IT WAS NOT THE FIRST TIME that Mamata Banerjee was aiming to disrupt the plans of the Left, but by the time of her 6 March interview with Arnab Goswami on Times Now, the third front that the Left parties had been working assiduously to cobble together since June 2013 had already displayed enough evidence of falling apart without any help from her. While the seat-sharing agreement with Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had come apart at the last minute, Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal in Orissa had paid no heed to the possibility of an alliance, and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) in Bihar had agreed to a tie-up only with the Communist Party of India, snubbing the principal Left party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The failure of the Left parties—the CPI(M), the CPI, the All India Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party—to partner with these regional leaders was made even more humiliating by the fact that many of them had supported the BJP in the past. Jayalalithaa, in particular, shares a strong rapport with the party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. Given that the regional parties could end up supporting the BJP again after the election, the Left was in effect willing to run the risk that its votes could eventually shore up Modi. But despite this climbdown, most regional figures had come to the conclusion that, for the present, what mattered was maximising their share of seats in parliament, and that there was no need to oblige the Left, which is no longer in a position to exert the kind of influence it once did in any alliance that involved the Congress. Under these circumstances, soon after Mamata chose to tell Goswami that she was willing to support Jayalalithaa as prime minister, Jayalalithaa reciprocated with a phone call, opening up the possibility that if the post-election scenario permits, a fourth front without the Left may have more chances of taking shape than the third front being shaped by the Left.
For the Left this is as bad as it gets—worse, even, than 2009, when the third front it had espoused alongside Mayawati had been marginalised. In contrast, in 2004, the Left parties had stitched together a series of tactical alliances that not only ensured the unexpected defeat of the Vajpayee-led NDA, but also made them key players in the subsequent UPA-I government. While a Marxist would undoubtedly claim that the contrasting scenarios were but the product of a difference in material conditions (if Mamata Banerjee can be so termed) it is difficult to avoid examining the role of the respective individuals guiding the Left under these different circumstances—Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Prakash Karat.