The massive win in Kerala can no way compensate for the disastrous loss in West Bengal. The Left lost Tripura earlier and even the coalition with Congress and ISF in Bengal drew a blank.
This problematic situation calls for analysis, which hopefully will be done by the leadership. It is undeniable that in this Bengal election, CPI(M) has lost many of its voters to TMC (me being one of them).
As a politically opinionated person, I want to share my views and express my reasons for the lack of trust in CPI(M). This opinion is a small effort to bring back the vibrant political diversity a parliament needs today.
As citizens and voters, we all believe that Bengal CPI(M) still has a huge political potential and we need their progressive politics now more than ever. It is high time to do introspection for CPI(M) on why it is failing its voters like us again and again.
Absence of Caste Identity Behind BJP’s Rise?
It is a well-known fact that in Bengal's party society, CPI(M) did face a lot of violence from the party workers of their arch-rival TMC. But it is undeniable that during the 34 years of ruling, a combination of centralized organization and decentralized governance turned the state's political field into a “party society”.
It was CPI(M) that introduced a politics that doesn’t spin on caste, religious or ethnic identity, but on people’s absorption within their or the other political party. I don’t need to remind again that political focus on caste, religion or ethnic identity was severely ignored in this unique party society.
There existed partisan forms of conflicts, and CPI(M) took the position of "moral guardians" of social life. The party also controlled the Panchayat system.
At the same time, I agree that TMC's approach is no different, but this lack of awareness of caste identity slowly paved the way for BJP's communal polarisation.
So, every time CPI(M) accuses Ms. Banerjee of favoring RSS, they should accept a fair share of the blame that they didn't educate their voters enough to reject the RSS when they had every chance of doing so in 34 long years.
Why the ‘Bhadrolok’ Needs to Go
CPI(M) 's Bengali party leaders and workers need a thorough caste awareness – they still pretend as if the issue of caste is non-existent in Bengal. Many people have been pointing out the Bhadralok nature of the party leadership.
The Bhadraloks controlled the leadership of the communist party from the beginning (Brahmins, Kayasthas, and Baidyas), and the Shudra and Namashudra (Dalit) castes were always sidelined and their representation as leaders in the party ranks is hardly there.
As Kancha Ilaiah pointed out, these bhadraloks always used Marxist jargon to keep the Dalits at the laboring level, without even allowing them to use reservations to become low-end middle-class intellectuals.
The state has a significant population of scheduled castes, backward castes, and scheduled tribes. In West Bengal, Dalits comprise almost 23.51% of the total population and are a significant vote bank ignored for a long time. The left never nurtured or produced a leader from these communities.
So, with due representation, these Dalits are now being organized by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as their foot soldiers.
From ‘Baam’ to ‘Ram’
It is undeniable West Bengal has had a long history of political violence and CPM cadres gained notoriety in this. They attacked opponents, wounded and killed them during their long rule.
With diminishing support from the left and a formidable opponent in power, many cadres now choose BJP to protect themselves. As per reports, CPI(M) supporters did a lot of campaigning alongside BJP candidates with saffron flags, and the same report suggests that party leaders were aware of the transfer of their vote to the BJP.
Ayesha Khatun, 50, who was the SUCI (Communist) candidate in 2014 and 2019 national polls from Birbhum district, reportedly said, “The left workers think they can enable the vote share of BJP and then get it back once the TMC is out of the way. But it does not work like that.”
Data indicates that there was a 23 percent increase in BJP's vote share during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and CPI(M) 's vote loss was 22% from 2014.
Also, the left is hopelessly silent on the issues of communal and religion-centric politics, unlike in the past. Despite these statistics, CPI(M) is coming up with bizarre BJP-TMC alliance conspiracy theories that make their political acumen questionable and create trust issues among people.
Miscalculating #NoVoteToBJP Movement
#NoVoteToBJP was a people's movement in Bengal that played a crucial role in stopping BJP and reducing it to 77 seats. These were the powerless people of Bengal, who were faceless, from different social locations and every walks of life, and comprised homemakers, doctors, engineers, employed and unemployed people, actors, politicians, and everyone with anti-BJP sentiments.
