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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 49, New Delhi, November 20, 2021

Thoughts on 2021 West Bengal Assembly Elections & Building A Democratic Left Secular Alternative: A non-CPIM Left Perspective

Interview of PDS leader Samir Putatunda

Friday 19 November 2021

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Leftists have to regain the confidence of the people - Samir Putatunda a leader and co-founder of Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS)

- Mainstream Desk

“CPI-M -led Left Front has lost popular support in the recent past for moving away from the people. It has gradually reached a point where, after 34 years in government, within 10 years of leaving the government, the Left in the State has not won a single seat in the Lok Sabha and Assembly. Due to political mistakes, the CPI-M-led Left Front has become weak in various fields including organisation, mass movement and electoral struggles. Instead of correcting the mistakes of politics, they are trying to cover up the political mistakes by taking organisational measures. As a result, the Left movement as a whole is being harmed. Today, due to this wrong move of the CPI-M, the leftist movement has become very weak not only in West Bengal but in the whole country”, stated Samir Putatunda, one of the founders of Party for Democratic Socialism, in a lengthy interview with Key TV news channel in Bengali. Putatunda was a West Bengal state committee member of CPI(M) when he quit the party to set up the PDS with the late Saifuddin Chowdhury, former CPI(M) MP and its central committee member two decades ago. The PDS leader’s point is unlikely to be taken by the mandarins of Muzaffar Ahmed Bhavan, the seat of the West Bengal state committee of CPI(M) which hopes to set the party in order and galvanise the CPI(M) structure by infusing young blood. He refutes this remedial perception elaborately. “In order to spread new ideas, one must first correct one’s political mistakes. One needs to change one’s political analysis of society. The programme of social change is created by standing on the ideology of the ideological group. Daily work is conducted on the basis of its programme. We can see that they are trying to come up with new faces to solve the problem. The problem is not the ’new’ or ’old’ leadership. The problem is created because of the mistakes in politics. Which enemy is the main danger? The BJP or the Congress? The Trinamool or the BJP? The problem is political, organizational steps are being taken to solve it. Political mistakes need to be corrected with new political ideas. If political mistakes are not corrected, what will the new faces do? A living team always has to be led by the younger generation. Have Leftist parties, including the CPI (M), grown without new faces? When Saifuddin Chowdhury was elected MP in 1980, he was the youngest MP in Parliament. When I was appointed a member of the CPI-M State Committee in 1985, I was the youngest member of the Committee. When Gautam Deb was made an MLA and later a Minister, he was the youngest MLA and Minister. I can mention many more names like this. This can be found in all parties. In order to cover up political mistakes, organisational measures should not be taken. The problems will remain in that situation. Isolation from the people will increase which is what is happening now. Due to such isolation, mass organisations are getting smaller. Public support is declining. I don’t think there is any organizational solution without correcting the political mistakes.

