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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 27

After Thirty Years


Monday 25 June 2007, by SC


Thirty years ago, on this day, that is, June 21, the Left Front Government came to power in West Bengal led by the organisationally well-knit cadre-based CPI-M and headed by one of the most outstanding personalities in State and national politics, Jyoti Basu.

Following the LF’s resounding victory at the hustings, it was written in these columns by the founder of this journal while recalling the emergence of the first Communist Government in Kerala in 1957:

After twenty long years, a State Government will once again be ruled by a homogenous Communist-led Ministry, and this time with a comfortable majority. Compared to the United Fronts of the late sixties, the new West Bengal Ministry would be cohesive in both purpose and composition, for its allies cannot overrule the preponderating standing of the CPM.

This indeed is the challenge before the CPM leadership. Drawing upon their complex experience of the previous spells in office, Jyoti Basu and his team will have to provide to the problem-ridden State of West Bengal a government that has to demonstrate what the Communists can do for all sections of the people within the framework of the parliamentary system. History today has placed upon the CPM a momentous responsibility as the unifier of all democratic forces, as the progressive beacon to which the forward-looking elements inside the Janata Party as also in the Congress will look up to. And playing this role, it has to take the initiative to unite all the Communist forces in this country, the forces whose bitter disunity for a decade-and-a-half has only benefitted the minions of Reaction.

For those committed to the goal of basic social change, the CPM-led victory in West Bengal is the most significant feature—and the most promising too—in the entire spectrum of Indian politics today.

And in the subsequent week, after the LF Government took office, he pointed out, in these very columns:

It is against the background of the Janata Party’s growing incapacity to meet the basic challenge on the agrarian front and the consequent eruption of chronic dissensions, that one has to view the significance of the CPM-led Left Alliance Government in West Bengal. Its stability is assured by the objective condition of the firm support it commands among the dispossessed in the rural as well as the urban sectors. With such a foundation, a Ministry with the national outlook can consolidate its position in the eyes of every section of the community—from the enlightened industrialist to the middle-class intelligentsia to the worker in the factory and the kisan in the field.

The Left Alliance in West Bengal will, therefore, have to act as a catalyst for social change for the entire country. Its national responsibility is enhanced everyday with the progressive disillusionment among the working masses with the big bosses that rule the Janata. And with every purposeful advance of Jyoti Basu’s Ministry towards solving the difficult problems that beset West Bengal today, it will reinforce its power of attraction, bringing closer to it not only the other Left establishments but also the genuinely progressive elements in both the Janata and the Congress, elements which today have to suffer the domination of the venal caucuses in their respective parties.

The silver lining in West Bengal today should be the harbinger of sunshine tomorrow.

What has been the Left Front’s record in the last 30 years? The very fact that it has been able to hold on to power for 30 long years is in itself a historic achievement. That is a manifestation of its persisting livewire contacts with the people at large thwarting what is commonly known as the anti-incumbency factor; even though the charge of mass scale rigging cannot be summarily brushed aside, it must be conceded that the organisation of such massive manipulation of elections too is a reflection of the Left’s (read the CPI-M’s) formidable mass strength and influence. It achievements, especially on the agrarian front, have been doubtless noteworthy. Whether in laying the foundations of genuine land reforms through ‘Operation Barga’ or in strengthening the three-tier panchayat system—the CPI-M led Front’s performance has been indeed path-breaking. These achievements apart, to keep the nine-party Left Front intact as an alliance in power for such a length of time has been a feat of no mean significance for which Jyoti Basu deserves maximum commendation.

And yet there is no gainsaying that the CPI-M, as the leading as well as motive force of the West Bengal Left Front, has singularly failed to unfold the perspective for the Left and democratic forces in different parties the founder of this journal had sincerely hoped it would. Either it was incapable of doing so or was not interested in undertaking the exercise. And gradually it fell into the rut—enjoying power without any worthwhile Opposition to keep it on tenterhooks (as in the case of the ruling alliances in Kerala), it gradually transformed itself into a ruling establishment content only in running the State by consolidating its party organisation as well as the election-winning machinery. In the circumstances, in different spheres, like education, West Bengal registered a sharp decline—its downslide in various human development indices as compared to even the backward States does not bear repetition. At the same time there was no effort whatsoever in evolving an alternative paradigm of development so essential in the troubled times we live in.

Thus the pitfalls of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s so-called “industrialisation” drive. His govern-ment has behaved no better than the Congress or BJP-run State governments in this regard; in a way the behaviour has been worse since the cadres of the party effectively controlling the government, bereft of ideology, have only been taught partisanship and petty politicking. Which is why they displayed such ruthless brutality on the innocent people of Nandigram on the one hand while prostrating before Big Business as in Singur on the other. It is a pathetic scenario. And in the bargain the hapless people at the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder are not only getting fast disillusioned but also forced to resort to tenacious resistance for their very survival; and the CPI-M cadres (among whom a substantial number are essentially goons) are finding it almost impossible to surmount this mass resistance.

“Industrialisation” devoid of fulfilling the urges and aspirations of the common man is bound to meet such a fate. There has been little or no effort to revive the sick industries, no initiative to tackle the crises besetting the jute and tea industries. In the absence of such imperative steps the slogan of “industrialisation”, being repeated ad nauseum by the State CM, sounds utterly hollow. And the Industries Minister speaks of only investment from the indigenous and foreign private corporate sector to realise the goal of “industrialisation” totally ignoring the state sector. Which brand of Marxism does he subscribe to?

The least the CPI-M can and should do is to think in terms of the alternative to the prevailing dominant mode of thinking keeping in mind the non-capitalist path of development the world communist movement had sought to unveil in the sixties and seventies. That is the only way it can carry forward the legacy of the Left Front. If it fails or declines to do so it would have to be prepared to face popular opposition in varied forms including the extraordinary resistance the people of Nandigram are displaying with every passing day in the true spirit of the Tebhaga movement of the forties.

The moot question today is: whither the Left Front? Is it too late for the CPI-M to see that the “silver lining” which was projected in West Bengal in 1977 becomes the real “harbinger of sunshine” in the near future? Certainly not. This is still well within the realm of possibility. But for that to happen reversal of its present suicidal course of development in the State is an essential pre-requisite.

June 21 S.C.

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