Left with great expectations, in West Bengal
Kolkata: The Communist Party of India (Marxist) that ruled West Bengal for 34 years lost not only the seat of power but also its pride in the state in 2011 when Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) came riding on the wave of paribartan or change. Eight years on, the party has gained some traction, and most importantly confidence, and is sharpening its sickle in the hope of reaping part of the harvest amid waning support for the TMC.
The handful of CPM workers at the grassroots level who have continued their allegiance to the party are already feeling optimistic as the fourth phase of the Lok Sabha elections come to an end.
Party workers whom this correspondent spoke to said the CPIM has chances of winning more than two seats this time thanks to the brewing resentment among voters for TMC.
The CPIM won two seats — Murshidabad and Raiganj — in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Debabrata Ghosh, secretary of the Hooghly district committee of the party, said there is a huge change in the CPIM’s position from 2011 to 2014. “In 2011, people thought there would be a great change (paribartan) after the new government came to power. However, their expectations gradually waned over the years and now it has come to a point of total decline. This is a major difference from eight years back,” he explained.
Ghosh, who is associated with the party since the early eighties, claimed that voters are tremendously against the TMC this time and this he had observed during his numerous visits to rural and urban constituencies in the last few years.
Ghosh’s claim was corroborated by several other party members. Sambhunath Kurmi, secretary of the Falta Area Committee of the CPIM, said several party workers at the grassroots level in his area who had quit in 2011 to join the TMC are willing to come back but “could not fearing retribution”.
The CPIM had won only 40 out of the 294 Assembly seats in 2011 with a vote share of 29.58 per cent. In 2016 when the Trinamool Congress was contesting for a second term, the CPIM’s vote share slid further to 19.7 per cent and the seat count stood at 26. The TMC, on the other hand, increased its seat share to 211 from 184 in 2011.
This time the party has fielded 20 candidates.
Ghosh said there was a constant false campaigning in the state against CPIM by elements who were sensing the TMC’s diminishing popularity level. He, and many party members, believe the misinformation that the CPIM is a “dead party” has adversely affected it. The media too propagated this idea, some leaders said.
“The anti-Left elements anticipated that Trinamool’s votes would go to the Left this time and so they projected BJP as an alternative. People were made to believe that only BJP can remove Trinamool. When the entire country, including BJP-ruled states, is seeing an anti-BJP wave how is it possible that it is gaining strength in West Bengal,” said Ghosh, adding that the electorate should understand that voting for BJP would mean voting for the TMC.
Fuad Halim, CPIM’s candidate from Diamond Harbour, echoed Ghosh’s view.
The Trinamool supported the NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999 and Mamata Banerjee was the railway minister before she quit and came back to the state. She went back to the NDA government in 2004 and was given a Cabinet berth.
Halim, who is the son of late CPIM leader Hashim Abdul Halim, said Trinamool is a reflection of the BJP.
Rejecting the projection of BJP as the nemesis of Trinamool, Kollol Majumdar, secretary of Kolkata District Committee of the CPIM, said, “In Kolkata, maximum canvassing and rallying was done by the candidates of the Left Front.”
So what groundwork has the CPIM done to gain such confidence? Halim said the party has been constantly raising issues pertaining to agriculture and farmers. It has also been vocal about revamping the education system.
“We have also held krishak sabha (farmers’ meetings). We have made a committee for the landless workers. The response that we have received from the working class is beyond expectation. The February Brigade meet also witnessed overwhelming response,” he said.
Halim, who was allegedly attacked by TMC goons during canvassing, also pointed out that the CPIM has revamped itself and elected new leadership in district committees, a move that has made a perceptible positive effect on the party. Sitting in the party office at Amtala under Diamond Harbour parliamentary constituency after door-to-door campaign, Halim sounded confident that the party will win more than two seats this time.
Majumdar also said the party is expecting four to five seats with approximately 33per cent vote share in the state.
To make this a reality, the party, for the first time, is using social media extensively. More than 60 foot soldiers have been deployed in Kolkata to strengthen the party’s presence on Facebook and WhatsApp.
Sangram Chatterjee, who is part of the CPIM’S newly formed IT cell, said the use of technology is not a “new thing” for the party and it started in 2009.
“It has gotten better over the years. In Kolkata, all the four candidates are net-savvy and it has helped us a lot. We are running Facebook pages for these candidates. Since mainstream media do not report our campaigns and works so much, these pages are helping us to connect to people as alternate media. Also, WhatsApp is being used to reach out to the party’s grassroots workers and some voters,” said Chatterjee, adding that Twitter is not being used much as according to the cell’s survey, not many voters in the state are on this platform.
Though the leaders and members nurture great expectations, most of them are aware that the party cannot make the best use of the brewing resentment as the BJP has already got a foothold in the state.
Also, misgivings about its move to tie up with the Congress before the elections instead of forming a strong Left Front remain among anti-Congress voters. A CPIM member said it was a blessing that pre-poll alliance talks between the two parties fell through as many workers were apprehensive.
A voter in Howrah’s Ashoknagar said anonymously that many former CPIM supporters in his locality are shifting allegiance to the BJP as they are annoyed and confused at the same time at the party’s decision to shake hands with the Congress, a move that proved disastrous for the CPIM in the last Lok Sabha elections.
But Majumdar defended the move saying it would not have been a political alliance but an alliance to fight a communal power. He added that the party has also thought about forming a strong Front for electoral politics and taken some steps towards it.
Questioning the CPIM’s motive, SUCI’s Amitabha Chatterjee pointed out that the former invited Congress president Rahul Gandhi to deliver a speech at last year’s farmers’ rally in Delhi.
“Is the Congress the power behind farmers’ movement? We do not think so. The CPIM did not try to build a nationwide six-party front, not for electoral politics but to encourage a movement. In Behrampore, RSP fielded its candidate… but instead of supporting RSP, CPIM rallied for Adhir Choudhury (of the Congress). Is it an example of strengthening the Left parties,” said Chatterjee, adding that many CPIM leaders are now trying to approach them as they have understood the truth after years of spitting venom on the SUCI.
With no strong Left Front, the fight against Trinamool or BJP has only become tougher for the CPIM though the party has not admitted to it. “We are hoping to get some of the floating votes but the BJP will make an impact. We are tying our best but as you see TMC is not allowing us to campaign in rural pockets,” said Kurmi.
Now, one has to wait till May 23 to see whether CPIM’s confidence is genuine or only a garb for its weakness.