Needed, a new strategy

When Sitaram Yechury, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary, shared a platform with Somnath Chatterjee at an event this week in Kolkata marking Jyoti Basu’s birth anniversary, the symbolism was hardly lost on anyone. Mr. Yechury asked Mr. Chatterjee to work jointly with the Left, avoiding any reference to his rejoining the party, making the intent behind the sharing of the stage clear. Mr. Yechury’s seeming proclivity to engage with such estranged friends suggests his party recognises that its road to recovery can only be through West Bengal, where it right now suffers from terminal decline. The new general secretary is evidently trying to move away from the legacy of his predecessor — who was instrumental in the expulsion of the veteran from the CPI(M) in July 2008 — by showing a certain willingness to accommodate leftist voices that are more amenable to building broad coalitions with parties such as the Congress. Recent statements by several CPI(M) leaders in West Bengal suggest the party is looking toward a workable alliance with groups including the Congress to mount a challenge to a formidable Trinamool Congress.

The problem for the CPI(M), however, remains to be that it has still not managed to offer itself as an agent of change in the State, and is perceived warily by an electorate that had seen three and a half decades of Left rule. Despite a change in its State leadership, the CPI(M) still has little to offer as an oppositional force. Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress, by virtue of its posturing toward the more populist side of the Left, has earned the trust of the rural poor to a substantial degree. While a new alliance strategy, including an engagement with the Congress, could help the Left arithmetically, the inability to resuscitate its fortunes through internal reorganisation, and the absence of any movement towards pan-Left unity must be cause for greater worry for the CPI(M). The Left’s state of crisis is not limited to West Bengal. In Kerala, recent byelection results indicate that the Congress-led United Democratic Front is not facing any imminent threat on account of anti-incumbency factors, while the CPI(M) faces issues of factionalism. In Tripura it is holding on its own, although challenges are evident. The CPI(M) and other Left groups have been harping on the slogan of “Left unity” and a joint struggle, but this has remained more of a goal on paper than one that could be translated into anything meaningful on the ground. The CPI and the CPI(M), for example, seem to have little difference in terms of essential ideology anymore, but even in their most weakened and dire straits, such as now, they have not really pushed the envelope on a unification initiative. The future, thus, admittedly remains foggy.

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