Kolkata: The Left-Congress-ISF alliance kicked off their campaign for the 2021 West Bengal Assembly Elections on Sunday with a mega rally at Kolkata’s famous Brigade Parade grounds. The venue has been popularised by the state’s Left Front for hosting massive rallies over the years. A huge banner on the dais read, “Amrai Bikalpa. Amrai Dharmanirapeksha. Amrai Bhobishyat (We are the alternative. We are secular. And we are the future).”
Lakhs of supporters gathered making it a historic event. Even senior leaders like Left Front chairperson Biman Basu and Congress MP Adhir Chowdhury said that they have never witnessed such a scene before. As the rally came to an on Sunday and tired people slowly dispersed, one question remained — will these smiling faces of the Left leaders remain till May 2? How successful will they be?
Just before the last Lok Sabha elections, on February 3, 2019, a huge crowd was seen during a Left rally; that made the leaders of the Opposition worried. This meeting was supposed to be the Left’s show of strength and its aim was to match that of Mamata Banerjee’s ‘United India’ rally that was held at the same venue on 19 January. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya delivered a speech and so did Debalina Hembrom. Seeing the tide of enthusiasm and excitement, political observers started calculating anew, exactly how many seats the Left would get. At the end of the seven-phase vote, on May 23, 2019, it was seen that the Left won zero seats. The memory of this is frightening to the Left.
It should be kept in mind that the CPI(M) could not make a mark in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. During last assembly elections, the Left got 26 percent vote that came down to only 7.52 percent vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. A new theory was established in the political arena of Bengal – that the Left vote went to the BJP. There are multiple explanations as to why this happened. But one thing became clear in 2019, the difference of numbers at the Brigade and on the EVM is huge. If all the people who gathered at the Brigade grounds had voted for that symbol, then how come the vote percent was only 7 percent? This raises further questions on what such a massive crowd gathering means — do they not vote for their party at the end?
West Bengal panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee said, “If one holds meetings in five different places one can understand the mentality of the voters. Where vote is the main topic of discussion. In 1977, when Indira Gandhi was campaigning, that time the crowd was much more than this. But Congress lost pathetically that year.”
However he did not deny the impact of these meetings, saying, “Yes, such gatherings do make an impact among the people. However, such rallies cannot attract the masses anew.”
Statistics say that in the last 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Left did not vote for the Left. However, political observer Shubhamoy Maitra is reluctant to accept this incident as a trend. According to him, the vote in 2019 to do with national politics. People voted to bring BJP to power at the Centre. Some thought that BJP could fight against TMC. This time the view is different.
There are multiple interpretations of the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in the political arena. Several observers calculated that the Left parties were behind the BJP’s vote share. While the BJP got 10.16 percent votes in the panchayat elections three years ago, got 40.23 percent votes in 2019. They said that the Left party leaned towards the lotus to strengthen BJP’s hand to remove the TMC. Similarly, in organising the polls, the Left leadership has long lagged behind in encouraging voters to cast their votes. But, the Brigade rally shows the demonstration of strength, what is stand of the Left and how much power the Left has. Trinamool-BJP make their blue-print in Bengal based on this. Besides, the nationalist feeling and sentiment of people on the Pulwama incident has strengthened the hand of the BJP.
According to former MP and CPI(M) district secretary Shamik Lahiri, “People voted keeping Balakot-Pulwama in mind, but not on performance. Look at elections after Lok Sabha, the BJP got bad results. Bihar’s victory can no longer be considered as victory. The BJP won with just a margin of approximatelly 12,000 votes. This time it will not happen.”
What is the strategy of the Left to restore the glory? “In 2019, we fought single-handedly. In 2016, the Left and the Congress came together, in a hurry. Fighting, the movement could not create the understanding to achieve the demands. This time we started early with demands and unveiled our united front. They will have to answer the people. People will want an answer from BJP as to why LPG of 570 costs Rs 825. Trinamool has to answer as to why there is not a single factory in the state. Why the vacancies could not be filled. We will get our votes from this point,” Lahiri said.
Opponents of the CPI(M) got new weapons in 2019, saying just a small different between ‘Bam’ (Left) and ‘Ram’ (BJP). This time it may not be so. At least that is what Lahiri said after Sunday’s brigade.
Maitra also holds the same opinion. According to him, the percentage of CPI(M) votes may also increase. He said, “The CPI(M) is also going towards a kind of polarisation, so that they can get TMC’s minority vote bank as well. In a way, it has the benefit of BJP. However, the alliance with ISF gives the them the scent of victory. Congress has never been able to raise the bar of victory in front of the CPI(M). In a few districts they have some unorganised votes. As a result this time CPM is going towards victory. This could increase CPM’s vote percent by 10-12 percent. And if the vote percentage is more than that, it will be magic. The return of votes to the CPM means but decrease in votes of the BJP.”
All the parties will probably publish the list of candidates within the next week. It was the first time that a joint rally of this kind was held. But will it have an impact on the upcoming polls or will it only remain as a massive show of strength? Only time will tell.