The Communists are Losing Appeal in India?

While Mayawati has received a shot in the arm from her successes in the recent by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, the dismal run of setbacks for the Communist parties continues unabated. Not only did the Left lose all the three seats it contested in Kerala, the comrades received their most stunning blow in their other stronghold of West Bengal where they won only one out of 10 seats.

As a result, there is now a distinct possibility of the Communists losing the next assembly elections in the state after an uninterrupted success story since 1977.

Of the other parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has shown that contrary to belief after its lackluster performance in the parliamentary polls, Mayawati's appeal hasn't faded, at least among her core group of supporters, the Dalits. Her success in winning nine out of the 11 seats in Uttar Pradesh means that her position is fairly secure at least in the state.

The Congress, however, also has reasons to be pleased because it won the Firozabad Lok Sabha and Lucknow West assembly seats to suggest that it may be replacing the Samajwadi Party as the BSP's main opponent in Uttar Pradesh.

Considering that Mayawati has consistently failed to make any headway in other states, as the recent assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana have shown, there is little doubt that the BSP is virtually becoming a one-state party. This restricted sphere of influence means that her hope of becoming prime minister that she had publicly expressed is unlikely to be fulfilled in the foreseeable future.
Arguably, it is Rahul Gandhi's aggressive wooing of the Dalits that may be responsible for Mayawati's failure to make her presence felt outside Uttar Pradesh. It is not impossible that the Dalits are slowly returning to their old favorite among political parties - the Congress - just as the Muslims are doing, as the setbacks suffered by the Samajwadi Party indicates.

If there are signs of the Congress regaining some of its earlier popularity, the Left is obviously losing its. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is the worst hit among the Leftist parties, especially in West Bengal where it lost all the five seats it contested, a setback which it had never experienced before.

The only seat won by the Left went to the Forward Bloc, a constituent of the ruling Left Front. After the drubbing which the comrades received in the parliamentary and municipal polls and now in the assembly by-elections, one of the Left Front ministers has called for bringing forward the date of the assembly elections from 2011 in order to seek a fresh mandate.

Although he belongs to a minor partner of the front, the socialist party, which has little presence in West Bengal, the demand is bound to strike a responsive chord inside and outside the front. The reason is that the successive setbacks have shown that the Left's popularity has nosedived.

While Kerala tends to slip in and out of the Left's grasp every five years, a defeat in West Bengal after more than three decades will be a devastating blow for the comrades.

The worst-affected will be the CPI-M's central leadership, which has long been accused of being out of touch with reality because some of the most prominent members of the politburo - general secretary Prakash Karat, his wife Brinda Karat, leader of the party in Rajya Sabha Sitaram Yechury, West Bengal Left Front chairman Biman Bose - have never contested and won an election, even at the panchayat level.

It was their superior, head-in-the-clouds attitude which was resented in West Bengal, where a former minister, the late Subhas Chakravarty, openly suggested that senior leaders should not avoid standing in elections if only to become better acquainted with the ground realities.

As it is, the leftists have never been anything other than a marginal force in Indian politics since their percentages have never touched the figure of 10 at the national level. The highest they received so far was 8.34 percent in 2004.

They are now seen as having recklessly squandered that gain by their "gut anti-Americanism", to quote Amartya Sen, which made them withdraw support to the Manmohan Singh government last year on the question of the India-US nuclear deal. If this trend continues, the Left may gradually fade out of the Indian scene.

If the commissars are losing ground, so is their one-time ally, the Samajwadi Party, which failed to make any mark in the recent elections. One of the possible reasons for its reverses is the disenchantment of the Muslims with the party, especially after Kalyan Singh, who was Uttar Pradesh chief minister during the Babri Masjid demolition, joined it following his break with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Samajwadi Party may now realise that banking on only the backward castes, mainly the Yadavs, is not enough.

The BJP drew a blank in Uttar Pradesh to confirm that the storming of the Babri Masjid 17 years ago did not consolidate the Hindu vote behind it. The party lost a seat in Chhattisgarh as well where it is in power, but registered a surprising victory in Rajasthan despite the infighting in its ranks between former chief minister Vasundhara Raje and the state party chief, who has the backing of Rajnath Singh, the BJP president.

Except for the BSP, therefore, two of the Congress's major opponents, the Left and the BJP, which teamed up during the debate in parliament on the nuclear deal, were on the losing side.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at


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