Left In Coma

TMC Wins

Badruddin Umar

The Trinamul Congress (TMC) led by Mamata Banerjee, has come to power in West Bengal once again after winning the recently held assembly polls. It cannot be said that this victory was unexpected. Yet the situation during the last two or three months before the polls gave rise to doubts in this regard. The doubt had its genesis in the way the Central Government and their party, the BJP, and the Congress-Left alliance declared war against the TMC and spared no pains to defeat it, almost ostracized it, and the way the masses attended their public rallies. But despite this large-scale propaganda and attack, the TMC has returned to power with massive support from the electorate. Besides this, although they had run the government for five years, they have been able to increase their number of seats. In the 2011 polls, they won 184 seats, which they have been able to increase to 211. In this sense, this TMC victory is somewhat surprising. From 1977 to 2011, the CPI(M)-led Left Front remained in power in West Bengal for a continuous stretch of 34 years. They lost the polls in 2011. But the 2016 polls have reduced them to almost a position of zero relevance in West Bengal. The possibility that they will be a force to reckon with in the near future is uncertain. This fall of the CPI(M) is no less a matter of surprise than the election victory of the Trinamul Congress. Although the CPI(M) obtained more than 60 seats in the 2011 polls, it has now got only 27, and have lost the status of the main opposition party in the assembly. The Congress, by winning 45 seats, has dislodged it from that position.

The recently concluded polls in West Bengal was not a fake affair, as the polls of 2014 in Bangladesh was. This election is largely different from the way the Awami League won in Bangladesh by using the Election Commission and the police as faithful servants. During the parliamentary polls of 2014, Mamata Banerjee pushed the election commission into a corner and freely used the police and her army of hooligans, although these tactics were not then necessary for winning. For this reason, all the opposition parties this time demanded that the Election Commission act strongly and impartially, and wanted the deployment ol central armed forces, so as to prevent the official ruling party from unleashing terror with the help of the police. Accordingly, a large army of central forces was deployed and the national Election Commission too increased its surveillance. In that situation, notwithstanding violence in some places, the polls took place more or less smoothly and there was scarcely any scope of manipulation of votes. It has been admitted by all that the polls have been held in a neutral manner. After the publication of the results, no party complained of rigging or partiality.

Muslim votes have played a large role in the West Bengal polls. Since 1947, they voted for a long time for the Congress, but that was of little avail. The Congress, the 'secular' political party, pushed the Muslims into a marginalized position and aggravated their distress. In respect of education and learning, Muslims became more backward compared with their position in 1947. Although they constitute about 30% of the population of West Bengal, their participation in government jobs was less than 2%. For these reasons, they turned away from the Congress in 1977 and supported the CPI(M).But during the period of the rule of the Left Front led by the ‘socialist’ CPI(M), their conditions did not improve at all in respect of education, employment and trade. Even in 2011, their position in respect of education and training did not improve at all. Their share in government services was less than 2%, as under the Congress rule. Considered in this respect, the CPI(M)-led Left Front betrayed their aspirations. In spite of that, they gave the CPI(M)a last chance in the 2006 polls, and helped it to win easily. But the CPI(M) neglected them in a mood of defiance. Jobs like grade C employment, teachership in schools, clerkships in government offices and courts, continued to elude them. But although it has projected itself as the friend of Muslims, the TMC has done nothing for them except increasing the allotment for madrasas and introducing allowances for the Imams of masjids. The rate of education received by Muslims in schools and colleges has not increased, and their employment in services is about the same. In the report of a Commission, it was said that the condition of Muslims was in many respects worse than that af lower caste Hindus or dalits. The CPI(M) did not take any notice of the problem, nor did the TMC did it. Yet Mamata Banerjee succeeded in beguiling the Muslims by appearing at their various religious functions. As she presented herself among them and talked about their problems, she acquired a following among the Muslims. But one major reason for the electoral support was that the Muslims had not thought of supporting the Congress or the CPI(M) any more. Just as they had supported the Congress and the CPI(M), and allowed them to improve the conditions of their community, they have this time supported the TMC having almost no other way. Considered in this light, it can be said that Muslim votes have played a decisive role in the polls in West Bengal this time.

