Left Routed, Denies Match-Fixing Against BJP In Bengal’s Election Battlefield

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From 50% in 2006 to 40% in 2011 to 26% in 2016 to just about 6% in 2021. That’s the story of the Left’s plummeting vote share in West Bengal’s assembly elections over the years. In the results declared on Sunday, the Left drew a blank, facing a complete rout in the state that it ruled for 34 years (1977-2011).

That the Left, which won 32 of the state’s 294 seats five years ago, was not a main contender in the 2021 elections was no secret. But its no-show was a surprise for many. For it had fielded several women and relatively young candidates to turn the tide, and had also stitched up an alliance with the Congress and cleric Abbas Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front.

Still, it was wiped out, even from its traditional strongholds. For instance, CPI(M) leader and sitting MLA Sujan Chakraborty lost in Jadavpur, which communists had held since the 1960s, barring a five-year period from 2011 to 2016.

Lack of trust among voters and organisational weakness could be the two key reasons behind this steady decline, though the Left would have to do detailed analyses to get to the root of the problem.

However, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kailash Vijayvargiya had another explanation. According to him, the Left deliberately conceded ground in order to help the Trinamool Congress (TMC). “If they (Left parties) had fought well, then our performance would have been much better,” Vijayvargiya said.

Mohammed Salim, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), denied the charge. “How can we ever forget what Mamata did to us in 2011, when she first came to power. Why should we help her?” he told News18.

After coming to power, chief minister Mamata Banerjee, a former Congress leader who learnt her politics from the Left, ensured that her arch-rivals were decimated in the state. A large section of CPI(M) workers joined the TMC and cases were filed against top Left leaders. The workers that did not yield alleged intimidation by the TMC — one of the reasons behind many of them gravitating towards the BJP.

Nonetheless, there is a buzz over Banerjee visiting her predecessor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, at a Kolkata hospital, where he was undergoing treatment in December. Speculations are rife over what the leaders, who see the BJP’s brand of politics as a threat, might have discussed.

Political analyst Subir Bhowmick said the Left tried to run a strong campaign. He also rejected the theory that the Left could have helped the TMC. “It was the mood of the people, who did everything to keep the BJP out,” he said.

The TMC’s claim that the BJP would bring in the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens, and that these would act against the interests of Muslims as well as Hindus from Bangladesh sparked fear, he said. “This fear factor worked for the TMC. People who felt this way also felt that choosing the Left would mean wasting their votes,” Bhowmick added.

But the Left’s campaign lacked teeth in some pockets. When News18 visited areas where the Left and the Congress were perceived strong, their workers were missing on the ground. In Murshidabad, the turf of Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the alliance’s campaign was lacklustre with the Congress senior suffering from Covid-19. In Malda too, the alliance faltered, as the Congress’s overall tally remained at a nought (it won 44 seats in 2016).

One of the reasons could be Banerjee’s decision to stay put in the region for five days in the last leg. She appealed to Muslim voters not to split their votes, which could have helped the BJP in a three-way fight.

A source admitted that the Left’s performance was dismal, but pointed to the fact that the BJP was halted in its tracks. “We know the psyche of the TMC, but not of the BJP…In the end, we have to think of the nation,” the source said.

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