By Srinivasa Prasad
By way of Delhi and Bihar assembly elections, the BJP had its political test in 2015. It miserably failed that test.
The Congress and the CPM will have their own tests in 2016. In a few months from now, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry and Assam will go to polls.
Of these, the Congress rules two: Assam and, through a party-led front, Kerala. There is a good chance that it will retain Assam but lose Kerala. If it wants to win the test, it must retain both.
The CPM-led front has a neat chance of wresting Kerala, which it lost narrowly in 2011. If it wants to win the test, it must keep this winning edge till the polling day.
In Tamil Nadu, it’s a head-on collision between AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa and DMK’s M. Karunanidhi as always. The Congress (with the DMK camp) and the CPM (part of a third front) and BJP (looking for partners) are only also-rans there. And as of now Mamata Banerjee looks unshakeable in West Bengal.
The BJP rules none of the four states or the union territory of Puducherry. It has nothing to lose. On the other hand, if lucky, it may even walk away with a victory in Assam with help from Asom Gana Parishad.
So it’s a test for the Congress, and it’s a test for the CPM.
And how do they want to go about winning their respective tests? By holding each other’s hands in West Bengal and getting at each other’s throats in Kerala.
They believe their goal in West Bengal is laudable: throwing out the ‘evil’ Mamata Banerjee out of power. But how effective that strategy will be against the Queen Bee of Trinamool Congress and what collective good it will do to the Congress and the CPM is questionable. What seems likely, however, is that it will do plenty of individual damage to both the parties in Kerala.
And for the CPM, which suffers from an identity crisis politically and ideologically following its rout in West Bengal in 2011 and in the national elections in 2014, such an alliance will only push it deeper into the abyss as it approaches the Big Test against Narendra Modi in 2019.
The win-win alliance that the CPM is talking about in West Bengal may end up in lose-lose disaster for the party in the long run.
The central leaderships of both the Congress and CPM are yet to take a final call on this proposition. And it’s no secret that CPM’s general secretary Sitaram Yechury tacitly supports the idea, and former general secretary Prakash Karat openly detests it.
But there is little doubt that whether there is an official alliance between them or not, the parties will unofficially work out “seat adjustments” or take that innovative Indian route of “friendly contests”. They are already working together on select issues under the banner of “Save Democracy”, which sounds innocent but fools nobody.
All this has, meanwhile, petrified both the parties in Kerala, where each has high stakes. The CPM in the state is dreading it most, considering that the party has a clear edge over all others in the coming elections.
A pre-poll survey by Asianet-C-Fore confirmed it last week when it said the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) will win Kerala with 77 to 82 of the 140 seats and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) will be runner-up with 55 to 60. The BJP, which has never won a single assembly seat here, is projected to get three to five.
The survey said LDF’s vote share would, however, reduce from the 44.9 per cent of the 2011 election to 41, and that UDF’s would dip from 45.8 per cent to 37. It predicted that the BJP would get 18 per cent of the votes, against the last election’s 6 per cent, eating into the vote bases of both the fronts.
The going is indeed good for the CPM in Kerala. But what impact the party’s desperate deal with the Congress in West Bengal might have on the Kerala voter’s mind is anybody’s guess. One guess is that, as the polling day nears, more voters will dump the Congress and the Left and plump for BJP.
Such an alliance, be it official or unofficial, may well turn out to be a “historic blunder”—to borrow a phrase used by Jyoti Basu in describing the CPM’s decision not to make him the Prime Minister when the chance came in 1996.
It would also mean that the CPM has forgotten the very reasons why it lost West Bengal in 2011 after ruling it for a straight 34 years, and why it finds itself in the dismal situation that it is in across India.
Some CPM leaders admit candidly that they lost West Bengal because the party had given a go-by to what it was supposed to stand for. It failed workers: they suffered because of the record number of lockouts. It wronged peasants: the government snatched their lands in a brutal fashion that would have made Stalin-era Russian communists smirk with satisfaction. Industry was out. Unemployment was in. A 2007 study by the National Sample Survey (NSS) said that about a tenth of the families in West Bengal starved for many months a year, the highest for any Indian state.
After the West Bengal rout came the BJP’s 2014 triumph in the national elections. And at its 21st Congress at Visakhapatnam in April 2015, the CPM leaders did plenty of soul-searching and laid down for themselves many dos and don’ts.
Excerpts from the Political Resolution they passed in Visakhapatnam:
Section 2.69: “While the main direction of the struggle is against the BJP, the Party will continue to oppose the Congress. It has pursued neo-liberal policies and it is the Congress-led UPA government’s anti-people policies and massive corruption which helped the BJP to acquire popular support. The Party will have no understanding or electoral alliance with the Congress.”
Section 2.86: “The Left and democratic front is the real alternative to the BJP, the Congress and other bourgeois-landlord forces.”
Section 2.78: “In Kerala, the Party and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) have been conducting struggles against the anti-people policies of the UDF government.”
So it’s the same Congress which the CPM castigated less than a year ago for its “neo-liberal”, “anti-people”, “bourgeois-landlord” policies and for its “massive corruption” that a majority of the party’s leaders in West Bengal are cozying up to. In fact, “corruption” figured 21 times in that resolution.
And it is corruption that the Asianet-C-Fore survey in Kerala said was the chief concern of most of the people polled. Some 57 per cent believed that the bribery allegations that con-queen Saritha Nair of the solar scam made against Congress leaders including Chief Minister Oommen Chandy were true.
The Lavalin corruption case, which hangs over CPM’s state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan like the sword of Damocles, was cited by 56 per cent of them as an issue. Vijayan is CPM’s front-runner for the Chief Minister’s job.
The BJP would be too glad to spice up its campaign against corruption in Kerala with the charge that the Congress and the CPM, while fighting each other here, struck a time-serving alliance elsewhere. That prospect terrifies leaders of the Congress, the CPM and even the other LDF partners.
The only senior CPM leader in Kerala to back the idea of such an alliance is V S Achuthanandan, the 92-year-old former Chief Minister. Some say he is angling for a quid pro quo deal: He is trying to please the pro-alliance West Bengal members in the Politburo and the Central Committee and get their support to become the Chief Minister once again if the party wins Kerala.
The choice before the CPM is a simple one. Violate the decisions taken at Visakhapatnam and commit a political hara-kiri or give itself an image make-over in preparation for Battle-2019. The BJP, at least internally, is already talking about plans to ensure a second term for Narendra Modi.