10 April, 2011

"No Left Turn" for Bengal

Cover Story, Uday India, 16 April 2011


Three decades is not a short period. However, if one whispers at the ears of either Mao Zedong or Fidel Castro or Robert Mugabe or Hosni Mubarak or for that matter Muammar Gaddafi so as to ask if three decades are enough; then one unequivocal answer is expected: “No, not at all”. Well, Chairman Mao is no more. So this thought experiment may be performed with the other protagonists. 

For our very own ‘Marxists’ in West Bengal (hereafter Bengal), the situation is no different. The security atmosphere may be a bit dissimilar compared to what Mr Gaddafi is facing in Tripoli; but the dissent, disgruntlement and disenchantment of the populace is by normal probabilistic estimates more than what Gaddafi is countering at present. Nevertheless, whether this disillusionment of the masses shall get translated into the ‘benign revenge’ of the electorate; is what is to be discovered in the second week of May, when the results of the Bengal Assembly elections would be public. 


Till then, nonetheless, Bengal is bound to witness an admixture of political demagogy, hooliganism and Maoist anarchy on one hand and authoritative wielding of the Election Commission along with the march of the Central Paramilitary Forces on the other. 

In this election season, political fisticuffs started on an extremely polite note when Subrata Bakshi, a leader of the main opposition party Trinamool Congress (TMC) filed a complaint to the Election Commission (EC) regarding the violation of the model code of conduct by none other than Bengal’s Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta. Already in a financial mess, the latter was charged for ‘hurriedly’ signing a number of files at his office in Writers’ Buildings (seat of the government) even after the EC’s model code of conduct came into operation on March 1. Things didn’t turn out to be easy for Dasgupta. The state government had to send an inquiry report against its own Finance Minister to the EC. 

Dasgupta is surely not the only one to have faced the axe during this jittery and testing period for the official Left in Bengal. Definitely, he is a high-profile and suave Left politician who has carved a niche in the national milieu as he chaired the Empowered Group of Ministers looking into the applicability of the Value Added Tax (VAT) in India. There were other party-men of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI-M] to follow his ignominy. One among them was ‘Majid Master’: a frail gentleman, aged well past his prime and draped in milk-white apparel, with arms folded as if in a praying-mode; has been shown the iron doors of custody. Again, the TMC-activists lodged several (about fifty) complaints against him. He is allegedly a CPI-M strongman: a ‘supplier’ of the dreaded Harmads or cadre-cum-goons. The EC acted with alacrity as Majid, absconding from the police, was spotted in the CPI-M party head-office at Alimuddin Street in Kolkata. 

Philosophy of the CPI-M

The definition of the word ‘Left’ has been a subject of debate among scholars and for most of the times, has given rise to utter confusion for the common people. Hence, partly in order to avoid rigorous intellectual discussion and partly under propaganda by the ‘Marxists’ for over three decades, the majority of the people of Bengal have come to more or less believe that it’s the CPI-M, which represents ‘Leftism’. And interestingly in the process, the leaders as well as the cadres of CPI-M could garner the audacity of disrespecting the intellect and knowledge of the citizenry to such a ludicrous extent that even this year’s election campaign procession of the party through the busy streets and congested lanes of Kolkata marched ahead with cadres wearing ‘Che-Guevara’ T-shirts. 

To clarify such a posture of the CPI-M, when a query was accidentally thrown at one of their activists, then his sharp reply was: “The Che-Guevara T-shirts are a respect to the philosophy of communism”. As if, nobody understands communism and it is only they who do. Did they forget that Guevara was a votary of the principle of violent overthrow of reactionary regimes through the modus operandi of surgical guerrilla strikes? Did they not apprehend that it would be easier to connect Guevara with the Maoists whom their Harmads are specifically fighting in Jangalmahal (West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura districts)? 

In actuality, they held the firm belief that whatever gibberish would be preached shall be accepted by the people. Hence they were nonchalant to bring into calculation such questions since they are not used to answering them. No opposition, no renegades, no dissent, and no intellectual schism: the reason being obvious; the people could not question the Left in Bengal. Their acts and thoughts were beyond question. 

In fact, it can be easily proved that the CPI-M is not a Leftist party at all. And in order to appreciate that, one need not digest, let alone glance at the mammoth Das Capital by Karl Marx or the historical Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels. If CPI-M had followed the basic tenets of Marxism, then it should have tried to unite the working class or the ‘proletariat’ against the ‘bourgeoisie’ or the capitalist class. Instead, what it has done is a pursuance of a hocus-pocus policy. Neither could it encourage a united front of the workers and peasants nor could it totally usher in an ambience of industrialization. The capitalists found it cumbersome to carry out business in Bengal due to the obstructionist behaviour of the CPI-M backed Trade Unions whereas on the other hand, the peasants and factory workers found themselves in the grip of the Party leaders, thus being rendered imbecile. 

