Once a formidable force in Bengal politics, the CPI(M) is now just a shadow of its past as it struggles to hold on to its ground with the BJP fast replacing it as the main opposition to the ruling TMC.
The CPI(M)-led Left Front, known as the main architect of the Panchayati Raj system since its inception in 1978, used to register hands down victory in most of the zila parishads of the state. But this time it has been struggling to find candidates to file nominations in several seats.
"It is true that in most of the places we have not been able to file nominations. One of the reasons is violence by the Trinamool Congress but there are several places where we had a tough time in finding candidates," a senior CPI(M) leader told PTI on condition of anoynimity.
According to the list of nominations filed by various parties for the panchayat polls, the TMC is way ahead of its rivals in all the three segments of the panchayat polls -- gram panchayat, panchayat samiti and zila parishad.
But to utter surprise of several political observers, the BJP had defeated the Congress and the CPI(M) to emerge as the second largest party after the ruling TMC in the number of nominations filed for the upcoming panchayat polls.
The Left leadership does not have a proper explanation on the BJP filing more nominations than them except the theory of "tacit understanding between BJP and TMC".
CPI(M) politburo member and MP Mohammed Salim said the number of party candidates should not be measured only in terms of nominations filed, as the CPI(M) is fighting as a Left Front constituent and in several seats it has extended support to secular and democratic independent candidates.
But several top CPI(M) leaders agreed that the party needs to stop living in denial by coming up with "lame excuses of tacit understanding between the BJP and the TMC" and pull up its socks to ensure that the BJP does not replace the Left as the main opposition in the state.
"We have lost our mass base, our vote share has decreased. But instead of fixing it up, we are blaming others. We should learn lessons before its too late. Time is running out," a senior CPI(M) leader told PTI.
A few days back, former chief minister and senior CPI(M) leader Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had called for defeating the TMC and the BJP in the rural polls.
Another leader said it did not send the right message to the people that the top brass of the state unit was busy debating the party's political line at the Hyderabad Party Congress when the cadres faced the heat to file nominations.
The single phase polls will be held at 48,650 seats in 3,358 gram panchayats, 9,217 seats in 341 panchayat samitis and 825 seats in 20 zila parishads on May 14.
The TMC has filed 1,000 nominations for the zila parishads, followed by the BJP with 782 nominations. The CPI(M) and the Congress have filed 537 and 407 nominations respectively after scrutiny.
For the panchayat samitis, the TMC has filed 12,590 nominations, followed again by the BJP, which has filed 6,149 nominations. The figures for the CPI(M) and the Congress are 4,400 and 1,740 respectively after scrutiny.
The picture is the same in the case of gram panchayats for which the TMC has filed 58,978 nominations, BJP 27,935, CPI(M) 17,319 and the Congress 7,313 respectively.
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said the figures itself states that the BJP has emerged as the only alternative to "the TMC's misrule in the state. The Left is a spent force".
TMC Secretary General Partha Chatterjee said the party is not bothered about the BJP's rise and said the Left should decide whether they are serious about fighting the BJP or not.
"On one hand the CPI(M) is saying it is against the BJP but at the same time we are seeing that CPI(M) cadres are joining the BJP to fight us. It only exposes the double standards of the CPI(M)," Chatterjee said.