The Left parties have seemingly lost the battle of perceptions in a political discourse led by the media which has no patience for their dogmatism

Veteran Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Gurudas Dasgupta has gone blue in the face talking about KG Basin and gas pricing — even taking Reliance Industries and Union Petroleum Minister M. Veerappa Moily to court — but it was Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal who managed to grab all the attention when he took up the issue earlier this year.

Mr. Dasgupta was not alone. The entire Left has pursued the gas pricing issue since 2005 but once the four parties withdrew support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2008, media attention on the issue also faded. Even when the Left voice was heard on gas pricing, it was seen as an impediment to growth by a nation eager to hit the fast track. This was a far cry from the kind of traction the issue got when Mr. Kejriwal took it up.

Sidelined in media discourse

Therein lies the rub. The Left has seemingly lost the battle of perceptions in a political discourse led by the media which has no patience for the dogmatism Leftists are associated with. In an age when public discourse has practically shrunk to 140 characters (blank space included) on Twitter, there is little patience for the Left’s studied positions. The irony is that the points raised by the AAP on gas pricing were all borrowed from the Left.

While academic Zoya Hasan sees merit in the Left complaint of a corporate media bias against them, she says the Left also seems to have given up after three successive electoral defeats in West Bengal in five years. Of the view that there is a greater need than ever before for the Left to have a say in Indian politics, she questions the absence of a serious rethink on policy and leadership change after the electoral debacle.

“Neither is the Left engaged in political mobilisation. Instead it is focusing on forging alliances, but even that requires the Left to have a bargaining hand. It needs to reinvent itself. The Left has been such an important force; not just in building coalitions but for the ideas and policies it represents,” she adds, pointing out that it was this that had always given the Left an influence exceeding its Parliamentary strength.

Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who is into his last year at the helm, is hoping to make gains in West Bengal in the absence of a grand alliance against the Left this time. Plus the panchayat polls — despite the defeat — offer a ray of hope.This guarded optimism is somewhat borne out by a detailed study of the panchayat elections carried out by Kolkata-based academics Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya and Kumar Rana. They concluded that the Left Front has not lost its base among the poor. Even in the 2008 panchayat elections when the Left fared badly, it got 69 per cent of the panchayats; 24 per cent more than the Trinamool Congress in 2011 after discounting the villages where the Left could not field candidates because of ‘elaka dokhol’ (area capture).

What is particularly demoralising for the cadres is that the party seems to have lost its will to fight back. An oft-heard refrain is that this is not the party that survived a split three years after the CPI(M) was formed 50 years ago after breaking away from the CPI, and then grew from strength to strength despite attacks.

The third alternative

While the CPI faces the possibility of losing national party status and the CPI(M) has little chance of picking up seats outside Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, there is the added fear of dwindling influence over traditional allies which used to look to the Left to forge coalitions. The abortive bid to form a non-Congress non-BJP alternative ahead of the polls is seen as a reflection of this, though Left leadership insists electoral tie-ups were never part of the plan.

Again the message that went out was that the “third front types” had come out of the woodwork on election-eve to form an opportunistic alliance which the Left was pushing to keep itself relevant. Scant attention was paid to the fact the CPI(M) had called for such a Left and democratic alternative after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

Accordingly, the CPI(M) has asked members to vote for non-Congress non-BJP secular parties wherever there is no Left candidate in the hope that parties which pledged support to the third alternative can have a sizeable presence in Parliament. Though a UPA-I kind of arrangement is being ruled out at present, the 1996 scenario is being toyed with when the Congress provided outside support to the United Front to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party out.

Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury fears the pitch has been queered by the UPA-I experience. “The imperialists and reactionary sections found the Left influence on policy-making during UPA-I untenable and unacceptable. The nuclear deal was seen as an opportunity to break this arrangement. And that gang-up continues to ensure that the Left will never come to the position of influencing policy at the Centre.”

anita.joshua@thehindu.co.in

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