Calcutta Notebook


The CPI(M) rally at the Brigade Parade Ground on 27 December, 2015 was fairly impressive. As the credibility of the Trinamul Congress is falling and the ruling party is increasingly relying on muscle power, the CPI(M) has gained a little in strength. It is common knowledge that after the ascent of the TMC to power, a large number of CPI(M) activists changed their political colour and perhaps a larger number became inactive, having nothing more to gain from their party. They were not full-time political activists, and hence did not have much difficulty in deserting their original platform. What is somewhat amusing is that the CPI(M)'s West Bengal leaders are seriously thinking of an understanding with the Congress in the coming polls. Another noteworthy feature is that the CPI(M) leaders, notably Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, has declared their resolve to go to the polls by advancing the slogan of 'industrialization'. He did not spell out clearly which classes they would rely on for industrialization, but there can be no mistaking that he is in favour of providing corporate groups like the Tatas and the Salims with various benefits. It is intriguing that while present Finance and Industry Minister Amit Mitra is claiming that the big business houses are making or going to make huge investments in Bengal, the CPI(M) and other interests favouring a pro-corporate pattern of development are denying this claim with figures. In other words, both sides seem to be convinced that only investments by the big corporates can lift Bengal from its stagnation.

The term 'thirty four years misrule', often uttered in criticism of the Left Front period, has little content, simply because of the fact that the nature of the period of CPI(M) rule was not uniform over the entire period. For the first five to ten years, some genuinely reformist programmes—they were not revolutionary programmes, however—were undertaken, and village panchayets became organs of power of the rural poor, at least partially. The process of distribution of ceiling-surplus land, a tangible result of long periods of peasant movements, also gathered momentum. How this succeeded in expanding the base of the CPI(M) may be illustrated by one example. In 1980, all the local level peasant organizers of the Jharhgram-Gopiballavpur region, who had valiantly fought against landlordism in 1969-70 under the banner of the newly formed CPI(M-L), and subsequently seized large amounts of surplus land belonging to the landlords, joined the CPI(M) in 1980. One might call this an opportunistic abandonment of struggle, but the fact is that these peasant leaders, themselves coming from very poor families, genuinely hoped that joining the ruling party would help them and their followers, poor peasants of that region, in getting legal rights to these lands smoothly and quickly, and the police, normally loyal to old vested interests, would not intervene.

But the CPI(M) and the Left Front did not try to consolidate this gain. The peasants who got land could have been organized into cooperatives and thus to increase production and income. But although suggested by many, this task was not undertaken at all, and in places where others undertook it, they got little encouragement. Besides, various types of nepotism regarding appointment in key posts, forcible suppression of dissent, electoral malpractices etc raised their ugly heads. It is not that they were non-existent earlier, but their extent and magnitude in the latter half of the CPI(M)-rule assumed a proportion unheard of in the early years. It may be recalled that shortly before his death in 1983, Promode Dasgupta, the then State Secretary and an influential polit bureau member of the CPI(M), lamented the corruption of many wholetimers of his party in an interview with a Bengali periodical. Dasgupta could not perhaps foresee that what he was lamenting would only grow manifold over time.

Naturally, the entitlements of the working class, particularly of those who were not white-collared, did not rise proportionately. The abysmally low wages of the tea garden workers (at the time of the end of the Left Front rule, the nominal daily wage of the workers of the plains was only Rs 67), death of a large number of workers due to malnutrition and denial of such deaths by the Left Front government are well-known phenomena.

And finally there is the issue of industrialization. The CPI(M), at least in West Bengal, is patently not going to revise its policy of corporate-led indutrialization. Industrailization, in the proper sense of the term, means the employment of a sizeable portion of the total working force in industry. That the corporate lobby, with its emphasis on profit maximization in the era of high-tech production, is not going to fulfill this requirement should be obvious enough. The policy of forming Special Economic Zones, initiated by the Congress Government at the centre and embraced by the BJP as well as the CPI(M), has succeeded in phenomenally increasing the number of billionaires (in terms of US doIlars), but not employment. Hence the talk of employment creation through (procorporate) industrialization sounds hollow. It is naive to expect that providing generous freebies to the Tatas or the Salims will solve the unemployment problem of West Bengal.

It is by now clear that the present government has out done its predecessor in imposing an authoritarian one party rule, and the persons in authority are trying to woo corporates by every possible means although the response is at best lukewarm. An alternative to procorporate industrialization must be devised. There are some serious thoughts in this direction, and it can be shown that an alternative way of industrialization is both feasible and desirable. Along with the struggle for the defence of people's rights in various spheres, struggle for implementation of this alternative is to be launched.

Vol. 48, No. 28, Jan 17 - 23, 2016