Is the Left Getting Increasingly Ignored in India?

2024 Lok Sabha Election

The Indian Left holds the record of running an Indian state for long 34 years without a break. The Left Front formed the government in West Bengal, an eastern state of the Indian Union, in 1977 and ruled the state for 34 years at a stretch, winning all the Assembly elections in the process, before losing out to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the Assembly election held in 2011.

If the year 2011 is considered a benchmark for the anti-Left in India in general and those in West Bengal in particular then what do we see happening to the Left in West Bengal and in the country in the last 12 years. Going by statistics, the TMC, led by the once firebrand Mamata Banerjee, the current Chief Minister of West Bengal and supremo of her party, has been going from strength to strength, more so in terms of electoral fortune as the party has managed to retain power for three consecutive terms, beginning 2011. Facts and figures, however may not be telling the whole truth, as there can be more than what meets the prying eyes! Mamata Banerjee broke away from the Congress Party way back in 1998. TMC came to power within 13 years of its formation. The only other party to grab power in such a short period following its formation, in India, is perhaps the K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR)-led TRS, which is running the government in the Telangana State now.

TMC today however, seems to be a political outfit in a shambles. The latest setback it has suffered is its loss of national party status, as per declaration by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on April 10, 2023. Since long the party, however had been plagued by corruption controversies and the corrupt practices had multiplied to such an extent that they had become subject of public ire, in which sandals had been hurled at the now jailed ex-Education minister and TMC’s one-time country chief Partha Chatterjee, several party leaders had been booed by the public and openly called ‘thieves’ by the people and some had also been chased away by the people at some places. To complicate matters, corruption skeletons are tumbling out of TMC’s cupboards at regular intervals, with another top TMC leader and regional satrap, Anubrata Mondal, languishing in the country’s famed Tihar jail. With the multi-crore rupees scam in the government’s recruitment process bursting on her face, Mamata Banerjee — once one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential figures of the world — who had shown the communists the door in West Bengal, is now cornered like never before, and that too within couple of years of her party’s gaining absolute majority in the state Assembly. In fact a narrative of corruption has entered the public life, courtesy the manoeuvrings of the TMC. [See Tweet]

The Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliament) election is just round the corner (in 2024) and as the voters get set to elect the party that will rule India, one cannot help think about the status of the Indian Left, especially their West Bengal arm and their overall prospect in the impending election.

If one thinks in terms of a 10-year period following the debacle of the Left in West Bengal in 2011 and look at raw figures that uphold the achievements of the Left in this decade-long period, one, especially if one is a Left sympathiser, can only feel alarmed. In 2011 Left Front had 15 members in the Lok Sabha out of 42 possible seats and 12 in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament). These 42 Lok Sabha seats comprise all the seats in the West Bengal state Assembly. However, within 10 years, in 2021, the last time Assembly election was held in the state the number of members of the Left Front in the Assembly was reduced to zero, with its vote share being less than five percent.

Never had the West Bengal State Assembly been devoid of a Left representative in living memory. Never before had the Left, in terms of electoral gain, been so lowly placed since it came to power in 1977. Another noteworthy thing that had taken place in this decade-long period, had been the rise of the BJP, the right-wing political outfit that had been ruling India since 2014. While the BJP had only one representative in the Lok Sabha from West Bengal in the year 2011, it had 18 representatives in the Lok Sabha formed in 2019 and following the 2021 State Assembly election had emerged as the principal Opposition party in West Bengal.

However, things are changing for the better for the Left in West Bengal [See tweet]. The vote share of the Left, since 2021, has been gradually increasing. The gain may be slow, but the gain is steady. People have again started to rally around and with the Left in West Bengal, if not the whole nation. Response of the media, especially the mainstream corporate media, is however, lukewarm. The masses, at least sections of it, disgusted with the corrupt practices of the state government, may have shown great enthusiasm for the Left cause, which they have once again realised is actually their cause, the media are largely ignoring the Left, not just in West Bengal, but in most part of the country. The media coverage of the recently held and largely successful farmer-worker-‘sangharsh’-rally, at the Indian National Capital on April 5 is a glaring example of ‘media apathy’. Most of the mainstream news outlets, even those in West Bengal, ignored the protest rally of the farmers-workers of the country. [See tweet 1, tweet 2, tweet 3.] (the third tweet shows a Left leader’s acceptance of and attitude towards ‘media apathy’).

The only thing that the Indian Left can boast of in terms of electoral gain in the country in the recent past is its back-to-back victory in the Kerala State Assembly. The only Left government running an Indian state, however is subject to Centre’s apathy, as their leaders complain. That however, is a separate issue.

Now, what could be the reason behind the media’s apathy? Is it because the kind of politics the Left indulges in, do not find favour with the advertisers as such activities seldom does send the TRPs soaring? Most of us are apathetic to the struggle of the downtrodden, as it has zero entertainment quotient, one must admit. Moreover, there is a popular belief that Left leaders, especially those who live a ‘simple’ life are averse to personal riches. [See tweet of Shabana Azmi, the noted Indian actress on the chief of IPTA, a Left cultural wing.] This however, may not be absolutely true. Left is against money hoarding, but not against industry. In fact they had been promoting industry during their stint in power in West Bengal and even today they were promoting entrepreneurship in Kerala. [See tweet of P Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala.]

Going by regular roadshows, meetings, rallies etc. held in this part of the country and people’s response to those one may conclude that the tide once again is turning in favour of the Left, especially in West Bengal, where the general mood of the people seems to be against the divisive politics of the BJP, in spite of their recent electoral gains.

Going by the way the Left leaders are speaking against the policies of PM Narendra Modi, especially the economic ones and those that tend to drive a wedge through the hearts of the people on religious line, and the favour those comments are finding with the people at large, one may safely say that all is not lost for the Left in India and this regardless of the recent defeat it suffered in the Tripura Assembly poll. [See tweets of the CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechuri and P Vijayan].

In all likelihood the Left is all set to recover, if not its entire lost ground, then a major portion of it, of course, in the 2024 Lok Sabha poll.

Pranab Ghosh is an award-winning Indian journalist and writer, who has worked for major news outlets of the country, including HT Media Ltd., Eenadu Digital, TNIE, Business India group etc.. His books of poems have been published by English and Canadian publishers. Read other articles by Pranab.