NEW DELHI: Is the Left set to revive to its pre-2011 position again?

While the answer remains in the ballot box, that exit polls have rarely ever dented, ground assessments seem to suggest a certain revival of the Left front in Kerala where it is widely expected to form the government, and more surprisingly in West Bengal where it is certain to have dramatically improved on its last performance.

Is it going to be what senior CPI(M) leader Mohammad Salim hinted at when he repeated to The Citizen: “when there is going to be a coup, it is not announced.”

Kerala swings between the Congress led UDF and the Left Democratic Front, so a change in government favouring the latter is not unexpected. It is a defeat being conceded off the record by many in the Congress party, with the question in Kerala really being whether the BJP --- open an account in the state, and improve on its voting percentage further.

It is West Bengal that seems to be gearing up as the big ‘surprise’ where the Left found itself back in districts and constituencies where it was not being able to hold meetings, or even enter, earlier. The huge victory of the Trinamool Congress in the state had virtually wiped out the CPI(M) with disillusionment and anger being used by the new ruling party to whip up violence against its cadres.

The turnaround in these elections has been almost dramatic for the Left. Mohammad Salim, who is one of the many behind the shift in strategy, did not want to make a prediction but was clear that the Left had regained considerable ground lost. As he said, “you all in the media kept asking me where the Left had gone but for the past three years we have been working from the ‘bottoms up’ to revamp the organisation, and to correct where we went wrong.”

He said that quiet solid work at the ground level has worked for the Left. The CPI(M), in taking stock after the last elections, had identified several reasons for the defeat that included arrogance of the leadership, sidelining of the youth in the party, and a disconnect with the people. In the past 3 years the cadre based party worked hard to make the necessary amendments with what Salim described as a ‘bottoms up’ approach, where decisions were taken on the ground and not necessarily in Delhi. And where the face of the party was changed from the old comfortably ensconced, to the young. As Salim said, “the youth might not have the political expertise but they more than make up with their energy” that went a long way according to the locals in the campaign.

The party also moved to forge new coalitions of progressive forces, often holding meetings and conventions without the party flag. This was new for the CPI(M) that had lost touch with the progressive forces of West Bengal, but now on the basis of issues of concern to the people, it sought to bring in all individuals, NGOs and even supporters of the TMC and the BJP into the loose issue based unity. So as Salim said, some came together on corruption, others on communalisation, yet others on gender rights with the message being sent out that the CPI(M) had opened its doors and was moving now with the people of the state. “The focus was on the people and their concerns, and we kept that throughout the campaign,” Salim said.

The CPI(M) took action against local leaders who did not move with the new strategy, or remained distant from the people. This was to again send out the message that arrogance will not be tolerated, that the Left front was moving fast to make amendments, and this seemed to have had some resonance in the constituencies.

Two additional issues have contributed greatly to what is now almost certain to be a Left revival. In that the CPI(M) may or may not form the government, but will move up the scales to a strong opposition almost definitevely. The poor performance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a failure to deliver on the Lok Sabha promises cut into the support for him, and moved sections of the urban electorate to the Congress-Left combine.

And two, the decision of the Left-Congress to come together for the purpose of this election has been a major plus for both. As Salim said, “neither would have done so well alone, and by coming together we actually added to each others credibility.” The national leaders of both parties were reportedly opposed to this alliance, but were left with no choice as the pressure from below---by both Left and Congress workers---was strong, and they finally had their way. As Salim said, “it is good they listened to the workers, as this has added to the local confidence and convinced the workers that a change in policy is possible from below.” CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury when asked in an interview about the Congress-Left said with a laugh, “something is happening there, we do not know ourselves what” or words to that effect.

If the Left-Congress wins West Bengal as big political pundits of the state are predicting, it could be back in power in the three states in which it has a recognised presence---Tripura, West Bengal and Kerala. But then as Salim said, there is no point in jumping the gun, the ballot boxes will reveal their secrets later this week.