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No manpower, little resources — Left’s Bhabanipur campaign reflects state of party in Bengal

The Print logo The Print 28-09-2021 Moushumi Das Gupta
© Provided by The Print

Kolkata: It’s 9 am Saturday outside the Rakhi Sangha Club at Chetla in Bhabanipur assembly constituency — it’s from here that the CPI(M) candidate Shrijeeb Biswas’ door-to-door campaign should have kicked off right about now.

Neither candidate nor any party leader, however, are around. There are no flags, no festoons, and without any manpower, no slogan shouting.

Half an hour later, around four to five middle-aged men gather outside the club. There is still no sign of Biswas, but one of the men, sipping tea, tells ThePrint that they are Left Front workers and that their candidate is on his way.

There is none of the paraphernalia normally associated with Indian elections around — not even a flag. In contrast, the ruling Trinamool Congress flags and giant cut-outs of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee adorn almost every road, lane and bylane in Bhabanipur. BJP flags are also visible, though few and far between.

Asked about this, Ratan Sarkar, a CPI Kolkata district committee member, says their campaign material will arrive soon. “One of our members is getting the campaign material in an auto rickshaw,” Sarkar says.

Some 10 minutes later, an auto arrives with a handful of small party flags affixed to wooden sticks and some pamphlets. A party worker, sitting inside the auto rickshaw with a microphone in hand, announces Biswas’ arrival and seeks votes in his favour.

Biswas is not far behind, eventually arriving in a private car with about two to three supporters — no senior Left leaders have shown up for campaigning.

The candidate greets his party colleagues and launches the campaign with six to seven supporters in tow, all of whom are holding small CPI(M) flags. The lone auto rickshaw follows them.

The CPI(M) has fielded the young lawyer, in his early 40s, to take on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at Bhabanipur, which is set for a bypoll on 30 September.

CPI(M) candidate Shrijeeb Biswas (in orange kurta) campaigns at Bhabanipur Saturday | Photo: Pravin Jain/ThePrint © Provided by The Print CPI(M) candidate Shrijeeb Biswas (in orange kurta) campaigns at Bhabanipur Saturday | Photo: Pravin Jain/ThePrint CPI(M) candidate Shrijeeb Biswas (in orange kurta) campaigns in Bhabanipur constituency | Photo: Pravin Jain/ThePrint

But Biswas’ campaign is a microcosm of the troubles facing the Left Front in West Bengal, a state where it has lost almost all of its political relevance after once ruling it for nearly 34 years.

For one, the headlines have been hogged by the chief minister and the BJP, which has fielded another young lawyer in Priyanka Tibrewal, relegating the Left to a footnote in this high-profile election.

And on the ground, Biswas’ campaign does little to dispel the notion that the Left Front has almost no political currency left.

When the candidate enters a narrow lane in Chetla and goes door to door with folded hands, the residents of the slum clusters hardly take note, and go on about their work as usual.

“Didi is our God. Any other party canvassing for our votes is wasting time here,” says 34-year-old Debashish Das, an idol maker who lives in Chetla’s Mistripukur area.

At another of the bylanes at the basti, as the cluster of slums are called in Kolkata, Biswas and his motley crew are forced to retreat hurriedly.

The Trinamool Congress MLA and Transport Minister Firhad Hakim is canvassing with over a dozen supporters, camerapersons in tow. Seeing Biswas, Hakim’s supporters start shouting aggressively, forcing him to turn back and move to another lane.

There is little respite the next day Sunday, at another public meeting called by Left parties to seek votes for Biswas. The only senior leader who turned up for the campaigning was the Politburo member Mohammed Salim.

The campaign for the high-profile bypoll officially ended Monday evening.

Also read: Large rallies, Hindi songs, Tagore’s poems — Mamata’s high-voltage campaign to win Bhabanipur

‘Left does not has any political currency today’

In the 2021 assembly elections, the combined Left parties did not win a single seat. The parties had tried to revive their prospects by fielding young candidates, including student leaders, but failed to muster any support.

Between 2011 assembly elections, when the Left was shown the door after 34 years by the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and 2021, the Left Front vote-share has dropped sharply from 30.1 per cent to 5.47 per cent. Of this, the CPI(M)’s vote share dropped to a mere 4.73 per cent.

Defection of Left supporters to other parties, especially the BJP, along with paucity of resources has hit the party hard.

A deserted CPI(M) headquarters in Kolkata | Photo: Pravin Jain/ThePrint © Provided by The Print A deserted CPI(M) headquarters in Kolkata | Photo: Pravin Jain/ThePrint A deserted CPI(M) headquarters in Kolkata | Photo: Pravin Jain/ThePrint

Kallol Majumdar, the CPI(M)’s Kolkata district committee secretary, admits that shortage of both manpower and money has affected the party.

“We can’t deny the fact that the influence of the Left has eroded in West Bengal. Our vote percentage had started slowly declining, especially in rural areas from mid-2000 onwards,” he says. “The resentment against us snowballed over the land acquisition issue in Singur, Nandigram… Public resentment was growing and we failed to address it.”

Majumdar says that the Left parties are working to mobilise the cadre but it will take time.

“The Left vote base among the poor has been taken by the Trinamool Congress by force and to a large extent through a plethora of welfare schemes targeting them,” he says. “…People still respect the Left but are apprehensive to vote for us because of the terror unleashed by the Trinamool Congress.”

CPI(M) candidate Shrijeeb Biswas admits that every election is difficult for the party in the prevailing circumstances but despite that they are not “taking it easily”.

“We can’t compete with Trinamool Congress when it comes to money or manpower,” he told ThePrint. “They have a corrupt government in place… We naturally cannot compete with such a corrupt political party but still we are fighting for the issues of the people.”

Until 1998, the parliamentary constituency (Kolkata Dakshin), under which Bhabanipur assembly seat falls, always alternated between the CPI, CPI(M) and the Congress. But since 1998, Trinamool has held sway here.

In assembly elections too, Trinamool has not lost from the Bhabanipur assembly seat since 2011. The seat, in fact, is considered a Trinamool stronghold.

Biswas, however, says that desertion by the Left workers and supporters has not affected their morale.

“It does not at any point of time. We, as a political party, always fight for corruption, unemployment in the state and we have been fighting it for the last ten years,” he says. “So our morale does not go up or down with any of our activists going to other parties.”

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Senior Goa Congress leader Luizinho Faleiro could move to TMC as Mamata seeks expansion

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