As the face-off between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) takes center stage in Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), is trying to recapture lost ground by re-opening or re-occupying old offices that were shut down or forcefully taken over by the TMC after 2011.
The CPI(M) has around 1,000 offices across Bengal. Combined with those of frontal organizations, the number is more than 3,000. Many of these stopped functioning after 2011. Recently, however, the CPI(M) has re-opened around 70 party offices across Bengal.
This has not gone down well with Bengal’s ruling party. TMC workers have started a campaign alleging that the BJP is repaying the Marxists for helping it win 18 of the state’s 42 seats.
“The BJP and CPI(M) are helping each other in every district,” said Jyoti Priyo Mallick, minister, and TMC’s North 24-Parganas district unit president.
The BJP won seven of eight Lok Sabha seats in north Bengal and made substantial inroads in the western districts. But 39 of 40 Left candidates, most from the CPI(M), lost their deposits.
With no seat and only 7.46% vote share, the Bengal CPI(M) and its partners recorded their worst show in this general election.
While the Left parties lost a huge chunk of the 29.95% vote share recorded in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP’s vote share touched 40.25% against TMC’s 43.28% and Congress’s 5.61%.
“The BJP did not help us re-occupy offices. Our men are taking over on their own strength, no matter how small the number may be at this time,” CPI(M) state secretariat member Rabin Deb said.
Left leaders say that like the BJP and TMC, they too have to launch fresh political initiatives, save their party offices and ensure their survival till the 2021 assembly polls.
“By trying to impose a ban on the Jai Shri Ram slogan and engaging in clashes, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee is only making the BJP stronger. These clashes are harming Bengal. Our struggle on the ground is quite different. It is for the working class,” Sujan Chakraborty, CPI(M)’s Jadavpur MLA said.
According to political commentator Suvashis Maitra, after the CPI(M) came to power in Bengal in 1977, some Congress offices were shut down or taken over by Left cadres.
“But the CPI(M) never throttled the Opposition the way TMC did. During the Left regime, the Congress held on to several Lok Sabha, assembly, civic body, and panchayat seats. The CPI(M) is recapturing its party offices because a void has been created,” he said.
“No matter how many offices it re-occupies, CPI(M) is unlikely to gain in the 2021 election. The voting pattern in the Lok Sabha polls makes it apparent that the concept of captive voters has become redundant in Bengal…,” Maitra added.