As a 12-hour general strike called by the Left evoked lukewarm response in West Bengal, displaying again their gradual marginalisation in a state that for decades was a red citadel, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee used Left rhetoric in an apparent bid to further nibble away at their base and pit her Trinamool Congress as the sole formidable rival of the BJP from Bengal.
Admitting that people's response was at best "partial", LF chairman Biman Bose said: "There is no question of calling the strike total. The response has only been partial. We have to draw our lessons from this. We will deliberate on this in the coming meeting of Left parties."
The strike was called by 18 Left and other parties in protest against the harassment faced by people following the Narendra Modi led union government's initiative to demonetise Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes.
Bose, however, claimed the strike was called at short notice. "We had called it only three days back. We didn't get much time to ensure the strike was a success."
The scenario was a far cry from the Left's heady days in Bengal for over three decades, when they organised an umpteen number of strikes and shutdowns, paralysing life in the entire state on every occasion. In fact, calling a shutdown in September had been an annual ritual during the major part of their 34-year-long rule from 1977 to 2011.
However, as business suffered, and the shutdowns and strikes became mere occasions for people to enjoy "unscheduled holidays", such agitations lost their sharpness as strongest weapons of struggle.
This coincided with the Left losing its sheen during the last few years of its rule, as the Trinamool went from strength to strength and finally came to power in 2011.
The Communist Party of India-led LF has continued to bleed even after that. Its vote percentage and number of seats has been in a free fall. It tried a revival in the April-May assembly polls by forging an alliance with former rival Congress, but the combine came a cropper, with Trinamool winning over two-thirds majority. The erosion in the Left support has continued till date, and the LF forfeited deposit in two (one parliamentary and one assembly) of the three seats where by-polls were held this month.
To keep itself afloat, the 10-party LF has tied up with other Left parties like the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (Liberation), Bolshevik Party and marginal democratic forces in the state like the Janata Dal-United, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Nationalist Congress Party. The umbrella body of 18 parties, that has been active in the anti-demonetisation protests in the state, called the general strike. However that too failed to cut much ice with the masses.
Trinamool supremo and Chief Minister Banerjee, who has mostly pursued a left of centre policy - promoting small and medium industries, reaching out to the poorest of the poor with doles like rice at Rs 2 a kg, and schemes like Kanyashree (grant for the families where girls study upto class 12) - projected herself as a champion of Left politics during the day when she led a huge rally against demonetisation and ripped apart the Narendra Modi government.
Songs that were part and parcel of the Left parties' programmes like "pathe ebar namo sathi, pathei hobe path chena (Come comrade, come to the street, the street will show the way)" were heard at the rally. In fact, Banerjee herself raised the famous slogan "Tomar Naam Amar Naam Vietnam (Your name, My name, its Vietnam)" that was the battle cry of the Leftists in the 1970 during the Vietnam war.
"It was during the last few days of the LF rule that Banerjee started taking a left turn to project herself as a better Left than the Left Front. She aggressively led the agrarian movements in Singur and Nandigram that spelled doom for the LF," said political analyst Udayan Bandopadhyay.
"Even after coming to power, she has been pursuing Leftist policies and programmes. She has adopted their slogans also. She has been doing this for long. And now it has become more pronounced. She is now projecting herself as the Left alternative to draw the sections of the population who still swear by the Left ideology," Bandopadhyay told IANS.
"Her motive is to transfer the bulk of the Left base to Trinamool in order to pit it as the main anti-BJP platform in the state. And I think she has already attained considerable success in her mission," he said.
To rub salt into the Leftist parties wounds, Banerjee subjected them to a brief lecture during the rally. "I am happy that people have rejected the strike. I tell my CPI-M friends, why call needless strikes? Protest on the streets, do some manual work, hard work. Look at me, I am myself raising slogans. I consider myself just a worker. I don't show that I'm a leader."
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