Among the secular parties that took an unexpected and unprecedented beating in the 17th Lok Sabha elections, leading the table are the left or the Communist parties. The results made it clear that the popular base of CPM had entirely been eroded in Bengal and Tripura. Further, even in Kerala where it was expected to hold out, the result was morale-shattering for the Communist parties. Its rival UDF not only bagged 19 of the 20 seats in the state, but also increased its vote share by an unusual 12 per cent. And LDF's vote percentage went down in inverse proportion.
Naturally, national-level debates and introspections are happening with a sense of urgency within the left parties to identify the reasons behind this setback – which shocked the left front - and for corrective measures towards a revival of its status. Most recently, CPM's Central Committee which assessed the situation, has zeroed in on two main factors that caused the debacle. One, the voters in Kerala got an impression that the Congress would be in a position to form an alternative secular government at the Centre. On this premise, different segments among the votaries of secularism and minorities voted for Congress. Two, the LDF government, which is bound to enforce the Supreme Court verdict allowing women entry into Sabarimala, took a correct stand on this, and the UDF and BJP used that to create a misgiving among a section of the believers. Therefore, the party's effort henceforth will be to measure where and to what extent this affected its fortunes and thus to regain the popular base. On the first score, CPM can rest consoled to some extent that the voters who voted for UDF have already got convinced about the truth, without need for an awareness drive. That is, UPA not only failed to come anywhere near becoming an alternative for NDA, but the Congress could not even qualify as a recognised Opposition party in parliament. Perhaps there are even doubts about how many of the 52 Congress MPs would remain with the Congress.
But in the matter of Sabarimala and related issues, the crucial question is how far CPM-CPI and allies can win back the minority communities, who had supported the Left during assembly elections. Even if it pacifies itself that the latest result was not a referendum on the state government's performance, if the left front has to regain its support base in the by-elections that are due soon and in the assembly electons in 2021, the CPM has to win popular support by means suggested by the Central Committee. The main hurdle in such a path is the fundamental approach of the party towards religious beliefs and rites. For, the virulent campaign by sangh parivar during the Lok Sabha election was that the Communists, being atheists, were out to destroy Sabarimala. A large section of Hindu voters, who were swayed by that, gave their votes to UDF on the conviction that the force capable of defeating the Communists was the UDF. Whether they erred or not, the Communists will have to do some explaining leaving no chance for ambiguity, the Communist approach towards religious beliefs and rituals. As for the Sabarimala alone, entry of women of menstrual age is forbidden by tradition; therefore, says the conservative school firmly, the court judgement is to be reversed. On the other hand, the the Left takes the progressive stand that women's entry should not be banned, and regardless of gender any one should be allowed to perform puja in the sannidhan of Sabarimala. And that was what Kerala government submitted to the Supreme Court too. Without retracing this stand, how can it woo the believers back? And if it ventures to correct its stand, what of is progressive image? Then would it not be a vain exercise to have made a women's wall in the name of renaissance values, and cobbled together a collective of caste groups? One thing certain is that a smokescreen of campaigns that will serve only to create confusion, is bound to be counter-productive. Same is the case with the anti-superstition legislation which the chief minister has said is in the consideration of the government. As long as the sangh parivar is on the prowl for any fig leaf handy to use against the left front, the Communists will be left with very few options.
The only major question vexing religious minorities in current circumstances is whether a broad alliance of secular forces is feasible. If the Congress and other secular parties plus left front, come together as one unified force to resist the radical right, minorities would stand by them. When it comes to that, if parties claiming to be secular, continue with their bane of internal bickering in the name of number of seats, dynastic politics or narrow regional interests, secular, democratic India cannot be saved by minorities alone. Even now, confusion and serious differences of opinion persist in the CPM about its position towards Congress. If they cannot open their eyes, even after both of them losing West Bengal almost entirely, they may not have eyes left to open at all.