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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 26, June 13, 2009

The Left‘s Exit

Saturday 13 June 2009, by A K Biswas

COMMUNICATION

Prof Shobhanlal Datta Gupta’s excellent critique on the debacle in the parliamentary election 2009 of the ruling Left dispensation of 32 years in West Bengal (“The Left’s Exit: Notes for Consideration of All Concerned”, Mainstream, May 23, 2009), though comprehensive, leaves much kernel for consideration. There has been unanimity across the board that the Left Front’s drubbing is attributable to the swing of the Scheduled Castes, Tribes and minorities, particularly the Muslims, away from their fold. Any analysis of the electoral losses and/or gains, therefore, obviously cannot be complete or correct without taking into account the view from that end. Careful examination of the Left’s performances vis-a-vis the aspirations of this segment, who together account for about 54 per cent of the State’s population [SCs 23.6 per cent, Muslims 23.6 per cent and tribal seven per cent], merits priority to unearth the real reasons of the Left’s poor show. The vast size of this segment is too important for a shoddy treatment.

Sometime back the Chief Minister was quoted by the media as saying: “To us communism means land reforms, agricultural growth, industrial development and cultural progress.” [The Times of India, Calcutta, August 6, 2007] He thereby highlighted the party’s critical focus areas. The statement, innocuous though it may sound, is full of grave meaning, implications and consequences. It has been noted and noticed that focus on education for the masses has been missing from the Left manifestos altogether. To be fair, all political parties have shown little sensitivity for placing it on their manifesto. They have turned a Nelson’s eye to this basic issue and weapon of national development. The Left rulers, it seems, did not reckon with the importance this pitfall warranted. The Left Front in West Bengal started their innings with the abolition of English from the primary school curriculum in the 1970s. By doing so the Left rulers had not only grievously erred but also harmed the interests of the masses, who were left with no avenue open for their ultimate uplift on modern lines. The government’s commitment and resolve for industrialisation ipso facto put them face to face with an impending disaster for survival. With no other resources to fall back upon, they would be reduced to a vast army of paupers and beggars if the little lands owned by them were acquired for industry. With no skills and technological training, they foresaw that they would get no job in the industries to be set up in a liberalised economy. Over the last three decades the government did not equip the lowest strata with skills and techniques by imparting appropriate education to meet the challenges of their life in a brutal competitive world. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes perhaps took three decades to realise that they were being given education which was of no use to them. They have not been incorporated into a knowledge society nor into a knowledge culture. This, they have started believing, has been a deliberate official policy of the forces driving the government.

Educated Scheduled Castes and Tribes
in Employment

The censuses of 1991 as well as 2001 brought out unflattering facts. There were 1,77,701 Scheduled Caste graduates and post-graduates in arts, commerce, technical and management put together—1,14,830 from rural and 62,871 urban West Bengal. Of them, 66,993 (37.7 per cent) were employed. The blessed underdogs, including 200 women and 10,847 men, were, says the census report of 1991, cultivators and agricultural labourers. Some of the graduates and postgraduates were also found working in livestock, forestry, fishing, hunting, plantation, orchard and allied activities etc. [Census of India 1991, series 26-West Bengal, part VIII(I) Special tables of Scheduled Castes, vol. 1, pp. 300-301] With university degrees, they were toiling side by side with unskilled and illiterate labourers perhaps with same wages. However, according to the census of 2001 there were 2,36,667 graduates out of 1,84,52,667 SCs and 20,566 out of an army of 44,06,794 STs in the State. These educated young men and women stood no better chance in the employment market than their illiterate and unskilled neighbours, did they? Even the government in the State was hostile to their aspirations. We may cite instances to support this contention. In the last three years, the West Bengal School Service Commission has recruited thousands and thousands of school teachers. But the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were left out as they were not found suitable for recruitment. In 2007, over 20,000 teachers were recruited by the said Commission. But media reports suggested that not one SC or ST was found suitable for recruitment, though some 4000 plus vacancies were reserved. [Ananda Bazar Patrika, Kolkata, August 4, 2007] Every year this farce is being repeated in the State on the plea that they did not meet the criteria of suitability.

The West Bengal Public Service Commission, on the other hand, has been no less insensitive. They had recommended 33 Scheduled Castes and just one Scheduled Tribe candidates against 107 and 54 vacancies respectively reserved for them out of 461 vacancies for post of clerks in 1983. The Commission did not find what they famously called “qualified candidates” amongst the accursed underdogs. So a total of 121 reserved vacancies were de-reserved and filled up by general candidates on recommendations by the WBPSC. [Annual Report of West Bengal Public Service Commission, 1985-86, p. 37] The educational eligibility for recruitment of clerks in the State is higher secondary.

West Bengal boasts of highest registered unemployed youth in India. The conditions of the minorities, particularly the Muslims, in terms of employment are no more a secret thanks to the Sachar Committee Report. The minorities, we have been told, do not account for even five per cent government servants there.

