Poll Campaign And Our Performance :
A Preliminary Note
There were 80 CPI(ML) candidates in the fray in the 15th Lok Sabha elections. For nearly two months, the entire organisation dedicated itself to an intensive election campaign defying the summer heat and a busy harvesting season in many parts of the country. Through hundreds of local meetings in villages and rural markets, door-to-door canvassing and well-attended mass gatherings, the election campaign directly reached out to hundreds of thousands of voters. Printed and audio-visual campaign materials too played an important part in the campaign.
The campaign revolved around a mix of basic day-to-day issues facing the rural poor and the common people as well as the larger questions of resisting corporate-imperialist offensive, communal and feudal violence, bureaucratic apathy and corruption and state repression. Unlike most of the parties and coalitions that harped on competitive claims of government formation at the Centre, our campaign stressed the need for the people’s movement to find its voice inside Parliament and sought votes for discharging that role.
The total votes polled by Party candidates have been 10,44,560, as compared to 12,74,962 in 2004, an overall decline of nearly 230,000 or 20%. In two constituencies our candidates polled more than 1,00,000 votes – in Koderma in Jharkhand Comrade Rajkumar Yadav finished second with more than 150,000 votes and in Arrah in Bihar, Comrade Arun Singh finished third with nearly 1,16,000 votes. We came third in two more constituencies in Bihar – Siwan and Pataliputra – with nearly 73,000 and 37,000 votes respectively. In two more constituencies – Chatra in Jharkhand and Koraput (ST) in Orissa – our candidates finished fourth and polled more than 50,000 votes each. We also finished fourth in Autonomous District (ST) in Assam and in Karakat and Jahanabad in Bihar, but in all these seats our votes remained within the 30,000-40,000 range. Katihar in Bihar is another constituency where we polled more than 30,000 votes. Altogether, in 22 seats our candidates polled more than 10,000 votes.
In terms of vote share, our performance is somewhat significant only in Jharkhand and Bihar, where we secured roughly 2.75 and 1.90 per cent of the total polled votes respectively. Compared to the 2004 elections, this shows a 0.6 per cent increase in Jharkhand (a little more than 50,000 in numerical terms), but a decrease of 0.5 per cent in Bihar (nearly 250,000 in numerical terms).
How do we look at this electoral performance? Every electoral outcome tells us something about the prevailing political situation and the balance of forces. Now as far as the macro-level situation and balance is concerned, in most places our scale is still too small to yield us any particular electoral dividend from the overall context. We have to generate our own momentum through our organisational network, local struggles and political campaign. Only in Bihar and Jharkhand, can we claim to have attained the minimum threshold level needed for acquiring a mass political identity. So in our case, election results tell us less about any advantage or disadvantage emanating from the situation and more about the strength and quality of the Party organisation and the level of politicisation of the Party’s mass base.
As far as the situation is concerned, in Jharkhand the main issue was the reigning political instability and the virtual absence of any government in the state. With the UPA being seen as the main culprit for this state of affairs, the situation was generally favourable to the entire opposition, but clearly most advantageous to the BJP. Our main seats – Koderma, Chatra and Palamu – however did not exactly belong or conform to the mainstream pattern of Jharkhand. While Koderma is a traditional BJP stronghold – it should be remembered that even in 2004, when the UPA had swept the polls in Jharkhand, the BJP managed to win only the Koderma seat – the BJP/NDA has been relatively much weaker in Chatra and Palamu. In 2006 Koderma had a by-election as BJP MP Babulal Marandi resigned from the BJP, and retained the seat under the banner of his newly floated Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. This time around, had significant sections of the BJP base not bailed out Babulal Marandi, who scraped through by a margin of 48,000 over our candidate, Koderma could well have seen a much closer finish. Chatra and Palamu were officially allotted by the BJP for the JD(U), but the JD(U) nominees finished fourth in Palamu and fifth in Chatra.
