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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 23 New Delhi May 28, 2016

Elections in Five States: Exploding Myths and Grasping Realities

Sunday 29 May 2016

by Suneet Chopra

Objective realities, often based on hard truths and their subjective papering over, are a part of our present state of hyperbole in the media. And the elections in five States of the country are no exception, but the myths they are burdened with have to be cleared.

The first myth that must to be exploded is the projection of a BJP wave sweeping the country. If we look at the overall figures, the BJP contested 696 Assembly seats, won only 64 and had a success rate of 9.1 per cent. This was to be expected as in most of these States the BJP hardly exists. In comparison to it, the Left contested 484 seats and won 124, with a success rate of 27.4 per cent, while the Congress contested 363 seats, won 115 and had a success rate of 31.6 per cent. If we look at the impact on different States, if the polarisation of different sections of society brought the BJP to power in Assam, its reaction brought the Left and Democratic Front to power in Kerala. In Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, on the other hand, regional parties came to power. The BJP was confined to merely three seats in West Bengal and forfeited its deposit in most of the seats in Tamil Nadu. So where is the substance behind the hype of the BJP’s sweeping success? It is definitely not there.

If we take a hard look at the States, starting with Assam, what do we find? During the election that brought Narendra Modi to power at the Centre in 2014, the BJP garnered 36.6 per cent of the vote. In 2016, the percentage has gone down to 29.5 per cent. In comparison to this, in Kerala, the LDF increased its tally from 40 per cent of its vote-share in 2014 to 42.6 per cent in the current Assembly elections, while in West Bengal the TMC rose from 36.6 per cent to 44.9 per cent and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu declined from 44.3 per cent to 40.8 per cent on account of incumbency. Given this reality, one finds that the Congress improved its tally in Assam from 29.5 per cent to 31 per cent despite incumbency, in Tamil Nadu, it rose from 4.3 per cent to 6.2 per cent and even in West Bengal from 9.6 per cent to 12.3 per cent, while in both the States the BJP’s vote-share fell from 16.8 per cent to 10.2 per cent in West Bengal and from 5.5 per cent to 2.8 per cent in Tamil Nadu. In Kerala despite its alliance with the BDJS, the BJP only marginally increased its voting share from 10.3 per cent to 10.7 per cent between the 2014 and 2016 elections. Given that the BJP won in Assam on the basis of polarisation and the riots that followed the parliamentary elections, even that was not able to prevent anti-incumbency becoming more visible both in Assam and in the country as whole. So the first myth that has to be exploded is that of the BJP sweeping over new areas on top of a wave.

Now we come to the second myth that needs to be demolished. This is the myth of an INC-CPI-M alliance from above. The people of Bengal feared a violent election with mass rigging like 1972 when the CPI-M had to sit out of the Assembly. This time a repeat of that was successfully avoided by listening to the ground-level cadre and it was the seat adjustment with the INC, RJD, JD(U) and the parties of the Left that isolated the TMC enough to prevent a wholesale rigging of elections and also gave these parties a chance to show their strength and bring their ideology to the masses. True, in terms of seats and voting percentages, the Congress appears to have done better than the Left; but the significance of the capacity to hold this election in peace was definitely a positive factor which won the people over to the idea, as was evident from the mass participation we witnessed in the campaign.

The most significant victory of the Left has been in East Midnapore, where the townships are working class strongholds that had been attacked, terrorised and the trade unions drawn to the All India Trinamul Trade Union Congress from the CITU, notably in Haldia. Here the CPI-M candidate won with a huge margin of 21,493 votes; in nearby Panskura East, the CPI-M candidate won with a margin of 5000 votes, while the CPI defeated the TMC narrowly in Tamluk. This was an area not far from Singur, where the TMC had literally wiped out the Left electorally. This victory is not merely a small one. It reflects both a resurgent CPI-M and other parties of the Left.

In general terms too, Mamata Banerjee’s margin of victory in Kolkata has declined. Eight of her Ministers have lost their seats. In Siliguri, the CPI-M has defeated Baichung Bhutia, the world class footballer. So it would appear that the adjustment seems to have reduced the margins of victory even if it lost in the election. In this respect we should not fail to remember the events of 1972 to 1977, when the CPI-M in protest against a rigged election, had no voice in the Assembly. Today there are 80 members of different Opposition parties in the Assembly who can and do raise their voice in solidarity, as has happened recently in respect of the post-poll violence.

The third myth that needs demolishing is that the Bengal adjustment affected the Left negatively in Kerala. On the contrary the vote of the minorities like the Muslims and Christians actually shifted in favour of the LDF this time. Between the 2011 and 2016 Assembly elections, the Muslim vote in favour of the LDF rose from 32 per cent to 34 per cent while the Christian vote rose even more sharply from 27 per cent to 35 per cent. Clearly these communities, which were the mainstay of the UDF, shifted to the LDF seeing both its image in Kerala and its capacity to reach out beyond its periphery in Bengal as the most effective defence against the disruptive activities of the Sangh Parivar all over the country. It is evident that it is only by sweeping these cobwebs of myths away we will be able to make sense of the reality and not get lost in hyperbole.

(Courtesy: The Indian Express)

[An abridged version of this article appeared in The Indian Express of May 25, 2016]

The author, a former member of the CPI-M Central Committee, is the Joint Secretary, All India Agricultural Workers Union.