A resurgent Left

Print edition : June 04, 2004

The Left's re-emergence as a significant force at the Centre, with the highest number of seats in the Lok Sabha since Independence, owes a lot to its consistent campaign against communalism and neo-liberal economic policies.

in New Delhi

IN the run-up to the 14th Lok Sabha elections, the installation of a secular and pro-poor government was one of the prime objectives of the Left. The first part of the objective has been achieved with the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the other has to be realised through a set of programmes and policies the new government will implement in the course of the next five years. Meanwhile, the Left parties, comprising the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), have decided not to join the government but to extend support to it from outside. Senior leaders of the CPI(M) said that any comparison with 1996, when the CPI(M) rejected the offer of the Prime Minister's post for Jyoti Basu, was untenable. At that time the Left, with a smaller mandate, was requested to lead the United Front government; now, it was asked to participate in a Congress-led government.

CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet and his CPI counterpart A.B. Bardhan with other leaders announcing the Left parties' decision not to join the Government.-

Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) Sitaram Yechury said: "With the understanding that there is a need for an alternative secular government, we are supporting the government from outside in order to thwart all attempts by the BJP to come back to power. It should also be realised that all the major seats contested by us were against the Congress. In West Bengal alone we were pitted against the Congress in 41 seats." Justifying the Left's decision to support the new government from outside, Polit Bureau member M.K. Pandhe said: "There is no guarantee that the Congress will implement all that it says in its own manifesto. We will have to wait and watch. We will support the good policies and put pressure if they don't."

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, a close ally of the Left, called on the Left parties to join the government in order to reflect the political reality of the day. He said: "There won't be a better opportunity than this for the Left parties." Responding to a question on the contradictory positions of the Left parties vis-a-vis the Congress in three States, V.P. Singh said that if the Left was paying a political price for supporting the Congress government from outside, it could also earn some benefits by participating in the government. In a joint appeal, over 200 intellectuals called on the Left parties to join the new government. The appeal said that the current "historical juncture" demanded a "creative and constructive initiative from the Left".

A significant aspect of verdict 2004 has been the re-emergence of the Left as a pivotal force with the potential to keep together all the diverse non-BJP and non-Congress parties. The situation was similar to the one in the run-up to the installation of the United Front government in 1996 when the Left, especially CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, played a critical role in government formation. The Left's consistent opposition to communalism and the economic reforms seems to have increased its prestige among the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.). The affinity to the Left may also have to do with the compulsions of the current political situation, but it is evident that the Left played a role in convincing the non-BJP parties about the importance of installing a secular government at the Centre.

In this election, the Left has achieved its biggest presence in the Lok Sabha since Independence. On the face of it, a tally of 61 in the 543-member House may appear to be insignificant, but the implications of the Left's impressive performance in the current political situation have already alarmed even political pundits and media managers. When the stock markets crashed following media reports that the Left demanded the disbanding of the Disinvestment Ministry, editorials cautioned the yet-to-be formed government about the "pitfalls" in adopting Left-leaning policies. About this, CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said: "The Indian voter has proved his maturity. Both the politics of communalism and the foreign origin issue of the Congress president were rejected. The mandate for the Left is a positive one on two counts - it has consistently fought against communalism and protected the rights of minorities, and always struggled for the mass of the working class people against the economic policies."

The Left parties have decided to take decisions jointly regarding the form of support to be extended to the new government. There will also be a joint approach on the finer aspects of the changes to the economic policy. In fact, there is not much divergence of opinion among the Left parties over issues of disinvestment of profit-making public sector units, revival of the agriculture sector, and employment generation. The revival of the public distribution system (PDS) is also high on the agenda. The Left is expected to be unrelenting on labour reforms, especially of the kind recommended by the Second National Labour Commission. On the international front, opposition to imperialism, support to an independent and non-aligned foreign policy, promotion of multipolarity in international relations, dialogue with Pakistan without United States intervention, opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and support for the Palestinian cause remain important items on the Left agenda. The common minimum programme being drafted by the Congress is expected to address all these issues.

In 2003, after the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh suffered a rout in the Assembly elections, senior BJP leader and Member of Parliament from Kangra, Shanta Kumar, suggested that it needed to be studied why the Left remained largely insulated from the anti-incumbency factor. He was probably referring to the almost three-decade-old rule of the CPI(M)-led Left Front in West Bengal. In fact, this time round too the performance of the Left Front in West Bengal defied all theories of anti-incumbency. It won 35 of the 42 seats in the State in contrast to 29 in 1999. In Kerala, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) increased its tally from nine to 18 and in Tripura, the two sitting CPI(M) MPs retained their seats. The Left won the two seats it contested in Andhra Pradesh and increased its tally from one to four in Tamil Nadu. In Jharkhand, CPI candidate Bhubaneswar Prasad Mehta defeated External Affairs minister Yashwant Sinha in the Hazaribagh constituency by over one lakh votes.

On the other hand, the CPI(M) lost the Bhagalpur seat when sitting MP Subodh Roy was defeated by BJP State president Sushil Kumar Modi. The situation in the Hindi heartland too has remained much the same. Left candidates in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttaranchal failed to make their presence felt for a range of reasons including lack of alliances and electoral understanding among the non-NDA parties.

Over all, the Left gained almost 19 seats over its tally of 42 in the last Lok Sabha. The last time the Left parties got more than 50 seats was in 1971, when they won 51 seats.

Apparently, the Left's performance owes a lot to the aggressive nationwide campaign it launched against communalism and the economic policies of the NDA government. Although under-reported in the mainstream media, the campaign seems to have left an indelible impact on voters. Noteworthy campaigns based on issues of economic distress in the industrial and agricultural sectors appear to have captured the imagination of large sections of the affected people. The Congress apparently capitalised on such campaigns and reaped rich dividends in areas where a strong anti-incumbency factor was at work. Andhra Pradesh is a case in point.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor