Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lok Sabha Election 2009: The West Bengal Verdict

Santosh Rana

The people of West Bengal have given their verdict against party-dictatorship and the terror of the CPI(M).

At last, the people of West Bengal, both urban and rural, both Hindus and Muslims, and both low and high caste, voted against the Left Front, particularly the CPI(M). In 1977, the people had voted against the dictatorial regime of the Congress. After 32 years, the people almost repeated that performance. It was a historic victory of the people.

In 1977, the people had brought the Left Front to power. A massive movement of the workers and peasants unleashed itself. The peasants occupied many vested lands, the share-croppers recorded the plots in their names and there was an uprising against semi-feudal landlords and other vested interests. The revisionist CPI(M) leadership did not want this movement to advance further to overcome the limits of bourgeois democracy, i.e., the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. In the name of controlling disorder, they concentrated all power in the hands of their party committees. They formulated a line to decimate all opposition parties in both rural and urban areas. If some peasant did not support the CPI(M), then he would not get any vested land, a BPL card or a house under the Indira Awas Yojana. Starting from primary schools to the universities, all appointments were controlled by the party.

After Buddhadeb Bhattacharya became the Chief Minister, the bureaucratic set-up formed during the previous 25 years engaged itself to start a process of rapid “industrialization”. Being Marxists, they knew very well that under a neo-liberal regime, industrialization would destroy more jobs than it could create. Still, they jumped on to that path. In this venture, they had to grab land from peasants as demanded by the corporate sector and they started doing it. They had to go against the interests of the small retail traders. They invited the Salim group of Indonesia to build a highway from Barasat to Raichak, a pleasure cum health-tourism city at Bhangar near the airport and a chemical SEZ at Nandigram. They also planned to acquire vast lands in Singur for the Tatas in Howrah and other districts for the corporate sector. They tried to convince the people of West Bengal that industrialization would create jobs for the jobless but the people were not convinced. Protest movements started in Bhangar and then in Singur, Nandigram and other areas. The valiant peasants built massive resistance struggles in the face of which the government had to withdraw, but not before committing mass murder in Nandigram. The people tasted victory for the first time in their struggle against the bureaucracy, party-dictatorship and the pro-imperialist policies followed by the CPI(M).

In the Panchayat election of 2008, the people got a chance and they utilized it to defeat the CPI(M) in vast areas of South and North Bengal. In the Lok Sabha election, the people who were eager to get rid of the CPI(M) misrule wanted an anti-CPI(M) alliance. With Congress, Trinamul and SUCI joining hands this unity was partly achieved. Some M-L parties were outside this alliance. So were the PDS (Party for Democratic Socialism) — a breakaway group of the CPI(M) — and the PDCI (People’s Democratic Conference of India) — a party promoted by the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind of West Bengal. But the people were eager to defeat the CPI(M) and they considered the Congress-Trinamul alliance as a viable alternative to the CPI(M). There was a strong polarization of votes and with nearly 7 percent swing away from the Left Front, it managed to win 15 seats out of 42, compared to the 35 it won in 2004. Considering the Assembly segments, the Left Front lost in as many as 193 out of a total of 293 seats. If the present trends continue, 2011 is going to witness the end of three decades of Left rule in West Bengal.

The Sachar Report

Apart from the party dictatorship and the bureaucracy of the CPI(M), the discontent among the Muslims played a significant role in the Lok Sabha results. Muslims constitute nearly a quarter of the state’s population but their presence in the government and semi-government services is negligible. This is a result of severe discrimination against the Muslims observed in all other spheres of life. The Muslims themselves were quite aware of this discrimination but the publication of the Sachar Report gave them an opportunity to vent their grievances.

A Wave for the Congress?

The CPI(M) leadership was shocked by the election results. They had apprehended a loss of few seats but could not imagine such a devastating result. But they are not ready for a self-examination. Instead of critically examining their policies, particularly those followed over the last few years, they tried to explain their defeat by a “Congress Wave”. Their Bengal leadership went so far as to criticize one of the few correct decisions which their Central Committee had taken, i.e., the decision to oppose the Indo-US nuclear deal, as having caused the debacle. But where was the “Congress Wave”? The Congress got 2 percent more votes than what they got in 2004. This was certainly no wave. There was a real sympathy wave for Congress in 1984 after the death of Mrs. Gandhi. Even then, the Congress could not win more than 16 seats in WB. This time the Left Front lost because they had abandoned the Left positions and had joined the battle for the rich, the Nano, the Tatas, the Salims and other multinationals.

But the Rightists Took Advantage

It is true that the Congress-TMC alliance took advantage of the situation and increased their seats. But it is also true that they had to pay a price to get that advantage. In West Bengal, the TMC opposed the SEZ, opposed the eviction of hawkers and retail traders and opposed land grabbing in Bhangar, Singur, Nandigram and many other places. The people got some immediate respite which they longed for.

Now, what will the UPA government do? Will it reverse the pro-imperialist and pro-rich policies followed during 2004-09? Certainly not. It may be that it will go slow on certain reforms like privatisation of banking, insurance and pension schemes and disinvestments in profit-making PSUs. Till the Assembly election in West Bengal, the Central Government may be pressurized by its Trinamul partner to go slow on SEZs and other projects affecting the people of WB and even sanction some more trains or a factory to show a pro-Bengal image. Their target is to capture power in WB. Their real face will be seen only after that.

The people of West Bengal have witnessed how the powerful mass movement of the 1970s and the 1980s was destroyed. The route was through a bureaucratic set-up that substituted for the mass movement, suppressed the opposition and democratic rights, and set up a one-party dictatorship. The Trinamul Congress is getting ready to take the same route. Once they capture Writers Buildings, they will probably suppress all opposition in urban and rural areas as the Congress did in the seventies. Even before capturing Writers Buildings, they have started doing it in some parts of East Midnapur. They want to replace a CPI(M)-led bureaucratic structure by a Trinamul-led structure. It is only after that they will advance to implement the neo-liberal policies dictated by Manmohan Singh.

But it will not be easy for them. It took 32 years for the people of West Bengal to realize the true nature of the CPI(M) and gather courage to rise in revolt against it. For the Congress-Trinamul combine, it will be less than five years. This time, the people’s struggles will advance to a higher stage, provided the genuine Left forces chalk out a programme of revolutionary democracy and persistently work to isolate both the CPI(M) and the Rightist forces.

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