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Main Enemy RSS, Electorally Will Fight Both TMC and BJP: CPI(M)'s Md Salim

In the prestigious Ballygunge constituency where by-elections were held earlier this year, CPI(M) came second notching up more than 30% of the votes polled, way ahead of the BJP.

Image credit: HuffPost

West Bengal’s Marxists who are looking to regain a foothold in the state, which once used to be called the 'Red Fort', will focus on RSS as “the main enemy” though electorally the CPI(M) will fight both BJP and TMC.

Md Salim, CPI(M)’s West Bengal state secretary and former Lok Sabha MP, in a free-wheeling interview to PTI, said that to revive his party’s fortunes in the state which it ruled for 34 long years before losing out to the TMC, he was grooming a cadre of “presentable, ideologically-educated” younger leaders.

“We have identified the RSS as the biggest danger to the country as we believe it is against the tenets which our country stands for – secularism and democracy. It has promoted an atmosphere of hate, espousing a dangerous cocktail of pseudo-science and mythology. This is what we are fighting,” he said.

However, in terms of electoral contests, Salim made it clear that his party would “continue to fight both BJP and Mamata Banerjee’s TMC. We are not a fake opposition. We will oppose both.”

For long, CPI(M) ideologues in the state could not decide on who the party’s main enemy was – the Trinamool Congress which ousted it from power in 2011 and has been wooing its voters and cadres away or the BJP whose ideology of “religion-based politics and right-wing market economics” is anathema to them.

However, Salim’s nuanced statement seems to place Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Nagpur-based body which describes itself as a “social organisation” as the main enemy, which is known to influence BJP’s ideology.

Insulated from the two major political upheavals that shook India in the 1990s, the Mandal agitation and the Ram Mandir stir, and bereft of a strong opposition, West Bengal had remained a Left citadel, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

However, the advent of TMC as a political force and the rise of BJP in eastern India have seen the CPI(M)’s seat and vote shares tumbling over the last decade.

Salim said the CPI(M) viewed the TMC “more as a platform created to take on the Left and not an ideologically driven party.”

He claimed that the TMC which had drawn people from all political parties was influenced by “RSS, Muslim League, and failed Naxalites”, none of whom had anything in common except dislike for the CPI(M) and the earlier Left Front government.

“Please note that the Muslim League and minority cell of the BJP both merged with the TMC,” Salim asserted.

The Left as a force has been dwindling in strength not only in West Bengal but also in the country over the years and this is underlined by the fact that just 17 years ago, it was the third-largest party in the country with 59 MPs in the 543-strong Lok Sabha, with 35 seats coming from West Bengal alone. Today, it has no MPs from West Bengal in the Lok Sabha and no MLAs in the state.

The fall in CPI(M)'s vote share has been dramatic over the last decade: From 30.1% in 2011 when its long reign was ended by TMC, it fell to 19.75% in the 2016 Assembly polls. This went down further to 6.34% in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to less than 5% in the Assembly polls held last year.

Since then, the party has been trying to re-invent itself banking heavily on a cadre of younger workers and leaders.

“The survival of Bengal as we know it with its rich culture, liberal thoughts and education and that of the CPI(M) are intertwined,” claimed Salim.

The way forward that the party has decided on, outlined the 65-year-old leader, is to groom a cadre of “100 presentable, ideologically committed young leaders”. “

“This will check the greying of our leadership, induct fresh blood and fresh thinking,” he said.

“We have made progress. My job is more of a mentor. The youngsters will lead the way,” he asserted.

A corps of ‘Red Volunteers' was developed during the Covid years which did relief work, distributing oxygen cylinders to patients, organising blood supplies and hospitalisation. It also worked among migrant workers and set up cheap canteens.

“Our party drew on its traditions of similar work during the Great Bengal famine of 1942 and partition,” Salim, an alumnus of Jadavpur University said.

While the social work has not managed to help it win elections yet, it has certainly raised cadre morale as was evident at recent by-elections where red buntings and banners made a comeback on Kolkata’s streets.

In the prestigious Ballygunge constituency where by-elections were held earlier this year, it came second notching up more than 30% of the votes polled, way ahead of the BJP.

Similarly, the Left Front was runner-up to the TMC in 65 wards in the 144-ward Kolkata Municipal Corporation election held in December last year in which the TMC recorded a landslide victory.

Rallies often accompanied by clashes with the police or supporters of rival parties have become more commonplace for the party as it works to get out of the rut into which it believes it had fallen.

“We are going back to areas which we had given up on. We have expanded our mass contact programmes,” the leader said.

However, despite the clawback that the party said it has unleashed, the once-bustling Alimuddin Street headquarters where the state’s top leaders used to congregate at one time had a deserted look as Salim propounded the new connect theory of the party.

Perhaps, to explain that, the veteran Marxist said, “Our new slogan to link up with people is ‘net e aar hete’ (on the net or by walk-arounds).”

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