The huge existential crisis that the Left faces at the national level has never been a lived experience in Kerala, but this might be changing
I am deeply disappointed. I don’t see any Leftist strategy for survival or revival here. As parties fighting elections, we will have to adopt different strategies and tactics. But does that mean we forget who we are? Why is the Left not able to make the impact that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) makes at the national level?” asked K. Aravindakshan, retired professor and long-time associate of the Communist Party of India (CPI), over the phone from Kochi.
Perhaps his is the voice of emotion rather than reason, but it reflects the angst of many in the State about the future of the Left in Kerala and in India. It is not about this general election because, for the Left in Kerala, elections have never really mattered in a fundamental sense. Winning elections has meant gaining power, but losing them has not necessarily meant loss of power. The presence of the Left in Kerala’s socio-political landscape is much beyond its numerical strength in elected bodies.
With about 4,00,000 members, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is the most organised political outfit in Kerala. It has as its staunchest ally, the CPI, with 1,19,169 members. Going by class membership and mass organisations of the two Communist parties and their minor allies, their core electoral catchment area should be in the region of 1 crore out of the 2.42 crore voter population. They have won elections whenever they could go beyond the confines of this support base and win approval from the other side; and loss has meant only a five-year wait for the next opportunity. In other words, the huge existential crisis that the Left faces at the national level has never been a lived experience in Kerala.New element
But that, as Mr. Aravindakshan’s outburst probably suggests, might be changing, especially in the context of the 16th Lok Sabha elections. Traditionally, the Kerala Left has founded its strategy in national elections on a strong anti-Congress platform. With the 2004 experiment of providing outside support for the first United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, a new element came in — that of the Left playing the role of a corrective force at the national level. However, by 2009, even that plank vanished and partly because of that, the Left lost heavily.
The situation became complex this election season with the Congress itself becoming weak at the national level and the Bharatiya Janata Party emerging as the frontrunner. Thus, the elections were fought in Kerala largely over local issues, though price rise and corruption did get some sound bites. Who would have benefited from the resultant battle for survival between the Left and the Congress seeks an answer.
B. Ekbal, CPI(M) activist and former vice-chancellor of Kerala University, feels the beneficiary would certainly have been the Left. “I think [the] people of Kerala are looking forward to another UPA-1. Even when the Left remains weak in other States, [the] people of Kerala would have found an opportunity and voted for it to achieve that goal,” he said. If that was the CPI(M)-CPI’s strategy remains to be seen. The few available clues suggest that it was business as usual, the notable exception being the conscious bid to bring back and keep party veteran V.S. Achuthanandan at the centre of action. He went on to prove that he is still the party’s biggest crowd-puller, but he did so apparently disappointing many outside the party. The Left strategy of riding piggyback on the divisive anti-Kasturirangan panel agitation in the settler-farmer dominated high ranges, and fielding Congressmen in key minority-dominated constituencies, is under test.
“Many tell me they have voted for the AAP. The Left must remember that the AAP is increasingly taking over the space it has vacated. I think we need a new movement or at least a fresh look at the situation in which the Left finds itself in this country,” Mr. Aravindakshan said.