India’s ruling Congress party this week returned to power following the country’s month-long election process which concluded at the weekend.
The Congress-led alliance trounced its rivals, winning more than 260 seats, while the right wing Hindu chauvinist coalition mustered just 158.
But the biggest losers in the polls were the mainstream Communist Party, known as the CPIM, and the Left Front alliance that it dominates.
The CPIM has been a major force in Indian politics since independence from the British in 1947.
Its centre is the populous state of West Bengal, which it has run for over three decades, though it regularly wins state-wide elections in other states.
Yet following the election the party, which has almost a million members, is badly shaken, while talk of the “fall of the left” is now commonplace.
On Saturday, the Left Front could only manage to win 15 of the state’s 42 seats in West Bengal. In elections in 2004 the coalition romped home with 29 seats. The election setback for the CPIM was repeated across the country.
Most commentators agree that roots of the party’s disaster lies in the way it appeared to embrace capitalism.
In West Bengal the CPIM government attempted to aid multinational firms by violently clearing peasants from their land to make way for factories. In the ensuing battles 14 peasants were killed.
Following the election disaster the choice before CPIM members is stark—continue along the road of embracing neoliberal economics and risk a further collapse of the party’s vote.
Or, seek to reposition the party to the left by once again heading the struggles of the workers and landless poor.
But this will be fraught with difficulty for a party that has for decades been singly obsessed with winning elections.