[DEBATE] : India: Introspection Needed as Left Suffers Worst Setback in 20 Years
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Sun May 17 04:15:27 BST 2009
Introspection needed as Left suffers worst setback in 20 years
Handling of the Singur and Nandigram issues in West Bengal and
internal squabbles in Kerala hurt the party
New Delhi: Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of
India (Marxist), or CPM, had repeatedly said in the run-up to the 2009
polls that the outcome of these elections would be different from that
of the one in 2004, indicating that the Left won’t back the Congress
after the polls.
The Left parties may stick to their stand, but Saturday’s results show
that the Congress and allies don’t need their backing to form the next
While the Congress-led coalition had won or was leading in 258 seats
by 8pm on Saturday, the Left parties, led by the CPM—which won a
record 61 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha in 2004—suffered the worst
electoral setback in over two decades.
As of 8pm, the Left had won or was leading in only 24 seats, with the
CPM being reduced to a fringe player in both its bastions—Kerala and
In the elections held five years ago, the CPM alone had won 44 Lok
Sabha seats and in Kerala, the CPM-led Left Democratic Front had won
18 of the state’s 20 Lok Sabha seats. The Left parties had won 35 of
42 seats from West Bengal.
Back in 2004, some smart political strategizing by then CPM general
secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet is widely believed to have brought
the party and other Left allies to the national spotlight when it
supported the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, from
outside. The Left later withdrew support to the government in July
over the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Also See Redrawn Lines (Graphic)
In West Bengal, where the CPM has ruled for at least three decades,
its controversial handling of the Nandigram and Singur issues as well
as a weak organizational base worked to the advantage of the rival
Congress-Trinamool Congress combine, say analysts. In Kerala, the
party, plagued by internal squabbles, failed to retain its hold over
its traditional bastion.
In 2007, violent local protests over acquiring land in Nandigram to
build a chemical industries complex had led to at least 14 deaths. The
government later shelved the plan. Tata Motors Ltd had to shift its
proposed factory for the world’s cheapest car Nano to Gujarat from
Singur in October following a campaign by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool
Congress against land acquisition for the factory.
“The debacle in West Bengal is a reaction to the CPM’s land use policy
in the state. Nandigram and Singur have been catalysts for this
verdict and its traditional supporters have also voted against it. As
far as Kerala is concerned, the party’s internal problems led to its
defeat...,” said V. Krishna Ananth, Chennai-based political analyst
In West Bengal, the Left Front was taken by surprise. In Kolkata, its
chairman Biman Bose said, “We will discuss and investigate why this
happened and take steps for correction. I think, there was a
pro-Congress wave like in 1971. This time it worked in favour of the
party. Also, the Congress might have been seen as the only party that
could provide a stable government at the Centre.”
CPM politburo member and Kerala’s home minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan
said the setback in Kerala was “beyond what we had expected.” “We had
expected to win some eight seats. But the wave at the national level
was in favour of the Congress-led government.”
Meanwhile, a politburo statement read out by Karat said: “The CPM and
the Left parties have suffered a major setback in these elections.
This necessitates a serious examination of the reasons for the party’s
poor performance. The CPM will continue its cooperation with the
non-Congress, non-BJP secular parties with whom we have been working.”
Karat is likely to face a lot of flak for the party’s debacle in the
polls. “Karat knew the intensity of the crisis in the party but didn’t
do much about it. He refused to address the party’s ideological issue
in these states and failed to clearly lay down what the development
model would be. Now, with the Congress getting a clear verdict, they
won’t need the Left to form the government... Karat pushed the CPM
into the parliamentary process and got busy with alliance making
instead of solving its internal issues,” Ananth said.
The CPM, on its part, denied that this verdict is a setback to Karat’s
leadership. “It is absolutely incorrect. There was a wave in favour of
the Congress at the national level. There are other reasons at the
state levels. We will examine the reasons for an introspection,” said
S. Ramachandran Pillai, a senior politburo member of the party.
The question that crops up now is where the CPM stands in terms of its
political future. Some analysts say the CPM now has little option but
to seriously review its party line. “The Left got discredited due to
their extraordinary efforts to form the Third Front,” said Sudha Pai,
professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The CPM politburo is scheduled to meet on 18 May and the central
committee a day later. An all-Left meet is expected to take place on
Sunday morning. A meeting of the Third Front had also been called on
18 May but following poll reversal, its fate remains undecided.
Meanwhile, other Left parties such as the Communist Party of India, or
CPI, too, conceded poll defeat on Saturday, claiming they would all
need to rethink their political strategy. “All Left parties will sit
together and discuss this verdict. we will review our tactics...
Congress is now in a position to form the government so let them. We
have sat in the opposition all our life and will continue to do so,”
said A.B. Bardhan, general secretary, CPI.
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint
Liz Mathew, Ullekh N.P., Aveek Datta and Romita Datta contributed to this story.
UPA won most seats from states of Third Front partners
16 May 2009, 2123 hrs IST, IANS
NEW DELHI: The bulk of seats in the Congress-led United Progressive
Alliance's stunning victory came mostly from the states where the
Third Front partners had expected to do well and play kingmakers.
The Congress gained mostly in the Left-ruled West Bengal and Kerala,
Tamil Nadu where AIADMK-led grouping was hoping to do good, Andhra
Pradesh where grand alliance of Telugu Desam Party's Chandrababu Naidu
was expecting to cash in on an anti-incumbency factor and Uttar
Pradesh where Bahujan Samaj Party's Mayawati was hoping to carry on
her landslide victory in last assembly elections.
The performance in Rajasthan, where the Congress bagged 19 out of the
25 seats, is in continuation of its victory in the November-December
In West Bengal, the Congress in a strategic tie-up with Trinamool
Congress' Mamata Banerjee humbled the Left front picking 25 out of
total 42 seats. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has been
ruling the state for the last three decades.
In Kerala, the home state of CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat,
the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) took 16 out of 20
seats. Many attribute this victory to the rumblings among factions led
by senior communist leaders, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and
Pinayari Vijayan supported by Karat.
The incredible victory in Uttar Pradesh, where it was virtually
non-existent with only nine MPs out of the total 80, the Congress won
21 seats and shocked the powerful regional satraps Mayawati and
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.
"It was clearly the anti-incumbency against the Mayawati government
and disillusionment with the Samajwadi Party of whose rule the state
has no fond memories," says political analyst and Uttar Pradesh expert
"Another reason is the focussed party building work that Rahul Gandhi
did in the state; after long, the party was trying real hard and it
paid off," she told reporters.
In Tamil Nadu, all the parties sympathetic to the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had to bite the dust as the UPA managed 28 out of
40 seats. Similarly, in Andhra Pradesh it walked with 32 out of 42
The party's performance in rural Andhra Pradesh areas is being
attributed to its implementation of the National Rural Employment
Guarantee Act (NREGA) where the Youth Congress members continuously
monitored the scheme. The Congress also retained its rule in Andhra
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