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Why CPI(M) lost Bengal

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on May 28, 2011

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In a word, the Marxists lost West Bengal – after 34 years in power– because of the growing popular disenchantment with its rule. The predominant actors in this unfolding drama were, of course, the people of the State. In fact, even in defeat, Mr Prakash Karat, the general secretary of the party was telling the media on Monday “it (the party) still enjoyed the support of the masses and could not be written off”.

But why this growing disenchantment with Left Front rule in West Bengal? And why should the disenchantment throw up a landslide victory for the “other side” which comprises very basically just one individual, namely, Ms Mamata Banerjee, instead of a political party with deep roots in the countryside and urban areas?

Clearly, the Trinamool-Congress combine's cataclysmic victory suggests that the intensity of the pent-up anger on the part of the people against the Left Front, and the CPI(M) in particular, had crossed all normal bounds, giving the Assembly elections the character of a dam-burst. And yet the 2006 Assembly polls turned out superlative results for the Marxists, which in fact gave birth to the coinage “we are 235, they 35” (the total number of seats in the State Assembly being 294).



Lesson well learnt



In the space of just five years, the Front, which has been in power since 1977, was mauled beyond recognition. This is a bit difficult to accept if one sees overall poll results as a fairly accurate indication of the state of the electorate's mind. But what should not be ignored is that the actual performance of individual parties in an election (number of seats won) is based also on the division of votes. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, a “united” Opposition showed the Left Front what it could attain, a lesson which was repeated with even greater aplomb in 2011.

Instead of pointing to the fact that the Left Front got 11 lakh more votes in 2011 than in 2009 (the Trinamool got 34 lakh more votes in the same two-year period), and reassuring themselves that they are still a force to reckon with in West Bengal, votaries of the Front must ask themselves why they chose to play the ostrich when popular support for the Opposition was galloping in the State.

Milestone events

Was it plain and simple arrogance, accompanied by a noticeable decline in the quality of the leadership, which led the Front, and the Marxists in particular, to wear blinkers?

If so, was the arrogance a natural growth flowing from having exercised power continuously for 34 long years, something which would perhaps have afflicted any other political outfit in a similar situation?

Was it this arrogance which led the State Government to adopt the land-acquisition methods it did in Singur and, later, in Nandigram, two milestones in West Bengal's recent history which, to the exclusion of everything else, catapulted a moribund Trinamool-Congress onto centrestarge?

The writing on the wall is clear.

The CPI(M) must purge itself of the impurities which have crept into the party organisation since the 1990s, and thereby give healthy electoral politics a fresh lease of life in West Bengal.

Published on May 18, 2011

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