The State’s high point for glory is communal peace and harmony as also the total absence of caste-based atrocities as witnessed elsewhere in India. This does not mean that there are no killings of Muslims, Scheduled Castes or Tribes in particular. Muslims are butchered by Muslims in conflicts engineered on party lines. So there is communal hue on this violence. The SCs kill SCs. The STs massacre STs. Again there is no accusation of atrocities. All these are politically organised under the garb of political ideology. West Bengal is one of the worst among the violent States in India. West Bengal round the year has been seething with tension and strifes, literally claiming hundreds of men, not excluding women. The agitations of the Gorkhas in the Darjeeling Hills as well as the Rajbanshi community, who are SCs, for separate States respectively and tremendous discontent among the tribal population in Midnapur, Birbhum and Bankura speak eloquently about the Left Front rule. The memories of the Marichjhapi massacre of Bengali refugees rehabilitated in the Dandakaranya Project in the vast inhospitable areas comprising Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh two decades ago are still fresh and festering in the three-to-five million Namasudras. They were all low people. Many prominent Left leaders, including present Ministers of the Left parties, had assured them solemnly that once voted to power they [the Bengali refugees] would be brought back to West Bengal and rehabilitated appropriately. When voted to power in 1977, the leaders forgot their promises. But the supporters did not. They came on their own volition and settled themselves in Marichjhapi deep in the Sundarbans as the promises were not kept. The State swooped on the hapless poor who numbered more 40,000 men, women, children and old. Even international humanitarian relief was not allowed to approach them by the Left Front Government. They were killed in cold blood. Women were raped and violated. Drinking water was denied. Medicines were not allowed to the sick and elderly. Dead bodies were thrown to crocodiles and animals to be devoured. The poor people then saw the cruel face of Communist rulers too early in the day.

The choreography for Indian democracy is getting to be captivating. Castes continue to dominate the centrestage of electoral politics though the spoils are usurped or cornered by a traditionally privileged class. The Dalits, Muslims and Brahmans once formed the core support base of the Congress. The BJP is said to have the backing of the Brahmans, Banias and certain backward castes. The BSP, which originally started off as an exclusively Dalit organisation, has co-opted the sarvajan society, that is, upper castes particularly the Brahmans. But the Left suffers from no such stigma per se. The Left parties claim to espouse and promote the causes of the poor and deprived irrespective of caste, creed, religion etc. Its leaders and cadres claim to be above the taint of caste or religion. However, nobody has highlighted what has been happening in West Bengal at the government level in the last three decades. The present government, for instance, has sixteen Brahmans, including the Chief Minister, in a Cabinet of 33 Ministers. The Ministers of State are not included in it. The Muslims who constitute 23.6 per cent of population have 40 MLAs and fives Ministers. Not one Bengali tribal representative has been considered “fit” to handle any portfolio as a Cabinet Minister. The government has crowned themselves with glory by drafting a tribal as a Minister of State.

Incidentally, during the veteran communist Jyoti Basu’s regime, the Kayasthas enjoyed numerical superiority over the priestly class as at present! Bereft of education, livelihood, and dignity the proletariat cannot remain loyal perennially to the Herrenvolks so that they could exclusively enjoy unhindered the loaves and fishes of democracy. They have perhaps seen through the game being played out far too long. It may not be out of place to state that the Brahman, Kayastha and Baidya, euphemistically called the Bengali bhadralok, who do not account for more than six-to-seven per cent of the population, represent 56 per cent of the general (unreserved) constituencies in the present Bidhan Sabha. Democracy, in the given circumstances, is walking on its head there. Grabbing the disproportionate share of the cake may be a unique pleasure and privilege for them but can the silent majority be blamed if it is no more a fun for them? They have silently revolted in a language reflective in the ballot boxes.

The State is in the throes of relentless strife and acute tension, claiming lives round the year. In other States, violence do take place, usually before, during and immediately after elections. In West Bengal, violence is a daily routine. And the victims invariably are members of the minorities and the lower strata called the proletariat. Their blood has fertilised the Leftist soil thus far. The cultural pretension of the Bengali elite militates against any discussion in this behalf. Discussion on caste lines is considered as blasphemous in the media. But democracy is not all about merit in government. Fundamentally it is a system to ensure representation and participation of all in governance. Only a few cannot grab every pelf and privilege and claim to remain on the top for all time to come. Else the results can be what those of the 15th parliamentary general election have delivered for the Left Front in West Bengal. It is a lesson for all to remember. It’s an opportunity for all to redesign their policies and priorities. Else things will not remain unchanged for long.

A.K. Biswas
- Kailash Dham, Block-1,
- Flat No. B-2/310, (former Vice-Chancellor, B.R. Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur)
- E-01, Sector 50,
- NOIDA-201301,
- e-mail: atul.biswas(at)gmail.com

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