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TN Elections: Left Wields Pockets of Influence, Thanks to History of Leading People’s Struggles

Neelambaran A |
Both CPI(M) and CPI hope to better their vote share as part of the DMK-led alliance in the upcoming Assembly polls.

Representational use only.

Chennai: The Left parties continue to wield considerable influence in different parts of Tamil Nadu, because of the history of various struggles led by the communist movement and mass organisations for the rights of the oppressed sections, such as workers, farmers, farm labourers, dalits, women among others.

The two key Left parties in the state -- the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) – are, therefore, set to play a decisive role in many constituencies across the state, as their strong trade union base and committed cadres are much sought after by the dravidian parties during elections.


The trade union strength of both CPI(M) and CPI is quite formidable, spread across sectors, such as transport, spinning mills, weavers, cashew, auto and construction workers, public sectors, including banks and insurance companies. The trade unions affiliated to both the parties--- Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) -- have played a significant role in protecting the welfare of the workers. In fact, CITU has played a crucial role in ensuring the establishment of several welfare boards for workers. 

The key struggles led by the trade unions include textile mills in the unified Coimbatore district, the struggle of beedi workers for minimum wages in southern districts, protest of rubber and tea plantation workers in Kanyakumari and Nilgiris districts for fair wages and welfare measures, and the recent struggles in the automobile industry in Chennai and its suburbs.

Some prolonged and unified struggles also ended up n thwarting the privatisation moves being pushed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP government at the Centre. The most recent example being the spirited struggle of the employees’ union at Salem Steel Plant (SSP) against the disinvestment plans of the Union government.


The role played by the communist movement in improving the living conditions of the common people has a long history in the state, such as fighting for education and jobs for agricultural labourers in the late1970s, launching struggles to ensure public transport in villages among others.

In the 1960, there was a historic struggle for increase in wages for agricultural labourers in the delta region. The struggle in Venmani village in the present Nagapattinam district is etched in the history books. 


The Left parties and their organisations on tribal rights have also held big struggles. The tribal population in the state, however, continues to face neglect in many areas, such as access to education, healthcare and employment. Many tribal settlements are still bereft of electricity connections. Also,

lack of adequate schools has deprived them of education. Even if a few tribal students manage to complete school education, they have to face major hurdles in receiving community certificates, which hinder access to higher education. The Tamil Nadu Tribal Association (TNTA) has led many struggles to ensure the rights of tribals, including getting them land and house pattas. 

On the other side, the Scheduled Caste (SC) population continues to face discrimination from the dominant castes. The dravidian parties, on multiple occasions, have refrained from condemning heinous caste-based crime, but the Left and dalit parties, like the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) and the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), have been in the forefront of protecting dalit rights TNUEF has also documented the atrocities againts dalits committed during the COVID-induced lockdown. It is also leading several agitations, including temple entry for dalits and land rights, including the reclamation of panchami lands allocated to them. 


Both CPI(M) and CPI are cadre-based parties and have been sought after by the dravidian parties as alliance partners during elections for work on the ground. However, attempts to form an alternative front in Tamil Nadu have not received much success. The electoral defeat of  the CPI(M)-Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) front in 1996 and CPI(M), CPI, MDMK, VCK and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) in the 2016 Assembly elections and the 2014 general elections were a setback.

In spite of the proactive roles played by the Left parties and their history of people’s struggles, the joint vote share of CPI(M) and CPI is just 4%. Political observers see this as a fall-out of polarisation of votes based on caste and religion. 

Hover, the Left parties continue to wield a strong presence in several constituencies in Tirupur, Coimbatore, Thanjavur, Nagapattinam, Thiruvarur, Chennai, Vellore, Kanyakumari, Madurai, Dindigul, Krishnagiri, Salem, Vellore, Vizhupuram, Cuddalore, Theni and Virudhunagar. But, the failure of these parties in converting their mass organisation strength to votes remains a concern.

However, the Left parties have performed well in local body elections, a recognition of the ground level works carried out by them.

As the Assembly election scene heats up in the state, the CPI(M) and CPI, as part of the alliance led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), are confident of performing well in the Assembly elections.

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