Putatunda recalled the days of ‘Himalayan blunder’, coined by Jyoti Basu, when the CPI(M) central committee rejected the proposal from the Janata Dal and its allies in 1996 that the party joined the United Front government at the centre with Basu as the Prime Minister. The party politburo gave a nod to the proposal but it was rejected by the CC. In 1998, the 16th congress (Calcutta) debated the issue but there too the CC line was through by majority, “the BJP is the biggest threat for us today. When we were in the CPI-M in 1996, there was a lot of controversy about this. The question was: who is the biggest threat to the country — the Congress or the BJP? We said that the BJP was the main danger and Jyoti Basu should be made the Prime Minister with the support of the Congress to counter the danger of the BJP. Then the CPI-M did not agree to make Jyoti Basu the Prime Minister. Jyoti Basu, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Sitaram Yechury, Saifuddin Chowdhury, Somnath Chatterjee, Subhash Chakraborty, Shyamal Chakraborty, Hannan Mollah, Mohammad Selim, Subhash Basu, Gautam Deb, Anuradha Deb – all of us were in a minority. Many of those who were in the leadership then and are still there today — Prakash Karat, Sailen Dasgupta, Biman Basu, Anil Biswas, Manik Sarkar, Chittabrata Majumder, Nirupam Sen, Suryakanta Mishra were all opposed to making Jyoti Basu the Prime Minister. They said that in the present system which protects the interests of the bourgeoisie and landlords, the party with the support of the Congress, which represents the landlords and bourgeoisie, cannot protect the interests of the people. Therefore, the responsibility of running the government of the country cannot be taken up. In this question we said that it was written in the party programme to enter the government. They explained that the government here meant the State Government. At that time the State governments were running in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura under the leadership of the CPI-M. The Communist Party came to the government came to power in 1957 in Kerala and have been in power in the state from time to time. As we said, participation in the Central Government in today’s situation was the need of the hour. They did not agree to that at that time. That is why the BJP was able to rise in the next two years. If the BJP could have been stopped that day, if the Central Government had been formed with Jyoti Basu at the helm, a new path of social change would have been paved in the country and across the world through elections” Slamming the CPI(M) leadership for its wrong stand that made the Leftist movement ‘very weak not only in West Bengal but in the whole country’ and stressed the imperative of getting out of this line . . In the Indian democratic system ‘the leftists, along with the Congress, are credible, dependable in defending the interests of the people. If such an atmosphere of unity cannot be created anew, then the country will fall into the hands of the communal forces, those who do not respect the Constitution, those who do not respect the democratic system of the country and are destroying the country’s economy. They want to destroy the agricultural system. On September 27, 2021, the people of the country observed a bandh in India against the BJP-led Central Government’.

The CPI(M) state leaders imposed the so-called Indian Secular Front led by Peerzada Abbas Siddiqi who was projected as a crowd-puller and vote catcher by some PB members from the state/ ‘Although we have seen in the media towards the end, negotiations with the ISF were ongoing. But there was no discussion with us on the ISF. It is not clear to us what they did in the name of united front. As we can see, there is such a fragile understanding, now the Congress and the CPI (M) are saying to themselves, the vote is over, that front no longer exists. In fact, the vote-based unethical compromise was given the appearance of a front’. Putatunda quipped.

Questioning the secularism of CPI(M), the PDS leader said, “… in the name of secularism, many a time narrow mindedness has been introduced. a party called ISF (was formed) to win votes, and in the name of fighting against the Trinamool and the BJP, strengthened the BJP’s hand Many people, confused by the CPI-M’s campaign, mistakenly voted for the BJP to defeat the TMC. The TMC at the grassroots has committed many injustices as also crimes. We are also fighting against these. But strengthening the BJP’s hand while campaigning against the TMC is wrong. We saw this clearly in Nandigram. The CPI used to fight for the Left Front in that seat. This time the CPI-M fielded a young woman to contest against Mamata Banerjee. Many thought they would create an environment for real three-way combat. But we saw that the CPI-M had planned to hand over the votes of the Left to the BJP. This has undermined the credibility of all leftist forces, not just the CPI-M. Not only that. An atmosphere of distrust has been created among the people towards the Left parties’.

Putatunda is optimistic and looks forward to bringing back an ‘atmosphere of trust through selfless work. The Leftists have to regain the confidence of the people by fighting for their interests. The Left will be able to play a leading role in the struggle to move forward, defeating the forces that are against the interests of the people, in the process of building a new Left democratic secular alternative’.

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The following are excerpts from an interview of Samir Putatunda, founder of PDS (Party for Democratic Socialism) in West Bengal with Saifuddin Chowdhury, for ’Key Khabar’ Bengal portal channel on September 28, 2021 — These have been chosen and translated into English by Sumit Chakravartty

Question (Q): We are currently with Samir Putatunda, one of the founders of PDS (Party for Democratic Socialism). Samir Putatunda was once a well-known name in the political arena and is still so. Welcome to ’Ki Khabar’ Samirda. You and Saifuddin Chowdhury formed the new party on February 21, 2001. What is the status of the PDS now?