In Bihar, the UPA stood disintegrated and the NDA obviously had the upper hand. But unlike Jharkhand, the NDA in Bihar was propelled by the JD(U), and not the BJP. While there was no visible wave in favour of NDA, there was clearly a strong undercurrent for the Nitish Kumar-led government in the state coupled with continuing public anger against the RJD-LJP combine. The thrust of our campaign was directed as much against the pro-corporate pro-imperialist policies of the central government as against the growing contrast between Nitish Kumar’s rhetoric of ‘development’ and ‘good governance’ and real life conditions of the rural poor and the peasantry. Yet, even as the low voter turn-out reflected a distinct lack of enthusiasm among Bihar voters, the situation was clearly not yet ripe for any major public scrutiny of, or rebuff to, the policies and performance of the Nitish Kumar government. By all accounts, the Bihar electorate seemed determined to thwart any possibility of a RJD-LJP comeback in Delhi while allowing Nitish Kumar an undisturbed run in the state.
Judging by the yardstick of our organisational strength or campaign efforts, the results have clearly been much less than commensurate. For revolutionary communists, elections are a particularly unequal form and field of battle, and we have once again seen how difficult it is to secure a proper reflection of the Party’s strength in the highly competitive electoral arena. To say this is certainly not to rationalise the weakness in our performance, but to have a better grasp of the underlying reasons and make more determined attempts to improve our results. Only by firmly grasping the structural dynamics of electoral competition and overcoming illusory notions of easy victory can we draw necessary lessons from our election results.
As the entire Party undertakes a thoroughgoing review of the election results, a few points clearly demand our urgent attention. Elections reflect the degree of effective politicisation of our base and its competitive assertion vis-a-vis different ruling class political formations. Over the last few years the Party has succeeded in organising nearly 2.5 million agricultural labourers under the banner of AIALA and militant struggles have been conducted almost everywhere on issues of rural employment and wages, and various panchayat-related schemes and issues. But we find little reflection of all this in our votes. Clearly, such activities are necessary but not sufficient for greater politicisation and assertion of the base. By contrast, the cleverly targeted welfare schemes of different governments, howsoever token and flawed in terms of delivery, are obviously having a political impact.
Against this backdrop, how do we advance the mobilisation and politicisation of the rural poor and put the government on the back foot? Our rural practice must urgently find an answer to this question. While waging struggles over existing government schemes (like NREGA, BPL and PDS), we must step up our movement over the question of key assets (land, housing), and basic amenities and rights (education, healthcare), and pay much greater and sustained attention to issues concerning peasants and sharecroppers.
Wherever we hold panchayats or Assembly constituencies, the masses have high expectations from our elected representatives and any gap in our performance generates a good deal of local grievance and resentment and obviously affects our poll performance. We need to specially review our performance in panchayats and Assembly constituencies held by the Party and adopt necessary corrective measures at the earliest. Bagodar Assembly segment in Koderma marks a positive exception in this regard where in spite of four consecutive victories we could still increase our votes and secure a lead of 26,000 over our nearest rival.
Another crucial concern is the state of the Party’s living links with the masses and how we handle the contradictions among the people. As the Party organisation grows in size and the Party’s work grows in volume, bureaucracy invariably tends to grow and links with the masses tend to suffer. There develops a tendency to take the people for granted. Often our handling of local contradictions among the people creates some distance between the Party and some section of the masses. The Party has of course been aware of all these pitfalls and measures have periodically been taken to check this malady. But results clearly show that much more needs to be done on this count.
Of late, the Party has been paying greater attention to the task of streamlining the Party’s organisational network with special emphasis on local committees and Party branches. Yet, our lower-level organisation is still very weak. When we go in for block- or district-level programmes, local weaknesses often do not come to the surface. But the basic unit in election is booths, and in these elections not only constituency profiles changed in the wake of delimitation, the number of booths also registered considerable increase. This can clearly increase voter turn-out if we have effective booth-level organisation.
In Bihar, the voter turn-out this time however dropped quite significantly, hovering around 40-45 per cent in most constituencies and the polling rate of our voters also got affected in many places. Ensuring that our voters exist on the electoral roll, that they are equipped with necessary identification papers and that on the polling day they are really able to exercise their franchise remains a concrete organisational task and to competently accomplish this task we must develop effective booth-level network in all our areas of work.
In the hill districts of Assam, our votes have dropped once again. Our work has suffered almost near-total disruption in NC Hills in the face of armed extremist offensive. Even in Karbi Anglong, we have not been able to arrest or reverse the steady downturn in our votes and demoralisation/desertion of middle-level cadres. Apart from paying increased attention to the task of organising the rural poor and toiling masses, the Party also made an attempt to revive the Autonomous State movement in 2008. It evoked good response, but we have failed to sustain the tempo. The Party will obviously have to work out a new strategy to revive the movement and rejuvenate the organisation in the hill districts. Likewise, the rest of Assam too needs a fresh momentum. In the southern zone, in spite of some geographical expansion, work in Andhra Pradesh seems to be suffering from some serious stagnation and needs urgent attention.
