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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 23, May 23, 2009

The West Bengal Verdict

Saturday 23 May 2009, by Barun Das Gupta

The verdict of the West Bengal people in the Lok Sabha elections is loud and clear: it is a decisive rejection of the CPI-M and the Left Front led by it. The Trinamul Congress—SUCI-Congress alliance or jote won 26 of the 42 seats-Trinamul 19, SUCI 1 and Congress 6. The Left Front’s tally came down from 36 to a mere 15—CPI-M 9, CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc 2 each. For the first time the CPI-M’s score was reduced to a single-digit. The Darjeeling seat went to the BJP.

That the CPI-M was going to lose heavily in West Bengal, became evident as the party mounted a vicious, virulent and venomous slander campaign against the candidates of the Opposition. The vulgarity of the language used in anonymous leaflets against Kabir Suman, the Trinamul Congress candidate in Jadavpur (which includes the Jadavpur Assembly constituency, now held by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) was repulsive, to say the least. It betrayed the extreme nervousness of the party. In the event, Suman won handsomely.

The CPI-M was so comprehensively beaten because the people this time were determined to defeat the ruling party and frustrate all its attempts at rigging and intimidation. Some of the known “musclemen” MPs of the party, who had been winning their seats in election after election, were made to kiss the dust: Laksman Seth at Tamluk, Tarit Topdar at Barrackpur and Amitabha Nandy at Dum Dum. At Barrackpur it was Trinamul’s relatively unknown Dinesh Trivedi, who humbled the formidable Topdar by a margin of over fiftysix thousand votes.

Even in the seats it has won, its margin of victory has been drastically slashed because large-scale rigging has not been possible. For example, at Arambagh, the CPI-M won by a record margin of 5.91 lakh votes in 2004. This time the margin came down to 2.1 lakh, because the Trinamul could successfully prevent rigging.

The CPI-M and its allies have failed to open account in ten of the State’s nineteen districts. These include predominantly urban areas like Kolkata, Howrah, Barasat, South and North 24-Parganas (which has the Salt Lake area with an affluent middle-class population). This shows that the CPI-M’s campaign portraying the Trinamul and its leader as anti-development, anti-industry and being solely responsible for the exit of the Nano car factory of the Tatas from Singur cut no ice with the urban voters.

They refused to swallow the propaganda that the movement launched by Mamata Banerjee was responsible for the Tatas abandoning the Nano project and that this had put the lid permanently on the future of industrialisation of Bengal. (It is quite another matter that she never opposed the car project but only wanted the State Government to return the 400 acres of land forcibly taken from unwilling farmers.)

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The poll results left the CPI-M stunned and stupefied. It showed the party was blissfully unaware that the ground was fast slipping from under its feet, that it was getting increasingly isolated from the masses. Initially, the party sought to explain away the reverses in West Bengal by attributing these to the general pro-Congress swing all over the country. It, however, could not explain why, in that case, the Congress tally remained static at six, while Trinamul’s strength made a quantum jump from one to nineteen.

Earlier, the party was using bullying and abusive language against its political opponents. Even the intellectuals critical of the party, most of whom were ideologically Left-supporters, were not spared. Quite recently, the party’s daily mouthpiece, Ganashakti, had issued a stern warning to the intellectuals. It said: “Elections will come and go, but you will have a lot to answer for”, implying that after the polls were over, they might be targeted individually.

The tone changed soon enough as the results started coming in. A chastened Biman Bose, the Bengal CPI-M Secretary, admitted the party could not anticipate what was coming. He hinted that the party would go into the causes of the defeat and take corrective steps. He did not blame the Oppostion parties, his usual béte noire, for the defeat nor did he try to discover any “imperialist conspiracy”.

The rout has brought into the open the difference in perception between the Bengal unit of the party led by Biman Bose, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Nirupam Sen and the central leaders like Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechuri about what should be the role of the party vis-à-vis the Congress. The Bengal unit wanted that the policy of giving outside support to the UPA Government should be continued. The Bengal comrades were never happy with the central lealdership’s decision to break with the Congress on the Indo-US nuclear deal issue. This, they felt, would go against the interests of the Left Front Government which depended greatly on the cooperation of the Centre. Karat’s decision to form a nebulous “Third Front” of doubtful and vacillating allies, which would provide a non-Congress-non-BJP government at the Centre, did not also find favour with the Bengal party.

The Bengal comrades now want to shift the entire blame for the poll disaster on to the central leaders, especially Prakash Karat. This became clear as Biman Bose told the Press that the Left Front Government’s policy of acquisition of agricultural land for industrialisation was not the cause of the defeat. If it were so, how could the Congress capture all the seven seats in Delhi?—he asked. He also admitted that the people wanted a stable and secular government at the Centre, keeping the BJP at bay, and did not think the Third Front was capable of forming such a government.

In a similar vein, Sujan Chakravarty, a CPI-M MP who had just lost the Jadavpur seat to Trinamul’s Kabir Suman, also said the same thing. “The people were not very sure that the Third Front would be able to form a government,” he admitted. A CPI-M MLA, Robin Deb, who lost to Mamata Banerjee, shared this sentiment. All this was a veiled criticism of the Karat line. Chakravarty and Deb were obviously expressing the views of Alimuddin Street. Then, as if to drive home this point further, Chief Minister Buddhadeb announced he was not attending the Central Committee and Polit-Bureau meetings in Delhi. No explanation for the skip was given.

That Buddhadeb was against any confrontation with the UPA Government is well known. This was in consonance with his perception and understanding of the tasks of the Left Front Government. Ideology matters little to him. In an interview to The Telegraph of Kolkata on February 28, 2007, he had said: “We were Communists some fifty years back.... We believe in some basic tenets of Marxism. We are realists.” He continued: “I am not building socialism in one part of the country. It is a Left Government but our agenda is not to establish Communist rule in the strictest sense of the term.” So, Buddhadeb has openly stated that he is a “realist” and as a realist his acceptance of Marxism is limited only to “some basic tenets” of the Marxist ideology.

The coming days and weeks will tell how the difference between the so-called “Bengal line” of running the Left Front Government in West Bengal in cooperation with a favourably-disposed UPA at the Centre and the Karat line of maintaining equidistance from the Congress and the BJP and projecting a chimerical Third Front as an alternative to both the UPA and NDA will be resolved.

Bhattacharjee was repeaedly telling people during the poll campaign that after the elections he would go full steam ahead with his programme of industrialisation, that there would be no more discussions with the Opposition and that he would not brook any resistance to implement his programme. Should he remain bent on pursuing this policy even after the Lok Sabha poll verdict, there would be more confrontations with the people, more violence and bloodshed and further erosion of the party’s already eroded mass base. Abandoning this path would also be difficult because it will demand an alternative path, an alternative model of development. That will not be easy either.

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