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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 50, New Delhi, November 28, 2020

Bengal CPI(M) hounded by the old nostalgic obsession | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 28 November 2020

by Arun Srivastava

The echo of the Historical Blunder has started reverberating in the political circle, especially among the left parties. Some left intellectuals and activists have also started dusting the pre-Hyderabad party Congress comments of historian Irfan Habib, a CPM member since 1953, “party’s "absurd’’ tactical line on alliances, if adopted at the Hyderabad party congress next week, could push the Left movement to the sidelines of India’s polity.” In July 2016, he and his wife Sayera had written to the CPM politburo and the central committee questioning the party’s official tactical line.

He had said “There is no merit in the argument that there is no difference between the Congress and the BJP. The party’s priority for the Lok Sabha elections should be to unite all secular forces and keep our own claims to a rational minimum. We should play a more proactive role, as in the past, to build a broad understanding --- we seem to have ceded this space to regional leaders. Just giving a call for supporting the strongest Opposition candidate against the BJP in seats the Left is not contesting is insufficient.”

Once again just ahead of the election to West Bengal assembly the issue of supporting the Trinmool Congress of Mamata Banerjee has emerged in a major way. The entire West Bengal CPI(M) nurses the view that TMC must be defeated even if the BJP wins the elections. It appears that the CPI(M) which could not protect its own Left Front government in 2011 from the onslaught of Mamata Bnajerjee’s Nandigram agitation would succeed in throwing out the BJP government in 2026 elections. This confidence level of the CPI(M) leadership must be appreciated. Id not it?

Their stand on the TMC makes it explicit that the CPI(M) leadership is more guided by their sectarian vision than a pragmatic view and whaqt is worse they have decided not to take lessons from their past mistakes. They are sure that the time will wait for them. Else they would not have been firm on committing hara-kiri. It is a known fact that the most of the CPI(M) workers had shifted to the BJP after coming of TMC in power. During these last years they have got completely regimented and form the core of the saffron brigade. May be some of them prefer to come back and re-join the Marxist outfit, but it would be utopian to believe that there be an exodus. If these ex-cadres had decided to come back, they could well had done this in the last assembly election.

The CPI(M) instead of pursuing its own dogmatic line inculcate the habit of listening to others. The CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya has already come out with some concrete and pragmatic suggestion. He said the Left in Bengal should identify the BJP and not TMC as the enemy. “So far, many in the Left have been treating Trinamul as the Number One target because it is in power. But the BJP is the growing danger in Bengal. Rather than competing with the BJP in opposing Trinamul, it should be the other way round…. the BJP has to be recognised as the biggest threat to democracy across the country and in Bengal. One of the problems in Bengal is that many of our comrades there are not viewing state politics in the context of national politics.”

Ironically the CPI(M) leadership was quick to rebut him. If the Left Front chairman Biman Bose quipped, “the question of forming an alliance with Trinamul in Bengal, for elections or otherwise, does not arise. The Left will fight both the BJP and Trinamul here”, the stand of his general secretary was quite intriguing, “it would be wrong to assume that joining forces against the BJP in Bengal would benefit anybody but the saffron camp. Without fighting Trinamul, the BJP cannot be fought in Bengal.”

Yechury’s observation did not reflect the imperatives of the eisting situation; “Trinamul has been in power in Bengal and there is massive popular discontent against it. If all non-BJP forces stand with Trinamul in Bengal, with the BJP in the Opposition, who other than the BJP will benefit from it?” None can deny, not even Yechury himself, that the approach of the CPI(M) in Bihar was quite ambivalent and erratic. If the CPI(ML) had not taken the initiative the CPI(M) would not have even these two seats.

The two senior leaders have serious differences about the nature of the TMC government. While Bose dubs the TMC government as communal, Yechury refrains from describing it as communal and simply feels that the incumbency is high. Obviously it is high. No doubt that TMC has miserably failed on many counts. But that does not mean that the CPI(M) should hand over victory to BJP on silver plate.

If the CPI(M) leadership feels that it is capable of fighting the BJP then why they have been maintaining a passive attitude towards ir for over these years. They also did not take to streets on a major way against the mishandling of the labour migration during the pandemic. They simply registered their presence.

