The year ahead of the Lok Sabha polls considered crucial for any political party has turned out to be rather uncomfortable for Left parties. From losing its bastion Tripura to the continuous erosion of the party’s base in West Bengal, 2018 was a forgettable year for Left parties. While Left-affiliated farmers’ organisations did hit the roads against the central government’s policies and Left parties managed to find some soalce in them being a part of the national alliance of opposition parties, there was little for Left parties to rejoice in terms of electoral gains.
Ceding Tripura to BJP
The year began on a torrid note for Communist Party of India (Marxist) as it was virtually wiped out by a saffron storm in Tripura. Not only did CPI(M) capitulate its citadel after 25 years but also saw BJP winning a staggering 43 out of 59 assembly constituencies with the help its ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT). The Left’s seat-tally went down from 50 to 16. Losing Tripura was a body blow for the Left and CPI(M). After West Bengal, it lost control in another state, virtually reducing it to a one-state party.
Losing relevance in West Bengal
Left parties, chiefly CPI(M) had started losing its relevance in West Bengal, a state which was once its stronghold and provided it with a bagful of Lok Sabha seats to make it a powerful constituent of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-I government at the Centre. However, in 2018, the BJP dismantled CPI(M) to consolidate its position as the main challenger to Mamata Banerjee’s TMC. Left parties lost all bypolls (Uluberia Lok Sabha, Noapara and Maheshtala assembly seats) that were held in the state this year. Perhaps the most shocking result came in the Panchayat elections. Left once used to be the undisputed champion in rural areas of Bengal. However, Panchayat polls results showed that BJP has relegated it to a distant third, an alarming sign for the party.
Fight continues in Kerala
The southern state of Kerala remains the only ray of hope for Left parties. Here too, the party-led government faces the immense challenge of rebuilding the state after being ravaged by devastating floods. The main political focal point was Sabarimala issue which saw a major political slugfest erupt after the Supreme Court lifted the ban on the entry for women of all ages into the temple. After some flip-flops, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan decided to implement the order and was met with fierce opposition from devotees and BJP. The political implications of the move, if any, may be visible in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.