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|May 7, 2001||
T V R Shenoy
The decline of the Marxists
While touring Kerala last week -- I am now on my way to Chennai -- somebody asked me, "How will the Marxists do in West Bengal? Will they win there?"
My answer to that will come later. My immediate instinct is to point out that this is a wrong question, or at any rate one that is poorly phrased. My second thought is that it says something interesting about the situation in Kerala itself.
Right, my answer to the question is: No, the Marxists will not be returned in West Bengal with an absolute majority as in the last assembly election. Does this mean that I believe the next chief minister in Kolkata shall be the one and only Mamata Banerjee? No, again.
Over the years we have all become used to using "Marxists" as a synonym for the Left. There was reason enough for that given the absolute dominance of the CPI-M within the Left Front. In West Bengal, for instance, the CPI-M possessed an absolute majority in the assembly. Even if the CPI, the Forward Bloc, and the RSP had broken ranks, the CPI-M could have carried on alone.
But, starting with the assembly polls of 2001 we must be a little more careful about nomenclature. I do not believe that the CPI-M can carry on as before. I believe the Left Front has a better than even chance of retaining power, but not the Marxists by themselves.
It will be interesting to see how the Marxist Big Brother handles this situation. In the past, it has not been noted for its sensitivity to its junior partners. All three have complained in public about the CPI-M's attitude. It simply cannot afford to alienate them as in the past. There is the option, and everyone knows it perfectly well, of leaving the Left Front to join hands with Mamata Banerjee.
As I said, the original question was also interesting because of what it said about Kerala. Which is that most people are convinced that the Left Democratic Front is in for a hammering. So much so that Congress leaders are already worrying whether complaisance will not damage the party's poll prospects. After all, if everyone is convinced that the Left is going to lose then there is a danger of people just sitting at home. Other than that, this election is a referendum on E K Nayanar and his government. I think the chief minister is in for a rude shock -- and I also believe that he deserves to be kicked out.
I must admit, however, that I never thought I would see the day when the mighty CPI-M would be reduced to secret bargains with the Bharatiya Janata Party -- and in Kerala of all states! But that is the truth. And it does not help the Marxists that the Congress party is in the same boat.
Many years ago I wrote that there was a greater chance of India putting a man on the moon than of the BJP entering the Kerala assembly. There is nothing that suggests that an Indian will be leaving footsteps on the lunar dust, but there is some hope of the BJP wielding power in Kerala. (Notice I cautiously speak only of 'power', not of actually winning seats!).
But why is the CPI-M trying to cut a secret agreement? Well, the margins between victory and defeat are, historically, slim in Kerala. And the BJP has apparently identified at least five assembly segments where it shall poll over 30,000 votes. There are many more where the BJP is nicely placed to tilt the balance.
The BJP says it can get at least 5,000 votes in every constituency. There are at least 27 seats where the margin of victory in the last election was less than 1,000. So the CPI-M is willing to talk...
The game was accidentally given away by the district secretary of the CPI-M in Kannur. "In the past," he said, "the CPI-M cadres were told to vote for the UDF in order to see that the BJP candidate lost. This is no longer true!"
I hope you realise the implications of this statement. The district secretary is suggesting, in the veiled terms preferred by the Marxists, that a BJP victory is better than that of the UDF candidate.
This is a game that two can play at. The Congress too realises the potential of having the BJP transfer its votes in some key constituencies. Just as the Marxists are willing -- even eager -- to cut deals so are Congressmen. The only difference is that the CPI-M wants arrangements in northern Kerala, while the Congress wants them in the southern sections of the state.
(The BJP is relatively open in its dealings. It has publicly stated that the party has a 'hit-list'. This means that there are certain leaders who will be targeted by the party. If either the CPI-M or the Congress wants some help, then the BJP will talk business.)
Oddly, the CPI-M is praying for an enhanced performance by the BJP in West Bengal as well. As one leader admitted to me, "If the BJP can get 8 per cent of the votes, then we are sure of victory!"
In public, the CPI-M leadership never loses an opportunity to remind everyone that the BJP is still 'Enemy Number One'. In private, it is a different story. The BJP will probably fail to achieve substantial representation in Kerala and West Bengal -- yet it shall decide who wins.
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