The Same Tradition

The Peasant Question Returns

Arup Baisya

The violence in rural West Bengal under TMC rule indicates the continuation of the functioning of an absolutist state of left front's rule from 1990s onwards. The land reform and decentralisation of power through Panchayati Raj implemented in 1970s & 1980s respectively were reversed to pursue neoliberal development model. The industrial policy was directed towards accommodating the interest of old Jotedar class and big capital. The class base of rural workers and tenant peasants for left politics was weakened. The decentralisation that occurred through Panchayati Raj became dysfunctional. Despite these entire attempts for industrialisation from above, West Bengal's economy remained mainly dependent on agricultural production. The productivity of land and labour took a quantum jump post land reform, and Bengal till date is a leading food producing state. The productivity of land and labour is increasing with increasing out-migration of Bengal's rural labour. The increasing number of non-agricultural non-farm workers caused due to the developmental spree of housing estates like Rajarhat complex and the dispossessed peasantry for various developmental projects are the new consumers of food commodities. After the initial phase of land reform to unleash peasant capitalism, the left front experimented a rural development model of landlord capitalism by serving the economic interest of old Jotedars and absentee landlord families who were interested to get back the control of land for capital investment on the one hand and followed an industrialisation policy by serving the interest of big capital on the other. These policy persuasions itself generated a dichotomy within, and more importantly isolated the left from the new rural working class and tenant peasants. The left front tried the coercive measure on their old left class base to establish hegemony of the party and the state at the beginning of their policy paradigm shift in 1990s, and then at the fag end of their tenure tried to woo the rural workers and peasants through doles from the state. This policy of wooing the vulnerable classes through doles was adopted by TMC in its maximalist form where the major portion gets siphoned off to the dominant classes who are at the helm of distribution.

The Panchayat democracy was made dysfunctional through the control of the left Party which accommodated the dominant classes, and the rural poor were offered doles and thus transformed the state into an absolutist state. TMC after its initial phase of addressing the jubilation of rural workers and peasants for dethroning Left front is now toeing the same political line of their predecessor. The tenant peasants and the rural working class are disgruntled and disarrayed.

The absolutist state always has a tendency to use state machinery to ensure victory in the face of slightest of challenge from contending force. Left front faced electoral challenge from TMC which, in turn, is now facing the challenge from BJP. In the Panchayat elections of 2003 under left rule, 7000 seats were won uncontested by the left, and this time 34% seats were won uncontested by TMC.

The continuation of left front's policy by TMC has started creating political vacuum in Bengal's rural landscape. In absence of alternative democratic and revolutionary forces, the BJP is making inroads through communal and divisive politics and instigating ugly communal violence. The disgruntled, disarrayed and unorganised working classes who are militant in their class character are prone to imbibe this communal politics of violence, and this has added a new dimension to the politics of rural Bengal.

The democratic and revolutionary forces have so far failed to set their agenda to address this complex situation of rural Bengal. The class alliance of rural workers and tenant peasantries can be achieved by building democratic movement on the issue of ensuring democratic functioning of Panchayats, wage-hike and worker's welfare, development of rural marketing infrastructure like cold-storage through Panchayat funding, increased MSP for agricultural products and subsidised agricultural inputs for peasant capitalist's producers and co-operative farming. All these issues must be raised within the broadest alliance of forces who are interested to fight for democracy, to combat communalism and to fight for social justice. Jangalmahal, in a limited sphere in recent Panchayat election, has shown that there is still a space for democratic mass resistance.

Vol. 50, No.52, Jul 1 - 7, 2018