The Left or more specifically the CPI(M) has declined in West Bengal, and every passing election simply cements that idea. Since the Mamata Banerjee government defeated them in 2011, they have failed to rebuild themselves, and this has influenced the condition of the CPI(M) nationally too.
Their last standing citadel which was the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad has also fallen to the Trinamool recently.
In Bengal, the void left by the CPI(M) had been taken over by the BJP as the traditional Left vote bank shifted to BJP, with the sole purpose of defeating the Trinamool Congress. This has led experts to conclude that the Left is irreparably broken.
There have been some signs of hope with the Left reclaiming some of the lost space from the BJP, albeit slowly, in South Bengal. It is with this hope, and with CPI(M) MP Mohammad Salim at the helm, they are now planning a comeback in the state, to at least dethrone BJP as the principal opposition.
Salim took over from Surya Kanta Mishra on March 17 as the new state secretary of the party, and he tells The Quint that the resurgence of the Left will be through ‘revamp, reorient and reposition.’ With the new leadership came a new mindset, and a new approach to the party’s tactics.
Right off the bat, Salim merged the local and zonal committees to form the area committee, to ensure efficient decision-making.
The idea is to project the Left as a viable alternative to the TMC and BJP.Mohammad Salim, CPI(M) State Chief Secretary
This, they plan to achieve through what Salim calls ‘Net-e ebong Hete’ which translates to ‘through the internet and movements’.
Mohd. Salim and other senior CPI(M) leaders tell the Quint that youth will be the face of the new Left and the party will push for fresh and younger faces in the party.
We are recruiting and nurturing youth from various fields – from campuses, youth movements, trade unions, Kisan sabha, women movements.Mohammad Salim, CPI(M) State Chief Secretary
The Left claims it has been nurturing youth leaders for quite some time now. Since 2015, the party decided that one-third of members across all committees shall be below the age of 35.
Another big example was when they fielded Aishe Ghosh and Dipshita Dhar as candidates in the Assembly elections.
The focus is more around young people's issues than any individual leaders, for last years the student youth had been championing the cause of young bengal. Let it be the issue of employment or reopening of educational institutions.Dipshita Dhar, All-India Joint Secretary, SFI
Senior Left leader Dr. Fuad Halim says that the younger generation will use modern ways of communication to get through to the people, which is what the Left needs – to reach out to a larger audience.
Younger people will be given more opportunities in leadership positions and to take movements forward. Younger people are more mobile and more flexible in their approach.Dr. Fuah Halim, Senior CPI(M) leader
People are expecting more from us, especially the youth. So, we are involving more youth in movements and make the movements broader.Dr. Fuah Halim, Senior CPI(M) leader
The CPI(M) leadership believes that its values are deeply entrenched in student movements and that’s what they plan to capitalise on.
Salim believes that the Left’s growth must be ‘movement centric’ and not just ‘election centric’. He further adds that elections these days are about two things - ‘network’ or ‘net-worth’.
We don’t have the net-worth, but we are building on expanding our network.Mohammad Salim, CPI(M) State Chief Secretary
During COVID, its ‘Red volunteers’ earned praise for the relief work that they did and the party plans to use this to take their message across.
But what is the message? The message is to reposition the CPI(M) and the broader Left into a viable alternative against the TMC and BJP. This time around, they also plan to include the broader Left parties in their movement.
The first objective will be to increase visibility and counter the narrative that the Left has been ‘wiped out’. They will also lend support to movements which align with their values.
The second objective that the Left wants is to consult experts in different fields, and present their solutions to the masses, as they protest social issues like unemployment, inflation and more.
We are putting forth an effective alternative, through policy which has to reflect organizationally, through our work.Dr. Fuah Halim, Senior CPI(M) leader
But it isn’t just social issues that the CPI(M) is focusing on. They are also focusing on cultural events including hosting blood donation camps, mixed gender football matches, cycle rallies, mangrove tree plantations and more.
All these are being led by the student wings of the Left namely the Student Federation of India (SFI) and Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI).
However, one must note here that the Left parties have been protesting the BJP and TMC for quite some time now - from the unnatural death of Anish Khan to the Hanskhali rape. But the problem that has plagued them is that despite participation in the protests, the same does not translate to votes.
The CPI(M) leadership believes that their movements are having an impact, and while it might not translate into votes immediately, they are succeeding in creating a perception. Dr. Fuad Halim says that some of that was seen in the Ballygunge and Asansol by-elections where the Left managed to hold on to its vote share and come second in Ballygunge.
He further adds that they plan to organize the people who are facing crisis, and that these people will be the ones who will in turn confront the government over 'real issues', beyond 'communal politics'.
It is through a series of planned and sustained movements that the Left plans to consolidate itself, not just in Bengal but also in Tripura. The senior leadership admits that this is going to be a challenge.
Social Media Centric
While the TMC and BJP effectively jumped onto the social media bandwagon long ago, the CPI(M) had always struggled to keep up with the changing dynamics of modern-day politics.
Politics and elections are also a social media war where consent can be manufactured through careful messaging, and most other parties have been reaping the benefits of it.
But the CPI(M) plans to change that. They are training and learning from the youth about how to use social media effectively.
According to Saira Shah Halim, they plan to revive their Hindi and Urdu handles to reach a broader audience.
Halim, also says that they plan to host online discussions with experts on pressing issues in the state and the country, and devise solutions.
We would also like to shed the stereotypical impressions about the Left. We want to project that Left leaders can come from all walks of life. We want to show that we can wear jeans, have a well-paying job and still stand up for the values that the Left stands for.Saira Shah Halim, CPI(M) Leader
What About Elections Then?
At the end of the day, elections are what matters and for the Left, it is a matter of survival.
Dr. Fuad Halim says that the upcoming panchayat elections will be a test to see if their new strategies are working or not.
One of their primary objectives is to realign and strengthen the booth level organisation. This way they claim that they can not only garner more votes, but also prevent rigging.
Furthermore, they want to hold on to their positions in unions and other cooperative bodies and build from there.
However, they do wish to ally with the broader Left and other like-minded organizations to forge a united front, at least in the state, to fight the BJP and TMC.
Salim opines that the election dynamics have drastically changed and now it is all about social media, hired organisations like IPAC which are being used to contest elections. He believes that the party needs to learn the tricks of the trade if they want to put up a fair fight.
He further claims that the recent political scenario is such that “people vote to defeat a party”, which is why “we need to project ourselves as a viable alternative”.
While they seem to be thinking in the right direction, it is only on counting day that one can decide whether their new strategies worked or not.