In a popular Malayalam reality TV music show, the contestants facing the threat of elimination are put in a ‘danger zone’, where they are given one last chance to impress the judges. CP John, general secretary of Communist Marxist Party (CMP), a part of the Congress-led UDF, says the Left parties in Kerala have been put in a similar ‘danger zone’.
They have just one chance left. After the humiliating debacle in the Lok Sabha elections, the Left in Kerala is faced with one crucial question: Is it the end of the road for communists in the state?
Having already lost the red bastions of West Bengal and Tripura, the communists were hoping to keep themselves politically relevant in the country riding piggyback on the Left Front in Kerala. And now precariously perched on the crossroads of history, it’s time for a brutal introspection for the communists in Kerala. Unless and until they adopt stringent corrective measures, the Left Front may soon be on the road to elimination from their present danger zone, say political observers.
Critics within the CPM say two factors -- arrogance of some leaders and violence promoted by a section – are primarily responsible for the party’s decline.
While the Kannur brand of violence practiced by party workers across the state has had a drastic impact, even other factors cannot be ignored. While instances of apparent doublespeak led to a loss of credibility, a sore lack of connect with the masses too may have contributed to the rout.
The person facing most of the flak for the election defeat is Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself. Right from his autocratic style of functioning to his brusque remarks, not to mention his debatable handling of the Sabarimala issue, there are enough reasons to hold Vijayan accountable for the outcome. There are already demands from within the Left Front for Vijayan to change his style of functioning.
The main cause of rot within the CPM in Kerala is the ‘Stalinism’ stance adopted by its leadership, says John, who co-founded the CMP in 1987 along with M V Raghavan, who was expelled by the CPM following difference over formation of alliances. Stalinism inside and outside the party is the poison that’s killing the CPM in Kerala, he says. “However small may be the quantity, if you consume poison, you are destined to die,” he says.
Is the Left equipped to fight one last battle? “Let’s not beat around the bush here. The Hindus comprising the Ezhavas and the upper-caste Nairs have been the main supporters of the party. The way the Supreme Court order on the Sabarimala was handled forced a large section of the Hindu women to desert the party,” says a party sympathizer, who did not want to be named.
“Do you think the government will be as enthusiastic to implement the court order to demolish the apartment complexes in Kochi,” he asks.
According to Left commentator N M Pearson, from the moment the Left refused to listen to the pulse of the people, its sympathizers began dwindling. He says the Left was unable to convince people outside the party and take them into confidence over its stand on Sabarimala. In 2014, after the Left suffered a drubbing in the general elections, the party leadership came out with a statement. Both the CPM politburo and central committee collectively owned up to the pathetic performance and asserted that the situation would be remedied. Tactical lines were discussed in detail at the party congress, plenums and special conferences.
“Five years later, this is all they could come up with,” scoffs Left thinker and political observer Appukkuttan Vallikkunnu. “Remedial measures should be implemented according to the needs of the 21st century. Other than heaping bundles of rectification documents, what concrete action has been taken on the ground? Can a new leadership come up -- one that can attract the masses? Taking responsibility for the electoral defeat, will the state leadership make way for the new? Will Sitaram Yechury step down? Will Prakash Karat move out of the Politburo,” asks Vallikkunnu.
“In 2016, when the LDF won a landslide in Kerala with 91 seats, the CPM leadership hailed it as a comeback, an inspiration for the CPM in Tripura and West Bengal. Now, the same party has been reduced to a situation where it has to be satisfied with just 35% vote share in Kerala,” he observes.
On one hand, Kerala has been witnessing a surge in support for the BJP. On the other, there is a dominant pro-UDF wave. There is obviously a failure on the part of the Left leadership in reading the prevailing social reality.
Even when Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and CPM state chief Kodiyeri Balakrishnan say that the party will overcome the testing times, both are quick to add that the defeat was unexpected, indicating that either they are oblivious to the ground reality or don’t want to admit it. Political commentator P Sujathan says the opening up of the economy and the liberalization-privatization-globalization policies ushered in by the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh combine have considerably reduced the relevance of the Left in India.
“The Left had no answers to the effects of economic reforms,” he says. After the passing of thinkers like M N Vijayan and former Chief Minister E M S Namboothiripad, who formulated the party line on various issues during the 1980s, there is now an ideological vacuum within the party, he says.
John says Indian democracy, which has given space for fascist forces, has enough room for Stalinist comrades too, but they failed to adopt the SOP (standard operating procedure) written in the communist manual when faced with fascism.
“To fight and defeat fascism, the SOP for the communists is to form a united front. They should have allied with the Congress, Trinamool Congress and other like-minded parties,” he says.
A Left sympathizer points out that this was the first election that Vijayan led, while the 2016 assembly election, which the communists won by a comfortable margin, was contested by putting veteran V S Achuthanandan in the lead.
The fact that there are no second-line leaders in the party, with all promising leaders of the 1980s and 1990s being cut to size under the current leadership, will make the Left’s task of staying relevant in Kerala all the more difficult, feel political observers.