Answer (A): We are working among the people. Politically when we established the PDS in 2001, we were at that time involved in certain political debates. As experience shows, communal politics has now penetrated into West Bengal as well. In general, communal politics, politics on the question of democracy, politics on the bread and butter issues of the people have penetrated into our State. All these ruling parties, which have run or are running the government at the Centre and in the State, could not rule the country or the State in a democratic and secular way according to the Constitution. As we have said before, the BJP is the biggest threat for us today. When we were in the CPI-M in 1996, there was a lot of controversy about this. The question was: who is the biggest threat to the country — the Congress or the BJP? We said that the BJP was the main danger and Jyoti Basu should be made the Prime Minister with the support of the Congress to counter the danger of the BJP. Then the CPI-M did not agree to make Jyoti Basu the Prime Minister. Jyoti Basu, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Sitaram Yechury, Saifuddin Chowdhury, Somnath Chatterjee, Subhash Chakraborty, Shyamal Chakraborty, Hannan Mollah, Mohammad Selim, Subhash Basu, Gautam Deb, Anuradha Deb — all of us were in a minority. Many of those who were in the leadership then and are still there today — Prakash Karat, Shailen Dasgupta, Biman Basu, Anil Biswas, Manik Sarkar, Chittabrata Majumder, Nirupam Sen, Suryakanta Mishra were all opposed to making Jyoti Basu the Prime Minister. They said that in the present system which protects the interests of the bourgeoisie and landlords, the party with the support of the Congress, which represents the landlords and bourgeoisie, cannot protect the interests of the people. Therefore, the responsibility of running the government of the country cannot be taken up. In this question we said that it was written in the party programme to enter the government. They explained that the government here meant the State Government. At that time the State governments were running in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura under the leadership of the CPI-M. The Communist Party came to power in Kerala in 1957. As we said, participation in the Central Government in today’s situation was the need of the hour. They did not agree to that at that time. That is why the BJP was able to rise in the next two years. If the BJP could have been stopped that day, if the Central Government had been formed with Jyoti Basu at the helm, a new path of social change would have been paved in the country and across the world through elections. We have seen, a few years thereafter the collapse of Soviet socialism that was established under the leadership of Lenin through the path of armed struggle. And in a country as big as India, a government being formed under parliamentary democracy with the leadership of Jyoti Basu would have opened an alternative path for the people to change the society in a democratic way. That was stopped. The Left Front Government has done a lot of good in the interest of the people. We ourselves were associated with many of those. The CPI-M -led Left Front has lost popular support in the recent past for moving away from the people. It has gradually reached a point where, after 34 years in government, within 10 years of leaving the government, the Left in the State has not won a single seat in the Lok Sabha and Assembly. Due to political mistakes, the CPI-M led Left Front has become weak in various fields including organisation, mass movement and electoral struggles. Instead of correcting the mistakes of politics, they are trying to cover up the political mistakes by taking organisational measures. As a result, the Left movement as a whole is being harmed. Today, due to this wrong move of the CPI-M, the leftist movement has become very weak not only in West Bengal but in the whole country. We have to come out of this. Because in the democratic system of our country, the leftists, along with the Congress, are credible, dependable in defending the interests of the people. With Jyoti Basu at the helm of this force, a gathering of local parties was taking place in different States. If such an atmosphere of unity cannot be created anew, then the country will fall into the hands of the communal forces, those who do not respect the Constitution, those who do not respect the democratic system of the country and are destroying the country’s economy. They want to destroy the agricultural system. On September 26, 2021, the people of the country observed a bandh in India against the BJP-led Central Government.

The BJP wants to hand over the agricultural system to corporate capital. Against this a movement has spread across the country on the basis of the unity of the peasants with the support of the common people. A new atmosphere of unity of the anti-BJP forces is being created. To strengthen that endeavour, the PDS is involved in a united movement. In addition to the peasant movement, the PDS is trying to build a movement of the people from different walks of life.

Q: You created the PDS in 2001. What are the fundamental differences between the Constitution of the PDS, its goal and those of the CPI-M? And what are the similarities?