After coining to power in 1977, the CPI(M) implemented one type of land reform and somewhat improved the conditions of the peasantry, particularly the sharecroppers. Eviction from land at will was stopped, and the share of crops was raised to three-fourth of total output. Besides, other types of extortions were lessened. For these reasons, the support among the peasantry for the CPI(M) increased. But land reform is something, the results of which cannot be sustained unless it could not be made to transcend the stagnant stage and taken to a more developed phase. The CPI(M), after the preliminary works, could not do this. It was, however, not possible within the orbit of parliamentary politics and Indian constitutional framework. Hence the CPI(M), which was bent on retaining power through parliamentary politics could not advance further in this respect. Besides, when it was in power, many opportunist elements joined the CPI(M), and these people even did not pay their sharecroppers even the stipulated shares of the crops. On the whole, the CPI(M)’s share among the peasantry began to wane. Besides, although the CPI(M)had gone to power by means of support from the peasantry, it became indifferent towards peasant interest since the late nineties of the last century. The way they acquired land in Singur and Nandigram without peasants' support and approval in the name of industrialization was resisted by the peasantry in both places. The government employed their police forces in order to crush this resistance. In Nandigram, there was wanton killings of peasants and agricultural labourers, and many incidents of rape were also reported. Representatives of various organizations went to Nandigram in order to make on the spot investigations. Forcible acquisition of land in Singur and repression on peasants in Nandigram created a hostile reaction among the peasantry all over West Bengal. It may be mentioned in passing that both Singur and Nandigram were Muslim-dominated areas. The major reason for the CPI(M)'s defeat in the 2011 polls was its isolation from the peasantry in this way. On the other hand, Mamata Bancrjee took advantage of it and craftily launched movements against the CPI(M) in the two areas. She succeeded in building up a good measure of support for her among the peasantry. That was one principal reason for her electoral victory.

After the 2011 polls, the CPI(M)did not take any steps worth the name for correctly identifying and rectifying their mistakes. They did not go to the peasantry for regaining their confidence. They built up no significant movement involving the toiling people, including the working class, not only the peasantry. They only capitalized on the terror continued by the TMC and fought the elections with a negative outlook. Although they issued a formal election manifesto, it did not figure at all in their campaign and propaganda. Their only programme and slogan was to dislodge the TMC from power. In order to achieve this aim, they made the mistake of forming an electoral alliance with the Congress. On behalf of this alliance, they exhorted the people to 'come forward to form a non-communal government' in West Bengal. This failed to deliver the goods, because communalism was not a significant issue in the West Bengal polls. Besides, although such talks were applicable to the BJP, those whom they had sought to dislodge, namely the TMC was not considered by the people of West Bengal, not only the Muslims, as more communal than the Congress and the CPI(M).

Formation of an open alliance with the reactionary Congress party created widespread adverse reaction among the CPI(M) ranks and weakened the CPI(M) in many ways. It is not possible here to dwell on it. But it needs to be emphasized that although the supporters and activists of the CPI(M) ordinarily voted for the Congress as their electoral ally, the Congress betrayed the CPI(M) in this regard. As a matter of fact the Congress nowhere mobilized its voters in favour of the CPI(M). They cast their votes in favour of the BJP and in specific cases, some other candidate. Although the BJP obtained only three seats, 10 percent of total votes were cast in their favour. In the Mangalkot assembly constituency, the CPI(M) candidate won in 2011, while the B.IP received only two thousand votes. This time, the BJP has received 30 thousand votes and the Bahujan Samaj Party has got 5500 votes. All these were votes cast by the Congress against the CPI(M). This phenomenon has occurred in almost all areas of West Bengal.

Despite its resounding victory, the Trinamul Congress is an extremely authoritarian political party. It is not true that reactionaries and fascists do not work for development. They do developmental work, although its fruit does not reach workers and peasants. The government led by Mamata Banerjee has done some developmental work in West Bengal. Keeping this in the forefront, Mamata Banerjee conducted her electoral campaign tirelessly. It is not that the fruits of development have gone only to the privileged classes. There are the leaders of the TMC, not only as beneficiaries of development, but as utterly corrupt people also. They were involved in scams like Sarada, Narada etc. The opposition parties also widely highlighted these issues. But what is noteworthy is that voters have reelected the TMC despite this. The opposition conducted their election campaign on the basis of negative votes. The principal reason for the defeat of the Congress, and particularly the CPI(M), along with the return of the TMC is the negative reaction among the people against their treatment by the Congress and the CPI(M)when they were in power.       

[Translated from original Bengali by Anirban Biswas]
[Barduddin Umar : President, National Liberation Council, Bangladesh]

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