The Left Front has been wiped out in the state of West Bengal and through a valiant rear-guard action from V S Achutanandan (who also astutely played a soft Hindutva card), have barely held on to their relevance in Kerala, although have lost the government. As of right now, it only rules in the tiny, but strategically important state of Tripura, and that too only because of the excellent reputation of an aging Manik Sarkar (what happens after him).
Despite the knives being out for Prakash Karat, the arrogant General Secretary, who is largely responsible for this route, calls for introspection and rejuvenation are being rallied. However, most of the commentariat has started writing obituaries for the Left Front.
Despite having no love lost for the Left Front and being right wing in thoughts, let me respectfully disagree with these experts, and also stick my neck out and make a prediction. I feel that over the next 3-5 years, there is going to be a dramatic turnaround effected by the Left Parties, and they will not only become strong, but also ally with the BJP and become part of the NDA!
Shocking as this might sound let me explain why I feel so.
There is a lot of churning taking place in the Indian political scenario. Three broad trends that seem to be converging all at the same time are as follows:
The Left has lost its ideological moorings, with the death and/or eclipse of many of the stalwarts of the Left movement. The new and younger left leadership has no strong ideological commitment, cannot make a coherent ideological left distinction on any issue, except the terribly dated rhetoric of “workers’ rights” and “anti-imperialism”. Today the Left has ideologically shrunk into the rubric of a soft “Pro-China” “communist” stance, and even China seems to be adopting pro-capitalist actions, which they find impossible to justify. The trappings of power are however very difficult to give up, which success in India’s chaotic democracy seems to bestow in wholesome measure. The Left has also realized that the space for a Third Front (Non-Congress, Non-BJP) has dramatically shrunk and is not going to reappear for quite some time now (something that a lot of regional parties are also sensing)
The stigma of untouchability that the BJP has carried for nearly 10 years, post the Gujarat riots, is getting diluted once again (like the earlier Babri demolition stigma got diluted in time). The alliance that RPI has struck with BJP/SS in Maharashtra, is just a straw in the wind. The BJP and its efficient Chief Ministers have largely changed the predominant narrative in Indian politics from haughty ideological postulates into a more “governance-centric” discourse, with an incorruptible image playing a very important role.
Congress is once again proving to be a very promiscuous and unreliable coalition partner, which is totally self-centred and selfish. The misuse of the CBI with BSP and SP (given the fact that UPA1 was saved by the SP), the short shrift given to Laloo Prasad Yadav after he lost relevance in Bihar and the desperate attempts at dalliance with Nitish Kumar (which is now being repeated with DMK / ADMK) is going to make all potential allies very jittery, given the fact that Congress’ image has also been badly tainted with corruption. The only “holy cow” for it seems to be to save the “royal family” (everyone else is expendable). Raja has found this out the hard way with the DMK’s ruling family, Kalmadi is in the process of finding out, and even Jagan is realizing that with YSR gone, Congress has no interest in him or his family. Congress’ ability to attract and retain allies is going to be severely tested going forward, and mark my words, even Mamata is going to keep her communication links with the BJP open (with whom she has always been more comfortable, but knew that she couldn’t win Bengal with them alone – which is now no more a constraint).
The Left leaders are largely honest and lead Spartan lives (a bit like the committed workers from the RSS), even though they are a bit dogmatic and frankly a bit lazy (most of them have lost the gumption for agitational politics). Even though it is tempting to suggest that the loss of both Kerala and Bengal is a mortal blow to the Left, it is not nearly a “death blow”. They still have a healthy vote base in both the states, and frankly in many other parts of the country (like AP, Maharashtra, Punjab,, etc.). They risk losing their “national party” status soon, but they will not disappear from India’s pantheon of active political parties. The Left parties are also cadre-based, again like the BJP and RSS, and there is a certain pressure that the cadre exerts, just in order to ensure its survival and existence. The Left is going to go through a traumatic and torturous process of revaluation and struggle for relevance in this new, “governance-centric” politics of today’s India.
The Left has traditionally preferred the Congress over BJP, given their ideological moorings and also the “communal” tag associated with the BJP. Once the Left resurfaces under a newer and younger leadership (no not Sitaram Yechury or the other rootless wonders that abound, but more mass-based leaders in the genre of Achutanandan), they will start looking for alliances in search of relevance. They will be tempted to court the Congress, which will be rebuffed as they are already in bed with Mamata right now, and she will not disappear in a hurry (at least two terms for her are assured) and they are too arrogant to forgive the pompous withdrawal of support from Karat. Until Mamata gives Congress the kick (which is also possible), they will not be available for the Left.
This is the time I feel when the Left will start revaluating the BJP and also that if shorn off the “communal” looking glasses, the BJP has always treated allies better (with the possible exception of DMK in 2004), and there are large areas of convergence around governance and clean government. The Left is also realizing that the once potent “BJP is communal” canard is not being bought by the voters anymore.
The first ones to break away will be the smaller constituents, the Forward Block and the RSP. Actually I have never understood why the FB was with the Left, given the fact that it was founded by Netaji, and till very recently, the Left despised him. The Congress has always been anti-Netaji, and the natural home for Netaji supporters is with the right wing and the BJP. Both FB and RSP are also tired of the arrogance of the CPM, and have been treated shabbily for long. The CPI will be next, but they will take their own sweet time, and will pretend to come reluctantly, kicking and screaming. The core leadership of the CPM will not come, but individual leaders of the CPM are quite capable of moving to the already moved “Left parties” and will join the NDA. Achutanandan is a classic example of a person who might, and BJP should actively court him.
I see this happening over the next 3-5 years!
I will put a caveat here, that if this does not happen, then the “Left Front” as we know it will soon be in the dustbin of history, along with other “worthies” like Laloo Prasad Yadav, Chandrababu Naidu, Mulayam Singh and DMK).