Is the decline of the Left a good thing for India?

The end of the world’s longest democratically elected communist regime in Bengal, and its defeat in Kerala by a narrow margin, has been met with unrestrained glee by sections of the media and chatterati. From “good riddance” to “well deserved”, a variety of expressions have been used to celebrate the momentous occasion.

But is the decline of the Left parties—they are in power only in tiny Tripura—and the dimunition of what the Left stands for, necessarily such a good thing for India and its democracy?

On the face of it, the Left’s singleminded opposition to “progress” and “development” as understood by the consuming classes is not very appealing. But in a post-liberalised polity populated by the Congress tweedledum and the BJP tweedledee and with nothing left to choose between them, the Left has consistently shown that its heart is in the right place: on the left.

In its commitment to secular values, in its fight for basic human rights, in its battles against price rise, in the austerity and decency of its leaders and their general incorruptibility, in the conduct of its parliamentarians, etc, the Left has stood up and batted for the man on the street, providing a voice to the voiceless, the poor and the marginalised.

Above all, the Left parties provided an effective safety valve, asking unpopular questions and preventing governments from riding roughshod be it in pushing through the Indo-US civilian nuclear bill or in privatisating valuable public assets built with taxpayers’ money.

The CPI(M) Rajya Sabha member Sitaram Yechury in the Hindustan Times:

“Left’s influence on the evolution of modern India has neither been confined nor can it be measured by its electoral presence alone….  In today’s conditions, with the neo-liberal reforms creating two Indias that continue to be detached from each other and mega-corruption that robs India as a country and as a people of its true potential, it is the Left that steadfastly and consistently has kept a straight bat.”

The writer Mukul Kesavan in the Hindustan Times:

“The real value of the Left was that it stood in the way of Indian politics being polarised around the Congress and the BJP. Despite electorally being a regional player, largely confined to Kerala and West Bengal, the Left saw itself ideologically as a national force.

“Consequently, unlike powerful regional parties like Naveen Patnaik’s BJD or the Kazhagams or even Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) that willy-nilly allied with one or the other pan-Indian party for political leverage and money, the Left constantly tried to create alternative alignments. In this, it was chronically unsuccessful but it did, in its awkward, perverse way, try to create a social-democratic space in Indian politics.”

The Left parties may yet bounce back, or they may not, but is the obliteration of what the Left stands for, a cause for celebration?