One of the unmistakable signals emerging from the 2019 election verdict is the near-total rout of the left parties. Never in the past did the Left face such an existential dilemma. Though the appeal of left ideology started declining after the country opened up its economy and embraced liberalisation, the CPI and CPI (M) still maintained a considerable hold on the political space and could play a crucial role in the UPA-I. The erosion of their support base since then has been swift and irreversible. The collapse of the CPI (M) vote base in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala in the just-concluded general elections raises fundamental question about the relevance of the left parties in the present day politics. In West Bengal, the Left vote share has declined from 29% in 2014 to just 7% this time. The political space vacated by the Left is being occupied by the BJP there, giving a tough fight for the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress. In Kerala, the LDF managed to win just one seat even as the CPI and CPI (M), piggybacking on a resurgent DMK, won two seats each in Tamil Nadu. The poor performance on industrialisation front, encouragement to political violence and militant trade unionism had led to the near-complete collapse of the Left in West Bengal, its original bastion. The LDF in Kerala is kept alive because the incumbent parties in the state are voted out of power every five years. It must be pointed out that during the heydays, the left parties formed the biggest opposition block in the first Lok Sabha and played a kingmaker role at the Centre in 1996 and 2004.
The communist parties need to do candid introspection on the reasons for their steady decline and rework strategies to reconnect with the masses. Registering the worst poll performance in over six decades, the left parties have won just five LS seats across the country and drawn blank in West Bengal. In the 2014 polls, they had a combined strength of 12 while their highest ever tally of 59 seats came in 2004. A clear disconnect with aspirational middle class and the post-liberalisation generation, continued peddling of the worn-out cold war era narrative fuelled solely by anti-Americanism, failure to recognise the role of the private enterprise in wealth creation and distribution, visceral hatred for the corporate world and blind opposition to adoption of new technologies and big ticket projects are some of the factors responsible for the left parties losing relevance over years. The comrades need to reinvent themselves in tune with changing times in order to stay relevant. The Left’s decline has coincided with the rise of BJP which has been expanding its footprint across the country.