Left Front has the history of late realisation. They are set to repeat the Historic Blunder. They must not nurse any illusion. If they cannot take on Mamata during these years, it is beyond their grit to take the BJP head on. The fact is the leadership even does not adopt aggressive stand on opposing the anti-people policies and programmes of the BJP. Bose has raised the issue of TMC not having ideology, morality or ethics. He may be absolutely right. But the fact remains that in the present period no party could claim to uphold these. These are turning out to be rare commodities.

The opposition of the CPI(M) to Dipankar’s suggestion owes more to its hatred for it since the days of the formation of CPI(ML). The CPI(M) must be pragmatic in its evaluation of the present political crisis and situation. Already the party has lost its all India relevance and status due to its wrong handling of the issue of support to UPA government. It has already lost its ground considerable ground in West Bengal.

Dipankar is right in his observation; “The Bengal elections are very crucial this time and the people feel inspired by Bihar’s example. It is our next station. We will try to put up a fight together with other Left parties”. What is significant Dipankar has not come out with the suggestion to forge an alliance. The CPI(M) can work for forging a democratic left front and can have seat sharing arrangement with the TMC.

Yechury must concede that the CPI(M) which was on consistently slipping out of the political scene of Bihar could win two seats due to the CPI(ML)’s endeavours. Being a national leader he must have a wider vision. This was the Left’s best performance in Bihar since 1995 when the parties had shared 38 MLAs in an undivided Bihar that included Jharkhand. Buoyed by the latest results, the parties are now eying to expand to newer areas and conduct issue-based agitations for the common people. He must dampen the spirit of other left parties only for satisfying the egos of some leaders. He must adopt a pragmatic view.

None knows better than Yechury that there is vast difference between political strategy and electoral strategy. Electorally if the party can have alliance with Congress, which was pariah for it till some months gthere is no harm in having electoral adjustment with TMC for the bigger cause. Bose’s defining the character of TMC at this stage is irrelevant and would open up a large number of political issues. If working with the Congress was essential to defeat the BJP-RSS combine, the same line applies in the next election too. The Left shouldn’t be obsessed with the ruling TMC. It should work towards increasing the anti-BJP thrust of the campaigns and shape it accordingly. One thing is crystal clear that the BJP is the bigger political enemy. Of course, the Left will have to oppose the TMC government but there can be no bracketing of the TMC and the BJP together.

Meanwhile some senior left leaders maintain that except the CPI(ML) neither the CPI(M) nor the CPI have managed to entice the younger generation in the party though almost all the students union of various universities have large number of left oriented students as their members and leaders. These leaders maintain that the established leaders have not ever tried to amend their style of working. They have been quite dogmatic in their approach.

These leaders also maintain that though the left parties had analysed the reasons for the defeat of the Left Front the recommendations are yet to be implemented. What was quite interesting no analysis was undertaken to find oit the reasons for the leftist cadres and workers preferring to join the BJP once Mamata came to power. The explanation they preferred to join the BJP only for the sake of security was far from the truth and purely non-Marxist in character. It implied that the cadres were not properly indoctrinated. A true Marxist cadre would not hide behind the BJP. The leadership must admit its failures.

In sharp contrast the Bihar units of the left parties have managed to induct young cadres. They also cite the example of Kanhaiya Kumar and argue that the new young leaders should be properly indoctrinated and give the much needed space they deserve.

It is an open secret and it also got manifested that most of the youths are with the CPI(ML) and the party has been patronising these leaders. Baring a couple almost all the MLAs are young and have emerged out of grass root struggles. In sharp contrast this has not been happening in Bengal. The left parties have not been getting associated with or organising peasant democratic movement in the rural Bengal. They have been basking in the old glory.

With the induction of young leaders, who command popularity among masses, there has been a resurgence of the Left in Bihar. Left parties and their alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the assembly elections was touted to be a formidable one, given that the former continues to command significant support in pockets.

The rural politics in Bihar usually is more violence prone. The labourers and sharecroppers have to regularly fight the violent exploitation of the landlords. Even then the CPI(ML) continues to have its support base intact. On the contrary it has increased many fold. But in the case of Bengal after the left bowed out of power in 2011, the support base crumbled. Obviously it implied that these support bases were more of the nature of economism rather than based on ideology and politics. The only other political force in Bihar having support among the EBCs and Mahadalits is the Left. This explains RJD’s newfound love for the Left parties.

