The Ides of May have cast long shadows on the political map of India. The collapse of the Left in West Bengal and Kerala was predicted in Organiser Varsha Pratipada Special (Can the Left Survive the Wrath of Bengal and Kerala, April 10, 2011). But when it actually happened, the complete rout of the CPM, particularly in Bengal stunned everybody.
Voters punished the disdain of politicians. What is significant is that, more than ever before, the voter has bestowed his reward on those with political morality, tenacity, integrity and hard work. Mamata Banerjee has wreaked her revenge on the Communists for all these years of torment and humiliation heaped on her by the pro-Left elitist media and the class of establishment.
She created history, in fact a permanent place in history — because of her tireless, characteristically Mamata like perseverance, grit and commitment in fighting the Left tyranny for almost three decades. It needed extra-ordinary courage, character and conviction to fight the CPM in its turf. Many had become communist cohort, as they colourfully say in Bengal-torbooj (watermelon like), some gave up half way, few openly deserted the ranks. The Communists in Bengal had become fait accompli. It was not for the tired and retired to even dream of replacing them. She has achieved what many believed impossible, single-handedly.
Equally interesting is the magnificent return of the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. J Jayalalithaa, who had lost three successive elections finished the DMK misrule so convincingly—denying in the process the DMK even the status of the main opposition in the state. The Congress has lost ground everywhere except Assam. The election is a big rebuff to those who thought that corruption cannot be a poll issue in post-liberalisation India, because everybody is corrupt. The cynical Congress argument used to be that the voters are equally corrupt to make it a poll plank. Not only in Tamil Nadu, but in Kerala also corruption deprived Congress of its assured clean sweep. The CPM chief minister Achutanandan could ensure a niche for himself because of his crusade against corruption at the centre and within his own party. He defied all poll arithmetic by making the Congress fight for every single vote in the tough battle and ensuring a wafer-thin majority for his opponent.
In Bengal too the CPM paid a heavy price for political corruption and criminalisation. As Robert Service analysed in his book, Comrades, the most fundamental traits of the Marxists, ruthless centralization of power, the assumption that the party elite always knew best, the creation of a thuggish party vanguard that instilled discipline and fear among people, and wholesale institutional grab were all too brazenly pronounced in the Marxist regimes in Bengal and Kerala. And the voter said, enough was enough.
While the decline of the Congress and the rejection of the Left Front are the two striking features of the May verdict another less noticed but equally significant aspect is the complete decimation of the BJP. In the nineties the party grew by leaps and bounds to acquire a pan India presence. It had nearly a dozen MPs and a few dozen MLAs outside its traditional sphere of influence. In Tamil Nadu nearly six per cent vote share for BJP, in West Bengal 13 per cent, in Andhra 18 per cent and a major force. This was the time when the BJP could attract as many as 22 parties to its fold. In the last election in Assam the party won four Lok Sabha seats. It had ten MLAs. In the last two decades the party stagnated and then declined with the May election practically wiping it out of the state. The Hindu voters fed up with the UDF communalism leaned towards the LDF in Kerala. In Assam, to fight the AIUDF communalism went with the Congress gifting it an unprecedented victory. The BJP could not become the first choice of the Hindu voter, or a beneficiary of the voters’agony over corruption and communalism.
The defeated BJP leader in Nemom constituency in Kerala O Rajagopal complained that he lost because of organisational weakness. Later analysis showed that even in the winnable constituencies like Kasargod, Manjeswaram and Nemom, the party had not done proper ward-level homework, with the result that it had launched its high-pitched campaign on erroneous constituency profiles. The party machinery was so ill-prepared that till the polling day the state party chief was not aware that his name was not in the voters list.
In Assam, the party MPs complain that they were not involved in the selection of candidates, leading to anomalies and wrong selection at many places. Both in Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where the party once had powerful allies and legislative presence it failed to build on and sustain. Its vote share now has fallen dismally low. In Kerala where it had 12 per cent vote share two decades ago today is left with just six per cent.
The decline of the Left has diminished the chances of the revival of the Third Front. Only the Congress and the BJP are today considered parties of national relevance. This gives an opportunity for the NDA to expand with other anti-Congress formations in the regions. If and only if, the BJP is strong it can attract more parties into NDA fold.
Small states and small gains play a major role in national elections. It is said, in the primaries, Obama as US presidential candidate tactfully was focussing on smaller states while Hillary Clinton was focussing on bigger states. But the gains that Obama made initially in smaller, less written about states changed the trend and generated the wave in his favour.
This round of state elections have proved once again that political parties often fall prey to smug optimism, arrogant disdain and placid inaction. The periphery is equally important as the centre and if you confine yourself to the comfort zone you are destained to remain a bit player. The Congress, often picks up almost all the smaller states in the national election dramatically adding to its tally in the end. The BJP has brushed aside this round of election results with a self-serving suggestion that it was mainly in states where it is weak. Unless it picks up the 1990s momentum, the 2014 election is likely to produce results it may not really savour.