Even CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya supported the movement, attended rallies, and addressed crowds. The movement was heavily committed to stopping a ‘communal force’, in which they apparently succeeded after relentless campaigning.
They crowdfunded, spent their own money, made videos, slogans, and gained massive attention in every corner of Bengal. The people's movement played an enormous role in the 2011 Bengal elections and this time also, it was instrumental in stopping BJP.
But there was unexpected trolling and relentless verbal attacks from CPI(M) to a mass movement (many of them were their voters, like me) that genuinely resonated with a large number of Bengalis.
It was an anti-BJP campaign and not an anti-CPI(M) campaign, yet their peculiar aggression towards something that doesn't target them made people think that Bengal CPI(M) leadership is an ardent supporter of BJP in the 2021 election.
It is indeed a matter of shame that CPI(M) couldn't even understand the emotions of their voters and lost their trust, which is inexcusable.
Underestimating the Muslim Voter
The ‘Bhaijan Factor’ is another example that shows CPI(M) couldn't even understand the pulse of Muslim voters of Bengal and thought they were gullible enough to fall for anything with a "Muslim" tag. The results clearly show that the Muslim voters are way more intelligent than the party leadership itself.
No wonder CPI(M) 's result is such an abysmal failure, as they couldn't even understand something so basic, which even 15-year-olds could see. The clerics of Furfura Sharif, Abbas Siddiqi's relatives, were vehemently opposing him, repeatedly calling out his lies.
Needless to say, this created a controversy and many Bengali Muslim voters didn't take it well. Moreover, why Bengali Muslims would vote for a regressive misogynist knowing that this alliance has a plan to divide their votes that could finally help a communal power.
The whole anti-BJP mass (including CPIM’s voters) could see that the ‘Bhaijan’ factor was introduced with the sole purpose of dividing the rural Muslim votes and consolidating the Islamophobic Hindu votes (in favor of something that could eventually damage the TMC). People were getting the message that CPI(M)’s only purpose was to stop Mamata Banerjee and not to stop the communal power, which didn’t go down well with anti-BJP people living in Bengal.
Thankfully this plan backfired badly and ultimately helped TMC (with a consolidated Muslim vote) and BJP (with a consolidated anti-Abbas Islamophobic Hindu vote).
The whole scenario suggests how much CPI(M) is cut off from its voters. Sadly, they have no connection with ground reality, which is reflected in their utterly wrong calculations to capture people's pulses. So, much so that they didn't even strategize their election tactics.
Recent history suggests that elections are won with intelligent tactics to capture people's emotions. While CPI(M) 's issues were highly relevant, it could only appeal to some urban and semi-urban voters.
TMC could capture the heart of rural Bengal (especially women voters) with their various welfare schemes, which CPI(M) tagged as "freebies" politics. Also, facing the aggressive polarising politics of BJP, Mamata, PK, and their team very intelligently played the "Saving Bengali culture" and "struggle for existence" of Bengalis against the "outsiders" card, which touched the emotions of every voter.
CPI(M) failed to understand the pulse of Bengalis and failed miserably. Since the 2011 defeat, the CPI(M) has been wasting time expecting that they will automatically get back their voters once they see the real face of the Trinamool. Hence, they didn't introspect and corrected their actions and have been losing voters ever since.
Their questionable agenda indicated that more than stopping the communal power, their motto was Mamata's loss. Their obtuse and arrogant political statements were paid heavily by deserving candidates like Kanti Ganguly, Srijan Bhattacharyya, and Aishe Ghosh.
I am sure that people still have faith and look up to them for progressive politics and I hope that they rectify their actions to build trust in people slowly. They need strategies to restore people's sense of security and trust in CPI(M).
They need strategies to connect with the masses to win back the votes that went to TMC (to stop BJP), the anti-Mamata votes (that went to BJP), and the neutral votes.
(Dr. Tuli Bakshi is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. A feminist, and an LGBTQ rights activist, she regularly writes on queer and feminist issues. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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