Hammer And Sickle: How Communists Lost Relevance In Bengal

The Left’s failure to adapt to new socio-political dynamics, an utter lack of any introspection, misplaced priorities and inability to either retain old base or capture a new one has contributed to the Left being relegated to the periphery of Bengal politics.

Hammer And Sickle: How Communists Lost Relevance In Bengal

 “Lorai, lorai, lorai, chai, lorai kore bachte chai”, (Fight, fight, fight, we want to live fighting) -- the war cry of the Communists in Bengal no longer resonates in the dusty weather-beaten roads of rural Bengal or among the sea of Left supporters paralyzing life in the streets of Kolkata.

 For a political party that ruled the roost in West Bengal for more than three and a half decades, the Left in the 21st century seems to have lost its appetite to “fight” and is suffering from a complete “disconnect with ground realities”. 

 In Bengal, where the Left Front -- a coalition of communist parties -- was in power for 34 years, and was considered invincible until 10 years back, the combine has virtually been obliterated.

 In 2009, the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI M) was voted out of power.

  In the general elections in 2014, the Communists recorded their worst performance since India’s first parliamentary polls.

 In due course, the CPI (M) conflated government with the party, says veteran journalist and analyst Rajat Roy.

 Over the years, the Left wrecked public health and public education, neglected bureaucratic proficiency, and paid little heed to the idea of developing infrastructure, technology, or change and modernity.

 “The basic reason for this is they have lost connect with the masses, which is reflected in their declining vote share in both the Lok Sabha as well as in the state assembly,” Roy told Outlook.

 “The Left Front’s unruly championing of labour rights ensured the flight of capital as strikes, gheraos and cussed trade unions became the order of the day.

 “Today, Left leaders in Bengal are still living in the past,” Roy tells Outlook, sitting in his Salt Lake residence in Northeast Kolkata.

 While still at the helm, the Left had failed to realise “how identities of a different type had emerged, while they keep looking at identities of only one class — the workers and the downtrodden, he says.

 “The single biggest failure of the Left has been its inability to change according to the times and remain relevant to a fast-changing electorate. The party still continues to talk about the perils of neo-capitalism and globalisation in all forums, failing to see how these issues find near-zero resonance with the electorate.

 “The Left leaders’ insistence on acknowledging only class as an identity and not other factors, such as caste, has cost it dear,” said Roy.

 The Left parties have been unable to speak in the language of the millennials which meant that they utterly failed to appeal to the state’s youth constituency, he says.

 “This inability to remain relevant has also resulted in a fast dwindling membership and difficulty in preventing its own people from joining rival parties.

 “Members of the communist parties in Bengal are joining the BJP in large numbers, and yet the parties refuse to acknowledge this fact. What can be more telling than this?”

 The same ageing leaders who have earned the people’s mistrust and annoyance continue to remain at the forefront. The party lacks fresh ideas and has not infused fresh young faces into its fold, says Roy, explaining why the Communist parties in Bengal are failing to attract young blood into its fold.

The Left’s failure to adapt to new socio-political dynamics, an utter lack of any introspection, misplaced priorities and inability to either retain old base or capture a new one has contributed to the Left being relegated to the periphery of Bengal politics.

  The CPI (M)’s politics, Roy says, much like the rest of the Left, has been marked by a complete disconnect from ground reality.

 “They used the bogey of globalization and always had a ‘one-way’ monologue in policy matters.”

 But it would be wrong to link the erosion to the downfall of communism.

 Labour reforms and redistribution of land in Operation Barga — the land reform policy it introduced on coming to power --- became critical issues as delicensing opened opportunities for the private sector and privatization gained traction in Bengal.

 In absolute control of Bengal since 1977, it was clear by the mid-1980s, that the CPI (M) had lost all interest in governance and policy-making, he says.

 The Communists once considered Bengal their fort but now they cannot even hold on to their pocket boroughs in the face of the onslaught of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and recently aggressive BJP, both of which have combined to turn the Left Front into what seems like a bit player in the state.

  The CPI (M) acknowledged this in its organisational report in the 2015 Party Congress, says Roy.

 According to the report, the high percentage of dropouts shows organisational weaknesses such as loose membership recruitment, inactivity of the party members and branches, low political-ideological level and weaknesses in educating party members.

 The report, Roy says also acknowledged that young people were not coming to join the party.

More than three years since the report was published, however, the party seems to have done precious little to address these widening gaps.

 More than eight years after first losing to Banerjee, the CPI (M) seems unable or may be unwilling to play the role of constructive opposition. It shows no real inclination of reclaiming its politics of opposition.


 Today, in Trinamool-ruled Bengal, Banerjee claims she is the ‘real Left’. From her humble lodgings to her stance against Left Front’s unrestrained land acquisition and her direct appeal to the impoverished, she has surely if not securely, stepped into the space vacated by the CPI (M).