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How Left lost ground & Congress stole a march over it in Bengal

Sourjya Bhowmick | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

The West Bengal verdict certainly poses some difficult questions for the Left Front. The CPI(M) is leading on just 23 seats, with a vote share of 19.7%, down from the 2014 general elections figure of 23%, while its partner, the All India Forward Bloc is leading on two seats, the CPI on one seat and the Revolutionary Socialist Party on one seat.

Clubbed together, their total seats will be lower than the Congress', which is leading on 44 seats, higher than its 2011 tally, even though it contested much fewer seats.

Read- Bengal: Left's debacle is merely a symptom of the deeper rot

Clearly, the Congress has benefited more from its alliance with the Left than vice-versa.

This has happened despite a resurgence among Left workers. People who had been driven out of their homes came back and started working for the party in their areas, and there was negligible allegations of electoral malpractices. And yet things went pear-shaped for the Left. Here's why.

Misdirected campaign

On Catch's travels through Bengal on the election trail, we found the CPI(M) canvassing for votes based on the Narada sting operation, the breakdown of law and order, and personal attacks on Mamata Banerjee.

However, what the Left probably failed to understand is that Narada was mostly a 'television issue'.

Roshnara Begum, a woman from Murshidabad - a strong Congress bastion - had even told us how Narada is 'not important'. She had sarcastically said this is an election issue only in television studios and air-conditioned rooms.

What the Opposition called a breakdown of law and order was essentially the escalation of political violence, and the CPI(M) was at the receiving end. But political violence has historically been a problem in Bengal, even before Mamata came to power. And people haven't forgotten that.

Also read- Cyclone Mamata: why Bengal brought her back with a bigger mandate

While it's true that the law and order situation has deteriorated recently, with crimes against women especially on the rise, the government has responded well - arrests have been made and criminals convicted. Many of the perpetrators of such cases were known TMC workers, but that did not stop them from getting arrested.

The CPI(M) would have been better served had it concentrated on the fact that there are no jobs, no industrial resurgence, school service commission examinations don't take place, and even Teacher Eligibility Tests have not resulted in employment.

Incorrect assessment

The most important factor behind the alliance with the Congress, according to the Left, was that the 'people' wanted it. This surely meant only their active cadres, and even among those, the Burdwan lobby and state committee members were against the alliance.

The general public of West Bengal seems to have interpreted this alliance as 'unholy', having no moral or ideological rationale.

Congress votes didn't transfer to the Left; instead, they went to the TMC. On the other hand, active CPI(M) cadres have clearly voted for the Congress, helping the latter emerge as the second largest party in the state.

The disconnect between the people and the CPI(M), which began about 10 years ago, clearly seems to have continued.

Misinterpretation of signs

Till the exit polls came out, CPI(M) workers were optimistic about a win.

Polling in the TMC bastions of North and South 24 Parganas, Hooghly and Birbhum district was largely peaceful. The Election Commission and the police were strict; scores of TMC workers were arrested and goondaism was kept under control.

Read more- Didi undefeated: Mamata reigns supreme for second straight term

It was simply a case of the authorities discharging their duties properly. But the CPI(M) misinterpreted this as a sign of change. Many people Catch spoke to thought that the administration had changed its stance sensing a change in regime.

It was incorrect to think that the absence rigging of meant an advantage for the CPI(M).

Most importantly, the CPI(M)'s traditional core base in rural Bengal, who had turned away after the Singur and Nandigram debacles, have reposed their faith in Mamata.

The future for the Left is uncertain. Only time will tell what happens to the party which reigned the state for 34 years in a row.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 19 May 2016, 5:29 IST
Sourjya Bhowmick @sourjyabhowmick

Born and raised in Kolkata, Sourjya is all about the numbers. He uses data to contextualise stories on a broad range of topics. Formerly with the Hindustan Times and IndiaSpend, any time not spent researching and writing is spent reading non-fiction and tackling his unending collection of films. An alumnus of Presidency College, Kolkata, he has a post-grad degree in Political Science from Calcutta University and was actively involved in student politics. He's a fan of Tintin comics, Germany's football team, Mohun Bagan and Old Monk.