A: The general similarity is that we are both Leftist parties. We speak and act in the interests of the common man. The CPI-M is also supposed to work in the interest of the common man. It has grown by working that way. But the difference is that they do not accept the system of multi-party democracy. They cling to the doctrine of working-class dictatorship. We think that in today’s world, there cannot be any dictatorship. We want to change the society in a democratic way by participating in elections, accepting the system of multi-party democracy. They speak of changing society through armed struggle. They are governed by the principle of democratic centralism, as the principle of organization management. In our opinion, there is no need for centralism. The simple democratic process is enough. They are secular. But in the name of secularism, many a time narrow mindedness has been introduced. For example, before the Assembly elections this year, the Muslim Conservatives formed a party called ISF to win votes, and in the name of fighting against the Trinamool and the BJP, strengthened the BJP’s hand. Even today, the CPI-M is the largest Left party. But for some time now, the CPI-M has not been able to lead itself in the way that the Left was supposed to lead its allies. This is very sad. To the common man, the CPI-M, the Left Front and the Left have become synonymous. For a long time now the Left Front has been run by the CPI-M. Outside the Left Front, there are many Leftist parties like ours, which are still working in the interests of the common man. Many people, confused by the CPI-M’s campaign, mistakenly voted for the BJP to defeat the TMC. The TMC at the grassroots has committed many injustices as also crimes. We are also fighting against these. But strengthening the BJP’s hand while campaigning against the TMC is wrong. We saw this clearly in Nandigram. The CPI used to fight for the Left Front in that seat. This time the CPI-M fielded a young woman to contest against Mamata Banerjee. Many thought they would create an environment for real three-way combat. But we saw that the CPI-M had planned to hand over the votes of the Left to the BJP. This has undermined the credibility of all leftist forces, not just the CPI-M. Not only that. An atmosphere of distrust has been created among the people towards the Left parties. We have to bring back the atmosphere of trust through selfless work. The Leftists have to regain the confidence of the people by fighting for their interests. The Left will be able to play a leading role in the struggle to move forward, defeating the forces that are against the interests of the people, in the process of building a new Left democratic secular alternative.

Q: Allies of the Left Front say that the Indian Secular Front was imposed on them.

A: This is the weakness of the allies of the Left Front. The CPI-M alone cannot be blamed for this. The allies of the Left Front will also have to take responsibility for this. The CPI, Forward Bloc, RSP could have publicly protested against this mistake of the CPI-M. They had protested during the Singur Nandigram movement. Many a time they had objected to a lot of work of the CPI-M. If they did so, they would have been able to stand on their own feet. In this election, the PDS wanted to fight on the basis of seat agreement with the Left Front. Biman Basu, Surya Mishra discussed with the PDS General Secretary Anuradha Deb and President Satyen Roy on October 20, 2019, PDS with a letter to the Left Front. At no point in the discussions that took place between 22 January ’21 and 25 February did we mention the ISF. Although we have seen in the media towards the end, negotiations with the ISF were ongoing. But there was no discussion with us on the ISF. It is not clear to us what they did in the name of united front. As we can see, there is such a fragile understanding, now the Congress and the CPM are saying to themselves, the vote is over, that front no longer exists. In fact, the vote-based unethical compromise was given the appearance of a front.

Q: You mentioned Anuradha Deb. Let me ask you a question, when they were in charge of the organization, the number of female members in the CPI-M was very high. Now the number has fallen to 10.6%. They have decided to make it 25%. Will people come? Today’s generation has learned to think a little anew, has that thought flowed into the CPI-M ?