So, what essentially did the CPI-M do in the last three decades in this fertile land? Nothing, but only perpetuate its stay ad infinitum. The process to achieve it was rather technical and systematic. And in order to do so, they didn’t emulate a revolutionary Lenin or a militant Trotsky, rather followed the footsteps of the dictatorial Stalin. CPI-M’s aim was simple: to stay on in power by creating a disciplined set of ‘paid’ party workers and by politicizing every sphere of activity; from education to lower judiciary to police to auto-rickshaw pullers to even street-vendors. 

Now, things would be portrayed in a biased manner if one fails to mention about the Land distribution which CPI-M undertook when they had entered the Writers’ Buildings in 1977. It was a masterstroke. It gave the CPI-M the required life-line to stay on in Bengal, as an ideal replacement for the ‘reactionary’ Indian National Congress (INC). So, the relevant query that props up is: Why did the people of Bengal start disliking the CPI-M backed Left Front government; especially in the rural areas? 

Was it lack of economic growth? Was it lack of industrialization? Was it lack of power and infrastructure? The Bengali ‘Manoos’ could still have tolerated such blatant misgovernance. But it just could not tolerate the condescending behaviour of the party muscle-men. It just could not bear the overbearing attitude of the party hierarchy. The common Bengalee was vehemently in search of an ‘alternative’. But it found none. The old INC was in a rotten and stinking condition in the province. Intra-party squabbles had reached such an impasse for the Bengal-INC that the electorate didn’t risk wasting their ballot for these dimwits. 

Another national level party which could have probably filled the vacuum in Bengal was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But the stigma of ‘communalism’, the lack of proper leadership and party structure made it impossible for the BJP to withstand the rhetorical attack of the Left. Thus, the masses remained alienated from the national political paradigm and searched for a regional alternative and till it appeared in a tangible form, continued to find solace in the pseudo-leftist ideology of CPI-M. 

Search for an Opposition

She is any other amongst the hoi polloi of Bengal. And she is the one who had in the 1970s as an INC-supporter, jumped up on the bonnet of Loknayak Jaiprakash Narayan's car. Yes, she is Mamata Banerjee: the maverick, the rule-breaker, the demagogue without polished oratory skills. Yet, she is a simpleton with a pair of slippers and a cotton saree. Only tangible piece of luxury is a cell phone. Not at all suave, has been highly criticized as being dictatorial; so what made Mamata-di emerge victorious in the Municipal elections in 2010, Lok Sabha elections in 2009 and the Panchayat elections in 2008? Banerjee had been present in the political atmosphere since the emergence of the Left in 1977. So, what is making her click now? Did breaking away from the INC and carving out the new TMC on 01 January 1998 do the trick?

Not quite. Undoubtedly, the TMC took almost a decade to settle down amongst the masses of Bengal. In the beginning, almost all the analysts of Bengal politics; from the elite to the riffraff wrote off the TMC with utter disregard. And the reason was not baseless as the CPI-M, with all its balderdash, was always a party very strongly tied to the grassroots due to its disciplined party apparatchiki. And it required a real potent force to dislodge them from their ensconced positions; especially in the rural hinterlands. 

Nevertheless, though Banerjee went ahead undaunted with a one-woman show as the opposition, the people of Bengal hardly exhibited confidence in her, or rather the absolute confidence was elusive for Didi. A respite came, in 2007, for both Didi and the people of Bengal simultaneously. March 14, 2007 remains a historic day for contemporary Bengal. The same peasants, who had been fed by the CPI-M for decades that agriculture is the backbone of an economy, suddenly found the lessons going awry when their ‘tutors’ were in the forefront along with the state police to grab their lands. Special Economic Zones had found their way into the CPI-M lexicon along with a new Chief Minister, replacing the old guard of Jyoti Basu and company. Agriculture was no more the chief electoral plank. Rather, industrialization was the buzzword and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and his coterie now were running after the Deng Xiaoping model as implemented in China. Well, Deng put into effect the theory of ‘State-controlled Capitalism’ or ‘Market Socialism’ in the early 1980s, whereas his Bengal comrades understood its importance after more than two decades!

Still, the drive for industrialization could have proceeded smoothly if the concerned masses would have been taken into confidence. Nothing of that happened. On the contrary, the CPI-M Harmads, as per the dictates from Alimuddin Street kept on wielding their naked swords. The result was however, the meteoric rise of people’s movements at the grassroots. As a natural offshoot of such long periods of exploitation, the Maoist movement too gained in bulk and strength. Thus, there was a dual form of reaction against the CPI-M Raj. One followed the path of chaos, bloodshed and anarchy. The other, at least on a palpable note provided a parliamentary alternative with a clean, honest and pro-poor leader. The majority chose the latter. 

