Two well-attended rallies held by 17 Left parties in Kolkata last week, with big brother Communist Party of India (Marxist) leading from the front, have infused some life into the ailing Left forces in West Bengal. Like a comatose patient waking up, even they are pleasantly surprised.

Their smiles are not undue, given that they were consistently losing ground to a surging Bharatiya Janata Party in the state and many an analyst had prophesied that they would be fighting for the third spot with the Congress in the next Assembly elections.

The cheers, in particular, were provided by the December 6 rally commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the Babri mosque demolition. On that occasion, according to reports in most local media outlets, the Left parties beat the Trinamool Congress in the numbers game.

CPM state secretary Biman Bose, showing precious candour, conceded that the parties did not expect the kind of crowd that eventually turned up. “Slowly, the feeling of uneasiness is going,” he said. “Those who were not convinced by our words to come out on the streets in the past are being forced to do so by their bitter experience of the last few months.”

Bose was referring to the past inertia of the Left cadres, who were reeling from the post-poll violence at the hands of Trinamool supporters and the painful drubbing in the last Assembly bypolls.

Another senior Left leader observed, “It is not right to think that those who deserted us to join the BJP or the Trinamool Congress are returning. But there were many who remained in the party and did nothing. They now realise that to live in the state they have to be active on the streets.”

Newer challenges

Whatever harm Trinamool Congress did to the Left is now a matter of the past. It is now the rising BJP that is posing a challenge to the old Left cadres’ comeback in their political stronghold.

With the Trinamool’s graph falling and its image taking a major jolt post-Saradha scam, the biggest political question in West Bengal today is who will challenge Mamata Banerjee in the next Assembly elections. Sniffing an opening, Amit Shah is already investing much political capital in the state to pitch the BJP as a viable alternative to the Trinamool Congress by raising his pet themes like Islamic extremism, proliferation of madrasas in border areas, and illegal immigration.

After the Burdwan blast in October, in which two people were killed, the BJP has trained its attack on Trinmool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee for allowing Islamic fundamentalists a safe haven in West Bengal from where they spread terror in Bangladesh.

Away from the centre stage, the Left parties are working hard to present themselves as the true secular choice for the Bengalis who abhor both the Hindutva communalism of the BJP and the Islamic fundamentalism growing under the Trinamool’s nose.

Second thoughts

It was this two-pronged political compulsion that forced the CPM to finally opt out of a joint opposition protest, spearheaded by the Trinamool Congress, in Parliament against the Ramzade-versus-Haramzade remark by Union Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti.

The Left party had first agreed to join the dharna against communal forces at the Centre. However, a last-minute call from former Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to CPM parliamentary party leader Sitaram Yechury made it cancel the plan and instead issue a statement demanding action against both Jyoti and Trinmool MP Tapas Paul, who is accused of making a threatening speech too.

CPM leadership believes that its fish-fry diplomacy with Mamata to stop the BJP wave in Bengal did not go down well with the party cadres and weakened the party's electoral chances. To clean the slate, it publicly took a stand against the West Bengal chief minister on the Saradha scam and demanded her arrest in the December 2 rally, which was jointly organised with other Left parties.

Energised ranks

The leadership knows that huge rallies in the heart of Kolkata do not translate into positive election performances. In 2001 and 2006, Mamata Banerjee organised big protests but that did not earn her any seats in the Assembly polls. CPM itself filled up Brigade Ground before the Lok Sabha polls but its fate is known to all.

Still, for the dying Left parties, the two successful campaigns last week is greatly significant as they could perhaps energise the cadres to fight tooth and nail against both the Trinamool Congress and BJP. On the issue of secularism as well, a principled stand could earn them back the trust of the Bengali middle class, which deserted them in the earlier elections. The participation of a large number of youths in the December 6 rally illustrates this point. Secularism and its true colours will be an issue in the next poll in Bengal.