Nationally, the Party contested the elections on its own without joining any coalition. In Bihar the Party had a state-level seat-sharing agreement with the CPI and CPI(M). In Jharkhand, four Left formations supported one another on four select seats – the CPI(ML) in Koderma, Marxist Coordnination Committee in Dhanbad, CPI in Hazaribagh and CPI(M) in Ranchi. The Party also supported Com. Harihar Ojha ‘Tarun’, a veteran independent Left candidate for Ballia Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh and CPI candidate Aklu Mahato from Giridih in Jharkhand.
The Party’s decision to enter into a seat-sharing arrangement with the CPI(M) in Bihar has admittedly not gone down well with many of our well-wishers in West Bengal while some sections of ML circles see this as a sure sign of ‘parliamentary opportunism’ and have started bracketing us with the CPI(M). To put the record straight, the seat-sharing arrangement among the Left in Bihar was not rooted in any electoral expectation. The areas of influence of the three parties are now more or less well demarcated in the state and with parties putting up candidates in their respective areas of work, there were little chances of any significant mutual transfer of votes among the three parties.
Against the backdrop of a dominant NDA and disintegrating UPA, we wanted to send out a message of Left consolidation and in this respect, the seat-sharing arrangement has been quite successful. The agreement was greatly welcomed by Left ranks and well-wishers across the state, and democratic circles too welcomed it as a healthy development for the future. After the stifling experience of years of uncritical association with discredited bourgeois parties, the rank and file of the CPI and CPI(M) evidently found this new course much more dignified and promising. There is now a growing determination among Left ranks to reclaim the lost ground and chart a new future.
A seat-sharing pact by no means amounts to a programmatic front; in this case, it did not even involve much joint campaigning because we were aware of the differing tactical perspectives. The campaign of the CPI(M) and CPI was directed towards formation of a “Third Front” government at the Centre, while our campaign revolved around the need for a committed Left opposition. The joint appeal issued by the state committees of the three parties confined itself only to a common call for a stronger Left intervention in national politics and opposition to pro-corporate anti-people policies and communal and imperialist offensive.
The seat-sharing pact was also confined to Bihar and in no way did it affect our position in West Bengal. Results clearly show that our voters in West Bengal have had no difficulty in appreciating our consistent position and our votes have increased by 20,000. Had the Bihar arrangement created any confusion regarding our political identity or tactical line among our supporters, we could not have possibly secured this increase in votes in the midst of a massive anti-CPI(M) wave. It is true that in the paradoxical situation of West Bengal, many Left and democratic individuals and even organised forces have sided with the TMC-Congress combine with the sole objective of teaching the CPI(M) a befitting lesson for all its misdeeds and arrogance. We cannot treat them as typical supporters of the TMC-Congress camp and will have to wait for a different turn in the situation for these forces to dissociate themselves from the TMC-Congress camp.
Does the Bihar arrangement have a future? Well, we are aware of the tremendous difficulties involved because in the Hindi belt, the CPI and CPI(M) have virtually forgotten what it is like to work independently and function as an opposition. Their crossing over to the Naveen Patnaik camp in Orissa is yet another example of their pro-government culture. But the fact remains that the two parties have reached their nadir in the electoral arena and the results of these elections have sounded a wake-up call. It is therefore important to intensify the battle against parliamentary opportunism even as we explore every possibility of developing political cooperation amidst united struggles in states where the CPI and CPI(M) belong to the opposition.
In Jharkhand, two ex-Maoist leaders fought the elections from inside jail. Comrade Keshwar Yadav joined our Party and fought as CPI(ML) candidate from Chatra (polling 63,846 votes while the winner got 1,08,336), and Kameshwar Baitha contested and won on JMM ticket with Congress support. In the Palamu by-election held in 2007, Baitha had contested on BSP ticket and finished second. This clearly shows that a churning is going on in Maoist circles – while some sections are now looking for a place in bourgeois politics, some remain committed to the revolutionary communist camp. It is important to intervene in this churning and lead it towards a greater expansion of militant struggles of the rural poor and stronger assertion of the revolutionary Left in the region.