Talking Left, Walking Right

Meaning of Bengal Verdict

Barun Das Gupta

It would be a critical mistake to think that the ignominious defeat of the CPI-M is a defeat of Leftism or Left politics and ideology in Bengal. The Bengal CPI-M was defeated precisely because it had ceased to be Left, precisely because it had entered into an opportunistic alliance with the Congress—the party which stands for everything that the Left stands against, be it economic liberalization, patroni-zation of crony capitalism, deepening and strengthening of strategic partnership with US imperialism or handing over the national economy to private predators.

The Bengal CPI-M's entire election campaigning was devoid of any political content and directed against a particular individual—Mamata Banerjee. Its only justification of ganging up with the Congress was a specious one—to 'save democracy' in Bengal. To save democracy? With the Congress as a co-crusader?

Let us look at history. In 1957 the first democratically elected Communist Government came to power in Kerala. It was headed by E M S Namboodiripad. It was most undemocratically and arbitrarily dismissed by the Congress which was in power at the Centre.

In 1967, the first non-Congress Government was formed in West Bengal when the two anti-Congress fronts (PULF and ULF) fighting separately won a majority, decided to merge to form the UF. The Left joined hands with Ajoy Mukherjee of Bangla Congress to form the government with Mukherjee as Chief Minister and Jyoti Basu as Deputy Chief Minister. This government was dismissed twice by Governor Dharma Vira acting as the tool of the Congress-led Centre and President's rule was imposed.

In 1972, under President's rule, Assembly elections were held in West Bengal. That was the first time the people of West Bengal came to know at first hand what is State terrorism. It was such a 'democratically' held election that the Left was decimated. Even the most popular icon of the Left, Jyoti Basu, was 'defeated' at his home constituency of Baranagar. In protest the few Left MLAs who could get elected boycotted the State Assembly for the whole of its term.

In 1977, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's election was declared null and void by the Allahabad High Court. She refused to resign. Instead, she declared internal emergency, jailed wholesale leaders and workers of parties opposed to her, gagged freedom of expression and took away even the Constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights of the citizens.

This is the 'democratic record' of the Congress. It is with this Congress that the CPI-M chose to join hands (both literally and figuratively) to 'save democracy' in the State. It forgot its own record of brutal suppression of all critics and opposition parties during its 34 years of uninterrupted rule which set a record in negation of democracy.

The people of West Bengal saw through the CPI-M game. Like a drowning man catching at a straw the CPI-M was frantically trying to keep itself afloat in West Bengal by any means, by ganging up with any party. This was the urge behind the move to join hands with the Congress. What exactly was the nature of relationship of the CPI-M with the Congress? There is considerable confusion. The central leaders of the CPI-M never admitted there was any 'alliance' with the Congress in West Bengal.

But the State CPI-M claimed it was a formal alliance. It distributed thousands of multi-coloured leaflets that appealed to the people to vote for the 'Left, democratic and secular' alliance to form an alternative government in the State. It even spelled out a thirteen point programme of the alliance government. Nobody knows who drew up the programme, where and when, or whether the Congress also accepted it and whether the central leadership of both the parties had endorsed it.

The Left-democratic-secular alliance was an outright fraud foisted on the people of West Bengal. Its sole purpose was to capture power and share it with the Congress. West Bengal CPI-M leaders even glossed over the paradox of the party adopting diametrically opposite stands in Kerala and West Bengal—hammering the Congress there and hugging the Congress here. The premiere of Rahul Gandhi and Buddhedeb Bhattacharjee at the Park Circus Maidan did not cover the CPI-M with glory or added to its credibility with the electorate.

To put it bluntly, the CPI-M has lost faith both in its ideological moorings and in its organization ability. The two are inter-related. The more you give up your ideological moorings, the more you get alienated from the people, and more you are alienated from the people the more your organization atrophies. In Singur the Trinamool Congress faced the prospect of defeat because of internal rivalry. The leader of one faction of the ruling party was bent on defeating the party's official candidate there.

Then two things happened. Mamata personally visited Singur and told all concerned that everybody would have to work for the victory of the candidate. The other thing that happened was that the CPI-M candidate at Singer, Robin Deb, chose to tour the constituency in a Nano car, reviving all the bitter memories of the forcible eviction of farmers from their multi-crop lands in 2006-07. When you lose touch with the people, you cannot feel their pulse and do what you should not do.

The thinking, the attitude and the reflexes of the Bengal CPI-M leadership have undergone a sea-change. When the Left Front first came to power in 1977, its battle cry was Bamfront Sarkar, Sangramer Hatiar—the Left Front Government is an instrument of the struggle of the people. It was said that the Left Front Government could not bring about fundamental changes in West Bengal because it was a constituent unit of a bourgeois State. But it would provide whatever relief was possible to be given to the people within its limited powers. But the main objective of the Left Front Government would be to extend and strengthen people's struggles all across the country. The objective, it was loudly stated, was to break the system from within.

From 1982 onwards, the slogan Bamfront Sarkar, Sangramer Hatiar was quietly dropped. A counter-argument was formulated. 'If we are returned to power time after time but are not able to provide employment to the people, why should they vote for us? We have to generate employment opportunities and give job to the unemployed youth'. Hence the sudden drive for industrialization—even if it meant eviction of peasants from fertile, multi-crop farmland. Hence the red-carpet treatment to the leading monopolists of the country.

What was quietly forgotten was that in a capitalist economy the scope for employment generation is very limited because the driving force of capitalism is the urge to make higher and higher profit. Higher profit means cost-cutting and one of the most important components of cost is wages. Therefore the strength of the workforce has to be reduced with better machines. Capitalism does not create employment opportunities, it reduces employment. In the case of the small car project at Singur it was pointed out that compared to capital investment very few jobs would be created and still fewer jobs would go to the local people whose lands had been taken away forcibly. But the Left Front Government did not bother to counter these arguments. It went ahead with popularizing 'Brand Buddha'. The critics of the Government policy were sneeringly asked, are industries set up on land, or in the sky?

The resistance against the forcible acquisition of land and large-scale eviction of peasants, first weak and unorganized, then strong and organized, marked the beginning of the end of the Left Front rule. But by then the thought of 'breaking the system from within' had been banished. The CPI-M ended up being a part and parcel of the 'system'.

The opportunist alliance with the Congress shows that the CPI-M has learnt nothing from its experience. It has not changed at all. Power for power's sake is its motto. Not only that. The party is incapable of course correction and bringing about a leadership change. So its downhill journey will continue. It will become increasingly irrelevant in Indian politics—whether out of power in West Bengal or in power in Kerala. (Incidentally, Kerala saw a bitter factional feud between Pinarayi Vijayan and V S Achyutanandan for chief ministership after the LDF victory. Vijayan has won and former chief minister and the most popular face of the party in Kerala, Achyutanandan, has been shown the door.)

The defeat of the CPI-M is certainly not the defeat of Leftism or the anachronization of the Left ideology. Those committed to reviving the Left movement must rededicate themselves to the task in the face of the heaviest odds and without expecting quick and spectacular result. It will be a long haul but ultimately the people will triumph.o

[Barun Dasgupta]

Vol. 48, No. 51, Jun 26 - Jul 2, 2016