This is a fairly simple explanation which elucidates the rise of Banerjee and her TMC. From 2007 onwards, Bengal has witnessed a Nandigram agitation, a Singur imbroglio and a Lalgarh outburst. Compare it with the victory of the TMC-led alliance in the Panchayat, Lok Sabha and Municipal polls. The one-to-one correspondence is easily evident. And in this journey, the INC has played the role of a junior partner in order to exist in the province. The Maoists, on the other, have aided and abetted the rise of the viable opposition, sometimes directly and at times, unknowingly. 

Will there be a Change?

Amidst favourable circumstances, Mamata Banerjee has been successful in galloping ahead as the agent of Paribartan or change. She dumped BJP, her previous ally and forged camaraderie with the INC instead. That has paid her rich dividends in the last three years. This is a crucial juncture and TMC’s best opportunity to grab the Writers’ Buildings.

In the total 294 assembly seats, Banerjee has put forth 228 TMC candidates and left open the rest for the INC. Initially, there were certain hick-ups in the Grand Alliance (Mahajot) due to this seat-sharing formula, but it later on receded to the background because of the intervention of Sonia Gandhi. Banerjee is confident of sweeping the elections. In her characteristic tone, after declaring the names of TMC’s candidates, she said: “Maa Mati Manush (mother, soil and people) will form its own government after winning two-thirds majority in the assembly. The people of Bengal will break the shackles of misrule of the Marxist government.”

Banerjee has tried to present the electorates a blend of meritocracy and bureaucracy. A number of former IPS officers like Sultan Ahmed and Rachpal Singh alongwith the likes of FICCI Secretary General Amit Mitra, former West Bengal Chief Secretary Manish Gupta and former CBI-honcho Upen Biswas may be posing a formidable challenge to the ruling Left. Mitra will in fact contest from the Khardaha assembly constituency against state Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta. Furthermore, personalities like Debashree Roy and others are adding to the glamour quotient of the polls. 

The obvious interpretation from these facts is that all the ‘good’ and like-minded people are queuing up to bring about the ‘paribartan’ under the TMC banner. But that’s a na├»ve analysis. Politics, ultimately is a struggle for power. And all these former bureaucrats, intellectuals and past and present entertainers have found the best opportunity to cash in on the ‘winds of change’ so as to secure a part of the pie. 

One might argue that there is no harm in it whatsoever till the persons involved are honest and do not exploit the gullible masses. Moreover, in the kind of parliamentary democracy that exists in India, this is probably the optimum solution. So, Bengal is duly poised for a change, rather a ‘regime change’. And among other factors, anti-incumbency compounded with the systematic exploitation, nepotism and endemic failure in providing basic amenities to the people are what may cost the CPI-M dear in the coming six-phase polls in the state from 18 April to 10 May. 

Can the Left Survive?

Will the Red Bastion fall in Bengal? Will it be ‘end of history’ for the revisionist Red in Bengal? CPI-M General Secretary Prakash Karat thinks otherwise. In his interview with Karan Thapar for the programme ‘The Devil’s Advocate,’ telecast over CNN-IBN on March 27, Karat defends his party (and expectedly so): “In the case of West Bengal we have seen this in the last two elections, in 2001 and 2006, also. They said we’re facing a very difficult fight, and we proved that we could win quite comfortably.”

The Bengal Chief Minister, known for his outward gusto, has also roared: “We are confident about the formation of the eighth Left Front government by defeating this alliance.” Whether this turns out to be an empty rhetoric or not, the pertinent point to be kept in mind that whosoever wins the coming polls, Left-ism as an ideology has come to see the end of day-light. If TMC-INC alliance wins, which is a fair expectation, unless there is an unusual vote swing; Banerjee has to look into reviving the atmosphere for industrialization and coax the capitalists to set up their businesses in the state. And if CPI-M could somehow hold onto their ground, then they have to move on with their new-found spree of industrialization, albeit with caution. None of the parties can hereafter talk merely of empty ideology and turn away from addressing the basic issues of development. 

Banerjee’s TMC will have its task cut out if it emerges victorious. A debt-ridden beleaguered exchequer, the Maoist-menace, the aspirations of a number of neo-TMC cadres and above all, the hopes of over 80 million denizens of Bengal could turn out to be extremely onerous.

If Bengal has to grow holistically, then it needs a ‘fresh’ regime with a strong, vocal and learned opposition. Bloodshed or not, Maoist anarchy or not, the denouement of this political drama certainly requires the people of Bengal to visit the polling booths to press the Electronic Voting Machines and effect a tangible ‘change’. In whatever trajectory the change may happen, it however can be concluded that there will be “No Left Turn” for Bengal.

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