The most important takeaway of 2021 West Bengal Elections:
Of all the opinion columns in the main stream print media, the mention of ‘left’ parties is missing. That’s because the left managed to score zero points/seats in the recent 2021 West Bengal’s general assembly elections. That’s the single most important takeaway in this recent WB elections. Understanding the fall of the left parties amounts to understanding the entire political history of the West Bengal since India’s independence.
As of 8 AM May 3rd 2021, according to ECI latest numbers, the vote share of the Left parties (CPI, CPI(M)) is approximately 4.75%. Compared to 2016 assembly election polls, this is approximately 20 percentage points drop. This chart confirms, how BJP started eating into the Left’s voter base.
Reasons for the Left Front (CPI and CPI(M) included) vote share drop:
The decline of the Left parties in the West Bengal started exactly with the birth of the Trinamool Congress in 1998. When TMC was born, they contested the 1999 and 2004 Loksabha elections in alliance with BJP. During this time, the Left aligned with the Congress parties and supported the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). But during 2009, The left parties decided to withdraw from the UPA because of the disagreements with the Congress on India – USA nuclear agreements.
2009 TMC – INC Alliance:
The break up of Congress (INC) and left parties in 2009 resulted in a alliance between INC and TMC which gave a decisive edge over the Left parties. Many political analysts attribute this as the inflection point in WB political landscape. At the time, together CPI(M), the Communist Party of India (CPI), All India Forward Block (AIFB) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) constituted the ‘Left’ parties in the state.
But to attribute the downfall of the Left parties only to the alliances is a mistake. In fact, from 2004 to 2009 the drop in the Left parties vote share in parliament elections is only 7 percentage points. There were structural deficiencies growing in the party. The anti land acquisition protests that lead to killings of 14 farmers in Nandigram (where Didi contested in 2021 elections) created unrest in the peasantry communities. Until then, the farmers provided to be the biggest vote bank for the Left parties. This is evident in the vote shift to TMC from 2006 to 2011 general assembly elections.
2016 Left- INC Alliance and the simultaneous rise of BJP:
As CPI fail to learn the right lessons in the subsequent elections, the Left parties are bound to lose the ground further. TMC decided to contest the 2014 Parliament elections on its own. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, TMC and BJP managed to increase the vote share by 8 and 10 percentage points respectively. Guess where the extra percentage points came from? Its of course from the Left Parties itself. In 2014, TMC’s seats went up from 19 to 34.
BJP also gained massively during this time from the losses of the Left parties. Between, 2009 and 2014, the the BJP increased its vote share by 10 percent points, The Congress’s vote share went down from 13.5% to 9.6% in 2014. In this entire time, the Left Front remained as the biggest loser. Its vote share fell significantly from 43% to 29%. BJP in 2014, won 2 LS seats from WB.
“Winners focus on winning and losers focus on winners”. Interestingly, the Left parties did not do any of this in 2016. They did not focus on winning nor they focused on winners. They focused on already losing losers. The CPI (M) went ahead and allied with losing INC. During, 2016 assembly elections, the left parties gave away their traditional stronghold northern Bengal constituencies to congress and went head on with TMC in south Bengal where the TMC is proven to be strong. This costed the Left parties very dearly.
Reasons for Didi’s TMC win 2021 WB assembly elections:
By 2021 assembly elections, the Left parties almost became irrelevant. This is clearly evident from the fact they only managed to garner 4.9 percent of the vote share. The 2021 WB assembly elections is not a multi party contest nor a multi state leader contest. It was a contest between PM Modi and incumbent CM Didi. There are primarily two reasons Didi’s TMC won the election. One: as pointed earlier, BJP made this contest a contest between Modi and Didi. This benefited TMC. TMC extensively went after “BJP’s lack of CM’s face”. This worked for TMC. Second: Mamata Banerjee’s welfare schemes especially the Kanyashree and Rupashree please the women voter base. Plus the freebies including free rice, free ration also seem to have worked for her.
Left remains the biggest loser:
Of all these trends, the Left party remains the biggest loser. And there is no sight of recovery for them. It all started losing power in 2006 general assembly elections after 34 years. As Ranabir Ray Choudhury points out in his article, it was just one single event of arrogant land acquisition methods in Singur and Nandigram, that catapulted a moribund Trinamool-Congress onto centerstage. Since then, the relevance of the Left almost become negligible. As the west Bengal elections dominate today’s headlines, the Left parties are missing a mention. The time is ripe for the Left parties to sit and figure out how a strategy that they can sell to the changed WB.
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