By Sirshendu Panth, Kolkata, May 16 IANS | 7 months ago

In what was hailed as its impregnable red fort even a few years back, the Left now faces serious questions of existence in West Bengal after being nearly wiped out in the Lok Sabha elections, its worst performance in the eastern state post Independence.

The Left Front, which ruled the state for 34 years at a stretch till 2011, bagged only the Raiganj and Murshidabad seats to finish with a miserable tally of two out of the state's 42. Its candidates even had to be content with the third spot in at least half a dozen seats.

For the alliance, which was formed in 1977, the worst performance so far was in the previous Lok Sabha elections, when it got 15 seats.

The decline, which began in the 2009 polls, both in terms of seats and the vote percentage, continues unabated. The combine secured 43.30 percent of the votes five years back, further sliding to around 41 percent in the 2011 assembly polls, when the coalition lost power to the Trinamool Congress in the state. The Left Front had then led in seven parliamentary constituencies.

Its vote share shrunk further in last year's panchayat election to below 39 percent.

While Left leaders had been claiming that it would make a turnaround in the current election, the outcome has come as a jolt to its activists and supporters. The vote percentage has subsided to around 29.3 percent, as a considerable number of its voters seemed to have switched allegiance to a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party, that swept to power riding on a Narendra Modi wave.

The Left Front failed to even hold onto the seats where it did well even in the 2013 rural polls, like Jalpaiguri, where the Trinamool won by over 70,000 votes.

The defeat of veteran Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Basudeb Acharia, who had won nine elections from Bankura since 1980, to a political greenhorn - one time sex symbol and actress Moon Moon Sen, amply illustrates the public's lack of faith in the Marxists.

Another case in point is Asansol, an industrial belt of Burdwan district, where the CPI-M had maintained its winning run for the last quarter of a century. Its sitting MP Bansa Gopal Chowdhury was now relegated to the third place, with BJP candidate Babul Supriyo winning the race, and the Trinamool candidate Dola Sen taking the runners up spot.

In fact, Left's only successes came at the cost of the Congress, whose sitting MPs at Raiganj and Murshidabad fell by the wayside as the Left reaped the fruits of a four-way division of votes between a energised BJP and former allies Congress and Trinamool.

Political analyst Udayan Bandopadhyay blamed the Left's misery to its inability to place national issues before the people. "They only concentrated on local issues like the chit fund scam and teacher recruitment scam. This is unlike the Left. Their debacle was a foregone conclusion," he said.

Political scientist Anil Kumar Jana felt the war of words between BJP prime ministerial candidate Modi and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on the issue of infiltration from Bangladesh during the later stages of the campaign squeezed the Left out of the reckoning.

"By attacking each other, the Trinamool and BJP were able to polarise voters leading to minorities voters swaying towards Trinamool and Hindu votes going to BJP," Jana, a professor at Vidyasagar University, told IANS.

"Call it their weakness in campaigning, the Left Front seemed more often like mute spectators and preferred to raise the Saradha scam issue which failed to cut ice among the voters," he said.

But both Jana and Bandopadhyay agreed that the Left could not be written off.

"Signs are ominous for Left. Even if they take drastic measures and change leadership, their revival will take time, although, in Bengal you can never write off the Left," he added.

Bandopadhay felt the Left needed to come up with a new and national agenda to bounce back.

On whether the BJP, which finished with over 17 percent of the votes, could sideline the Left and emerge as the main challenger to the Trinamool, he said: "If the BJP becomes strong, it would be a challenge not for the Trinamool, but for the Left. Because that is the game Mamata Banerjee is playing - she is dividing the opposition. Just what the Left front did when it was in power."

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at s.panth@ians.in)

(Posted on 16-05-2014)

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