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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 14, New Delhi, March 20, 2021

A Critique of the Left Politics in West Bengal | Arup Kumar Sen

Friday 19 March 2021, by Arup Kumar Sen

West Bengal has a rich tradition of Left politics. However, we are witnessing a crisis of Left politics in the State in recent times. The crisis is organically connected with the politics of social democracy practised by the Left. The parameters of such politics were manifested during more- than- three-decade-long rule of the CPI (M)-dominated Left Front (LF) government in West Bengal.

The Left Front came to power in West Bengal in 1977 with lot of promises. In fact, the land reform measures like Operation Barga and distribution of vested land among the landless and land-poor peasants in the early years of its rule as well as activation of three-tier panchayat institutions helped the LF government to strengthen its support base in rural Bengal. However, such measures did not lead to democratic governance of the villages. Most of the panchayat institutions were controlled and run by the dominant party - CPI (M) — in power, and the important functionaries of these institutions came from the rural middle class. A field study reported that, under the LF regime, the party-dominated panchayat institutions came to represent an alternative structure of authority to that of the police and other civil service officers, in the rural areas.

When the CPI (M)-led LF government decided to follow the neoliberal path of industrialization in the first decade of the 21st century and unleashed State violence on the people in Singur and Nandigram for acquiring village land, the grassroots panchayat institutions were completely bypassed and the voices of the village people were suppressed.

Many industrial units in West Bengal closed their shutters during the LF rule. A field report observed that of the factories which stopped production, more than 90 per cent were due to lock-outs declared by the management. The land belonging to such factories in and around Kolkata were used for constructing shopping malls and multi-storey residential buildings for the elites. This changed the architectural and social settlement patterns of the city. (See A Report on Locked-out Factories, Plight of Workers and Urban Space, Nagarik Mancha, Kolkata, 2005)

The LF government in West Bengal did not hesitate to use the coercive machinery of the State in suppressing the protests of workers. This happened during many Capital-Labour conflicts, particularly those in the jute industry.

The Left should rethink its paradigm of development and governance while critiquing the present Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in power in West Bengal.

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