Left Front struggling to tick in West Bengal

By Sirshendu Panth, IANS,

Kolkata : Once regarded as electorally invincible, West Bengal’s ruling Left Front is facing the biggest crisis in three decades with a united opposition determined to dethrone it in 2011.

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There are enough signs that the coalition led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is finally facing the heat for the first time since taking office in June 1977.

Left Front veterans admit they are under siege. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee looks as if he is losing his earlier zeal for governance and industrialization.

“The Left is falling apart. They have remained in power so long by adopting strong-arm tactics. The people are fed up and the opposition is united. All their strategies are failing,” Trinamool Congress central minister Sougata Roy told IANS.

Added Congress leader Subrata Mukherjee: “Recent trends reflect a general desire among the people for a change of government. People are determined to throw them out in 2011. The Left is in total disarray.”

PWD Minister and Revolutionary Socialist Party leader Kshiti Goswami admitted that all was not right in the multi-party Front. “There have been exchanges among us. Some steps were taken which were against the interests of the farmers.”

Ever since the CPI-M and its allies suffered a rout in the April-May Lok Sabha polls at the hands of the Trinamool and the Congress, the chief minister has stayed away from CPI-M leadership meetings.

Naturally, there is speculation that he may step down. He has denied this, but the rumours persist.

People who have seen the chief minister for decades insist that his body language and lacklustre speeches betray his drooping spirits.

The main reason for this is the collapse of his dream of making West Bengal an industrial hub again. Instead of boosting the Left’s electoral fortunes, it only caused its electoral decimation.

While the government shelved a chemical hub at Nadigram following violent protests led by opposition parties, Tata Motors shifted its famed Nano car project from Singur to Gujarat after a Trinamool-sponsored campaign.

In 15 months, the Left has suffered heavily in all levels of elections.

The Lok Sabha elections saw the opposition grab almost two-thirds of all seats from the state.

Now the opposition is on a high. Ministers are suddenly talking at cross purposes, the CPI-M’s allies pillory the government at every opportunity while inertia has gripped the administration.

The Left’s downhill journey has continued even after the Lok Sabha ballot.

It fared poorly in civic body polls in June. In August it suffered humiliation when an independent backed by it lost her security deposit in a by-election from Bowbazar in Kolkata — for the first time since 1977.

The Congress-Trinamool alliance wrested the Siliguri Municipal Corporation in north Bengal, ending 27 years of Left hegemony.

Indirectly blaming the CPI-M, Minister Goswami told IANS: “There were issues of attitude. Front partners were not taken into confidence on some decisions. There is no doubt that public support for us has waned.”

CPI-M central committee member Mohammed Salim told IANS that it was too early to make any forecast about 2011.

“The Trinamool-Congress combine won in Siliguri by mobilising the votes of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) which was happy to ensure the defeat of the Marxists at any cost.

“We are neither heart-broken nor complacent. We will expose the Trinamool and how it is using Maoists to kill our comrades in the three districts of Bankura, West Midnapore and Purulia,” he said. “We are rejuvenating. Come 2011, the scene may be absolutely different.”

But Amulya Saha, in his late 20s, wants the Left to go.

“My father was all through a CPI-M supporter. He is also now totally disenchanted. He hates the lack of readiness on the part of CPI-M leaders to carry out development work to benefit all sections.”

However, 70-year-old Swapan Giri of West Midnapore still swears loyalty to the CPI-M. “The opposition can never run the government. The Left is the best bet for the toiling masses.”

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at [email protected])