The CPI (M-L) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya attributed the party’s performance to the work done by its cadres during the lockdown and “against privatisation”. “A lot of our students and young leaders who won quite handsomely have been involved in the anti-privatisation movement. Bihar students waged a very important battle against railway privatisation.” Six of the 19 candidates fielded by the CPI (M-L) were below the age of 35.

Manoj Manzil, 37, who won from Bhojpur’s Agiaon constituency, getting 61% of the votes against the JD(U)’s Prabunath Prasad, is also a well-known CPI (M-L) face in the area. A Dalit leader, the first-time MLA would be among the poorest in the current Assembly (he declared assets of over Rs 3 lakh, as per the Association of Democratic Reforms).

The CPI (M-L) has been active in the Arrah area for long, and been a part of movements for landless farmers, says Manohar Kumar, a resident, adding that this is why Manzil got votes from across castes.

The state president of the Revolutionary Youth Association and former AISA Bihar secretary Ajit Kumar Singh Kushwaha, 32, won from Dumraon in south Bihar, defeating the JD(U)’s Anjum Ara by a 14% vote difference. He had led relief efforts during the Covid lockdown.

CPI (M-L) MLA Gopal Ravidas, with declared assets lower than Manzil’s, at over Rs 1 lakh, got over 14,000 votes more than his JD(U) rival in Phulwari. The RJD agreed to give the CPI (M-L) the ticket from here over six-time winning MLA and former JD(U) minister Shyam Rajak.

For a party that headed a ruling coalition in Bengal for 34 years, it is naturally expected that it should be more pragmatic. But the manner in which Sitaram Yechury, and the West Bengal Left Front chairman, Biman Bose, have rejected the perception of Dipankar Bhattacharya, is really intriguing. It is argued that in case the left shares seat with Mamata in that case the anti-incumbency vote would go to the BJP. This argument of left is entirely untenable. The new combination will make the voters those who have been supporting to make a turn back and support the left and secular adjustment.

Bhattacharya rightly feelst that the Left’s resurgence in Bihar as part of an alliance against the BJP would inspire the CPI(M) in Bengal. The CPI(M) must identify the BJP as the prime and main political opponent. We have seen in the past too the CPI(M) and Congress had come together but they failed to motivate voters.

The left leaders must realise that are facing a formidable enemy which can go to any extent to grab the power. Fortunately Mamata Banerjee has come to realise and this manifest in coining the slogan BJP’s ‘Bohiragawto’ vs Trinmool’s ‘Bhoomiputro’. Shah’s five-man army has been given the charge of different BJP zones in Bengal. It manifests the determination of Shah.

The Trinamul Congress on Friday intensified its attack on the BJP over the theme of alleged bohiragawto (outsider) being sent to dictate terms to the bhoomiputro (son of the soil), which is likely to be a leitmotif of Mamata Banerjee’s campaign against the saffron camp in Assembly polls next summer.

“Outsiders are being brought in to attack Bengal. Some people with no understanding of Bengal or its culture, with no feeling of its pulse have been roaming our great state. This tandawb (rampage) by the bohiragawto is a follow-up to the smashing of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s statue, by those with no idea of Rabindranath Tagore and his legacy,” said Bratya Basu, state science and technology minister, who is also a theatre and film director, playwright and actor.

In May 2019, people allegedly from Amit Shah’s road show in Calcutta barged into a college and vandalised a bust of Vidyasagar. Earlier this month, the Union home minister offered flowers to a roadside statue in Bankura wrongly identified by his party as that of foremost tribal icon Birsa Munda.

CPI(M) also needs to evaluate the index of its reliance on the Congress. It could not perform well in Bihar where it was offered too much leverage. How could the CPI(M) expect it to perform well in Bengal, where it has lost its hold. In Bihar, the Congress could only win 19 of the 70 seats it contested whereas the RJD and the Left parties recorded a good strike rate. The Congress, as always, began by demanding 100 seats and had to go hunting for candidates for some of the 70 it had to settle for after seat-sharing talks.

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