"The BJP used money and muscle power to win in Tripura," charged Sitaram Yechury, CPM general secretary, after his party's defeat in the recently concluded state elections in Tripura.
This response sums up the mystical adherence of the Left to non-bourgeoisie principles.
The problem with the Left Front is that it fails to understand that principles of "dignity", "survival", "peace" etc fail to strike a chord with the increasingly disgruntled masses. What matters today is economic growth that is ridden with practical and logical fallacies.
On the other hand, right-wing politics offers "hope" and "promises", howsoever hollow they might sound.
Is there really a Left version of "hopes" and "promises" in our neo-liberal times?
Revered to take charge as the Chief Minister of Tripura, I affirm that I shall take care of the responsibilities endowed on me and shall always work in fulfilling the expectations of the people of Tripura. Shri @narendramodi ji Shri @AmitShah ji #NewTripura pic.twitter.com/PhkU9EnKIK— Biplab Kumar Deb (@BjpBiplab) March 9, 2018
Chief Minister Manik Sarkar submitted resignation to the Governor. He expressed gratitude to the people and the employees for extending their cooperation. @cpimspeak @SitaramYechury @CPIM_WESTBENGAL pic.twitter.com/QS6gwfSpEp— CPI(M) West Tripura (@CPIMWestTripura) March 4, 2018
With the strongest Left bastion in India succumbing to a defeat of this magnitude, questions need to be raised about its imagination of alternative futures. With the current political churning, where there seems no space for centrist politics, the baggage of not being efficient enough haunts the Left. Efficiency has always been a term associated with an individual-centric neoliberal model.
The Left has failed to realise that individuals seek palpable change in their own lives. In this light, the moral victory of the CPM managing to revoke the draconian AFSPA in Tripura fails to consolidate any further support at the ground level.
Similarly, their former chief minister Dasarath Deb, a tribal, was the one who largely reconciled the tribal-non tribal conflict in the 1990s, has absolutely no resonance among the present generation.
When unemployment surges to 19 per cent, according to its own government's estimates, such social achievements automatically get relegated to the backburner. Similarly, to be consistently politically correct about the dangers of growing cases of Dalit-Muslim lynchings are way less important, especially for youths whose economic aspirations are sky high. They want to realise a perceptible change in their per capita income instead of hearing as to how Tripura has a respectable forest cover that will benefit the society at large. Retaining forest cover at the expense of a rise in per capita income has no buyers whatsoever.
Quite simply, the repercussions of implementing the Fourth Central Pay Commission, when the rest of India has already rolled out the Seventh Central Pay Commission, are massive. Immediate concerns are always going to trump moral homilies.
The Left needs to reflect on all these issues. Is it really possible to have a politics that runs counter to the one that is based on money and muscle power? Is it possible to reconcile ideological purism with the pragmatism of secular space?
If not, is there a Left version of pragmatism? And most importantly, if they pay heed to the advice of primarily resisting the bourgeoning fascistic tendencies, does their core set of principles remain only a functionary of the mass movement variety with no real concern for electoral politics?
The language of egalitarianism lacks the exuberance of the freedom to dream of the unthinkable.
For the growing youth bulge who voted against the Left in Tripura, the stultifying quest for realising only bare minimums in life is not good enough.
As historian Sumanta Banerjee says, "It is high time we need to demystify the masses."
At a time when identity politics of multiple hues seem to be engaged in vigorous competitive battles, the Left seems running out of ideas.
With the BJP emerging as the new umbrella party of sorts accommodating different local identities, the Left language of groups, communes and broad categories seem way too anachronistic in both form and substance.
This can most certainly be seen with their near wipeout in the tribal areas comprising 20 seats. Historical goodwill of not ignoring tribal issues in the face of growing Bengali migrant population has no currency in present-day context. Moreover, as the tribal population in the state has dipped below 30 per cent over the years, the issue has seized to be of paramount importance.
Nobody denies that anti-incumbency after 25 years in power was going to witness a swing of the political pendulum. The concern lies more with the nature of the defeat that is a combination of both - BJP promising the moon and the electorate themselves desperate for a change in guard.
Capitalising on this secular disgruntlement is easy for a relatively new party like the BJP. Reclaiming past glory in the present obsessed with efficiency in material transformation is a completely different proposition.
The Left can certainly take solace in managing to retain close to 42 per cent of vote share. However, the larger issue of a pervasive dissonance of their principles on one hand and the dreams of the electorate on the other, are here to stay.
For a party which has become a minority player in their erstwhile bastion of West Bengal, to bounce back in Tripura in times of polarising politics would be an enormous task.
How and from where this breath of fresh air will come is anybody's guess.