elections, the Left vote share came down to four per cent and Congress received around three per cent vote. This result also showed a significant increase of around five per cent vote share of TMC which received around 48 per cent vote in comparison to 43 per cent vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. On the other hand, the BJP which secured around 40 per cent votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections came down to 38 per cent.

Before the election, in private conversations, a section of the Left leaders and the Congress leaders described that the alliance with the ISF led by the cleric of Furfura Sharif, Abbas Siddiqui as a wrong decision. The backlash from a section of senior Congress leaders like Rajya Sabha MP Anand Sharma also came in front of the public.

At ground zero of Bengal, the alliance of the Left with ISF which is considered as a communal force came as a shocker to the hardcore Left voters. The picture is the same with Congress. This resulted in the shifting of the Left-Congress vote to the TMC. The people of Bengal considered the TMC as the key alternative to stop the Hindutva of the BJP. People of Malda and Murshidabad which have been a bastion of the Congress party also voted for the TMC.

In the 2016 assembly elections, the Congress got around 44 seats followed by the Left parties which had 32 seats; but this time they have come down to zero. It is well-known that the BJP fights elections in India based on polarization politics. And the polarization did take place in Bengal. The Hindutva and 'Jai Shri Raam' push of the BJP resulted in the consolidation of the Muslim votes in Bengal which is around 30 per cent of the total votes. However, the same polarization did not happen with 70 per cent of the Hindu votes and the BJP, of course, did not receive consolidated support of the Hindus.

Meanwhile, the Left could not fit in this political picture. We must not think that the Left did not try to woo the Muslim voters; the alliance with the ISF clearly shows that they tried the same but failed. This simply implies that the Left has lost the ground connect in Bengal. After its defeat in 2011, the Left could not keep its house in order and lost touch with the ground reality.

In this election the Left tried to change its strategy by bringing youth leaders, using contemporary music in the campaign but all these things created very little impact as they have certainly lost the trust of people. Unlike Kerala, where the Left will form the government for the consecutive second term, in Bengal, the Left lacks even a credible face. Earlier the face of the Left has been the veteran leader and former CM Jyoti Basu followed by former CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. But after these two leaders, not a single Left leader of Bengal has emerged as the credible face of the party which has affected their politics massively. On the other hand, with time the Left also lost its women voter base which has now completely shifted to the TMC and is considered as one of the key reasons behind the victory of the party.

In the post-independence electoral history of Bengal, this is the first assembly where not a single MLA from the Left or Congress will be present. Politics is unpredictable, therefore, it would be wrong to say that the Left will not get hold of its ground but it is clear from this result that as of now the Left which has ruled Bengal for 34 years has become insignificant.

The writer is a policy research fellow and a freelance journalist. Views expressed are personal

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