A: In order to spread new ideas, one must first correct one’s political mistakes. One needs to change one’s political analysis of society. The programme of social change is created by standing on the ideology of the ideological group. Daily work is conducted on the basis of its programme. We can see that they are trying to come up with new faces to solve the problem. The problem is not the ’new’ or ’old’ leadership. The problem is created because of the mistakes in politics. Which enemy is the main danger? The BJP or the Congress? The Trinamool or the BJP? The problem is political, organizational steps are being taken to solve it. Political mistakes need to be corrected with new political ideas. If political mistakes are not corrected, what will the new faces do? A living team always has to be led by the younger generation. Have Leftist parties, including the CPI (M), grown without new faces? When Saifuddin Chowdhury was elected MP in 1980, he was the youngest MP in Parliament. When I was appointed a member of the CPI-M State Committee in 1985, I was the youngest member of the Committee. When Gautam Deb was made an MLA and later a Minister, he was the youngest MLA and Minister. I can mention many more names like this. This can be found in all parties. In order to cover up political mistakes, organisational measures should not be taken. The problems will remain in that situation. Isolation from the people will increase which is what is happening now. Due to such isolation, mass organisations are getting smaller. Public support is declining. I don’t think there is any organizational solution without correcting the political mistakes.

Q: At a recent SFI rally in Navadwip, it was learned that we have lost about four and a half lakh members in just one year. Why did the young generation suddenly turn away from the CPI-M?

A: See, if timely decisions are not made, then there is isolation from the common people, including the younger generation.

I don’t think they will be able to get out of this problem if there is no change. The back is against the wall, so it has compromised with the Congress. What happened to ordinary people? Now there is even no wall behind the back. In fact, the CPI (M) could not move away from the political wrongdoing. Therefore, there are various inconsistencies, hesitations and confusions in the decisions of CPI-M.

Q: 25 years ago Jyoti Basu could have been the Prime Minister. He could not become the Prime Minister due to the objections of CPIM. He said it was a historical mistake. In hindsight, do you think that if the PM had been elected 25 years ago, the BJP would have emerged?

A: No, it would not have happened. Such incidents would not have happened. Had Jyoti Basu been the Prime Minister, the BJP would not have emerged in 1998, a party like the TMC might not have been born. In the States, new parties would not have been formed after the dissolution of the Congress. The Congress would not have been so weak. If the Congress was not doing well, the Congressmen would not have gone to the BJP if the Congress had broken up. In that environment, with Jyoti Basu as the PM, local non-Congress, non-BJP parties, would have centered on the Left. In that case, the politics of the country would have flowed in another direction. Today, the BJP is running the government with a dictatorial attitude. However, the popularity graph of the BJP as well as Narendra Modi is going down. The public support of the BJP is declining. Its condition has become very weak all over the country. They had forcibly occupied Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. They wanted to take over Rajasthan, but could not. The law and order situation has deteriorated across the country. The prices of daily necessities, including petrol, diesel, cooking gas, have skyrocketed. With its anti-peasant stance, it has angered the country’s peasants. The situation is not the same as before. From Notebandi (the cancellation of notes) to the Covid situation, various measures have angered people from all sections of society. The BJP will have to suffer the consequences.

Q: Evaluate the following four names:

A: First Jyoti Basu: In Indian politics, I consider Jyoti Basu to be an exceptional politician. For 23 years, he has shown how a State Government can be used for the benefit of the people. Even after being elected in a social system different from the doctrine he believed in, he ran the government without any problem. There is no other precedent in the world of this phenomenon.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharya: He was a political leader who came up from the youth movement. As an administrator, I will put Buddhadeb Bhattacharya far behind Jyoti Basu. He is popular among the middle-class people. But as he had no direct connection with the workers and peasants movement, he had many shortcomings in understanding the attitude of the people.

Subhash Chakraborty: He had enough power to attract the people. He was involved in various activities among them. But he did not use the organisational power that he had, as much as he had used it for administrative and party work. He was not given the due status in the party and administration. If he was given so, he might have been able to show more skill. Mamata Banerjee: I would say her greatest virtue is that as a person she has shown special skill in dealing with all her opponents, forming her own forces and defeating her enemies. Right or wrong, good or bad, there is a lot of criticism about her functioning. I myself have filed a case against her in the High Court regarding the Panchayat elections. But Mamata Banerjee is definitely one of the political leaders who has worked in our country with considerable success.

Q:  We have seen that after the Soviet Union fell apart, the Left has been excluded in what was the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

A: It is not right to say that the Left has been rejected across the world. Even in the last elections in Russia, the Communists have won 17% of the votes.

(Courtesy: ’Key Khabar’)

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