The CPI(M) and CPI might be pursuing different brand of politics from that of the Congress. The two communist parties might also have snapped ties with the Congress at Centre in 2008 on a bitter note. But the ongoing Assembly elections in Bihar have put the two sides in almost similar situation.
Both the rightist Congress and the Leftists, after a long time, are trying to measure their luck depending on their own strength. The Congress is fighting alone and the Left has formed its own alliance of CPI(M), CPI and CPI(ML). Both the Congress and CPI(M)-CPI have finally decided to leave the Lalu Prasad-Ramvilas Paswan camp. In undivided Bihar, both sides were a strong force (once upon a time, the Left had even 29 MLAs, while the Congress has ruled the state for almost 40 years). Both are publicly averse to caste politics and believe in the agenda of development but find it is totally hijacked by Nitish Kumarâs Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), this time. Both sides lack charismatic local leaders and faced heavy erosion in their support base in the post Mandal-commission era of politics in this Hindi heartland.
The list will not end here. Managers of both sides privately admit that they wanted to side with Nitish Kumar but missed the bus. The Congress preferred Prasad over Kumar and, in turn, made Kumar skeptic about the Sonia Gandhi-led party. A CPI(M) Central Committee member, who regularly meets Kumar, told Business Standard that Kumar once lamented: "I wanted to go with you guys but you preferred Lalu. I had no other option but to join hands with the BJP".
Now as Kumar unleashes a new brand of politics, where does the Left stand in its once-stronghold of Bihar?
The Left pockets like Samastipur or adjoining Begusarai are easy to identify. Nowhere in Bihar poll graffiti can be seen on walls, but in a CPI(M)-dominated constituency, invariably the walls of private houses sport the party symbol.
"I agree that there should be more roads, schools and hospitals. But Nitish Kumarâs development is only helping 15 per cent population. Before anything, people need job and food. The Nitish Kumar government has totally failed in these two areas," said Ramdeb Verma, a CPI(M) MLA for more than 20 years.
As upper caste landlords are not likely to vote for the Left, the comrades are happily screaming on the issue of the D Bandopadhyay Commission and its proposed Bataidari scheme, which aims to take away excess land from the landlords and distribute it among the poor peasants â something that helped the Left retain power for 30 years in the neighbouring West Bengal.
The CPI(ML), better known as âMaaleâ in local politics, has come out with a separate brochure on the Commission and the Bataidari along with their election manifesto. For the CPI(M), which has fielded 30 candidates, top leaders like Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat are coming down to Bihar for campaigning. And Verma tells his audience, "other leaders are flying in helicopters. Our leaders travel by roads and trains. Look at our simple lifestyle" before raising the issue of "unbridled corruption in Nitish raj".
The issues are relevant but the Left parties are still scrambling to find their significance in the caste-torn politics in the Hindi belt. The Left wants to see the world through the prism of "class" but trips on the caste reality. Lalu Prasad had politically empowered the backwards and poor but the comrades, even after spending more than a decade in the Prasadâs shelter, have failed to encash this rise of their pet votebank.
As the communist parties face yet another electoral test in the state, their main objective is to strengthen the Left unity. The Congress wants to be the âkingmakerâ in the Bihar of 2010, but the Left perhaps doesnât have even that ambition.
Ramdeo Verma has one more target: "If we can double our vote share Iâll be happy".