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

A Requiem for CPM

Saturday 13 June 2009, by Kripa Shankar

The rout of Communists, particularly in West Bengal, is astounding. If after more than three decades of uninterrupted rule the Left Front has been rejected by the people it calls for serious introspection. Earlier the Congress was rejected and replaced by Communists when the former failed to live up to the expectations of the people. Now when people find that the Communists too have failed to live up to the expectations of the people they have no other option but to vote for the Congress as there is no alternative front of radical forces. This is more to teach a lesson to the Left Front as no one expects that the Congress will deliver the goods. There can be no greater insult for the Left Front and if the latter fails to make an honest reappraisal of its policies, there is no hope for it.

The Left Front through ‘Operation Barga’ in West Bengal and some power to Panchayats strengthened its social base considerably which was reflected in successive elections. This also gave them a sense of complacency. The Communist Party, being a part of the middle class, could never become an instrument of radical restructuring of society because of its class composition. Its forerunner, the Congress, also betrayed the people for the same reason. That way the difference between various middle class parties is tenuous. With whatever nomenclature they may appear on the political scene and whatever the differences in their approach to various issues, they are not for any change in the power equation and thus are part of the same Establishment and serve it in their own way taking into cognisance the specificity of a given situation.

The Congress had enacted ceiling laws and stood for a higher share in the produce in the case of share-croppers. The Left Front Government better implemented it and provided security of tenure. But that was not the end of the road. Half of the rural households are landless in West Bengal and the land held by the top one per cent is equal to the land held by bottom 60 per cent of the households. Land should be distributed among the landless not by lowering ceilings which has proved ineffective but by acquiring the land of the bigger landowners by paying the market price. Such households are short of labour and lease out a fair part of their land. Besides, the younger generation after getting higher education is moving out of agriculture as agriculture is no longer a paying proposition. The National Sample Survey has found that the net income of an average farmer household from agriculture per month is less than Rs 1000. Large landed households will be only too willing to sell a part of their land as their progeny will leave the villages and there will be no one to cultivate the fields. The Government of West Bengal has used tyrannical methods to acquire the land of unwilling farmers including firing on unarmed farmers in Nandigram but has shown no interest in acquiring land from landlords for redistribution among the landless. The beneficiaries could be asked to pay the price in easy instalments and in that case there would be no burden on the exchequer but this is not on the agenda. The SEZ is the industrialists’ paradise as they will not be required to pay any tax for five years. Both the Congress and Left Front governments are wooing foreign capital and promoting the SEZ to exploit the resources for the industrialists’ profits. Their attitude to foreign capital and the SEZ shows that both are serving the same interest groups.

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The 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution have enjoined the States to devolve power and funds to village Panchayats and municipalities so that they could undertake all developmental activities and function as “institutions of self-government”. A faithful implementation of these measures would have unleashed the vast potential of the people who could now meaningfully participate in the reconstruction of the country with full transparency and accountability. This would also have made the colonial bureaucracy redundant to a large extent as all such activities at the local level could be better executed by the people themselves. Naturally it would have also affected the political class which would lose its power and privilege as self-governing Panchayats and municipalities would not need a breed of local political leaders. The unwillingness on the part of the CPM to empower the Panchayats and local bodies shows that it stands for status quo and has no progressive role to play. It has done nothing to end the loot of the peasants through the price mechanism or their exploitation by the moneylenders.

One way through which the poor could be helped is to provide them with some remunerative asset, be it land, cattle or implements to undertake some productive activity. It could also include provision of various services. Due to technological innovation a very high industrial growth is not going to absorb even a small part of the rising labour force. Employment in organised manufacturing is declining in all the States. Banks are flush with funds and now they are diverting the bank credit to consumer durables, housing, etc. The banks can be induced to lend to poor and small entities only if the government comes forward to guarantee such loans for in that case the banks will have no risk. An interest subsidy can also be extended to them to give loans at very cheap rate. For example, if banks give loans at four per cent instead of 14 per cent, an interest subsidy of Rs 1000 crores will enable the banks to extend Rs 10,000 crores to the poor at a very nominal interest rate. This will herald a new era for the poor and the unemployed who can now undertake some remunerative activity. The government guarantees loans of rich entities and also extends interest subsidy but the poor are bereft of it.

The Left Front Government has been tardy in raising its resources; it has one of the lowest tax-GDP ratio as well as per capita plan expenditure. It heavily depends on borrowings and is now the highest indebted State in terms of per capita State debt. Interest payment takes away 45 per cent of the revenue which is the highest for any State and little is left for development. After interest payment, expenditure on police is the fastest rising item of expenditure. The latter is more than the expenditure on agriculture. The regressive nature of the State is not only reflected in State finances but in other areas as well. The government by proscribing Taslima Nasreen’s book and not allowing her to stay in West Bengal has shown that it can go to any length to please the fundamentalists. In Kerala the CPM refused to concede the sitting seat to the CPI and instead allied with the terrorist outfit of Abdul Nasir Madani. It refused to give permission to the CBI to prosecute Pinarayi Vijayan, the present State party Secretary, who was the Power Minister in the previous Left Democratic Front Government in Kerala and is involved in a scam of Rs 375 crores in the SNC Lavalin corruption case. The Communists’ last forte, that they cannot tolerate corruption, has also now fallen. No wonder the party met its waterloo both in Kerala and West Bengal!

Given the metamorphosis that has occurred and made the CPM a party of the petty bourgeoisie upholding the establishment, the question arises: can it be resurrected in future? It should not be forgotten that the Congress either at the Centre or in the States had long ago been rejected by the people when they found that it is only a shade better than colonial rule. The regional and casteist parties that tried to take advantage of the disenchantment proved to be no better. And the Communists, who had started as revolutionaries, have turned into partners of the Establishment and bourgeoisie. In the absence of any radical front the people had no alternative but to fall back on the Congress knowing well that the latter cannot improve its record. As discontent grows, which is bound to be in the coming years, there may be a come-back for Communists in such States. But the crucial question is whether the party can take a revolutionary road having been chastened by defeat. All evidence suggest that the CPM is unable to play that role. It cannot be an instrument of revolution although it may return to power.

But the capitalist system is in perpetual crisis. The system is unable to be geared to meet the basic requirements of the people as search for profits forces it to traverse unproductive paths. This cannot go on for ever and sooner or later will be replaced by a saner system.

The author is a freedom fighter; he was a wholetime worker of the Communist Party for three decades till the Emergency. Currently he is associated with the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad as an Honorary Fellow.

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