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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 26, June 19, 2010

Trinamul’s Massive Win at the Cost of Pranab, CPM

Sunday 20 June 2010, by Amitava Mukherjee

Letter from Kolkata

Of all the recent elections of West Bengal, perhaps the last one involving a large number of corporations and municipalities has turned out to be the most important. The importance lies in the fact that it has conclusively confirmed the death-knell of Left politics in the State. It has also swept away at a stroke whatever confusion remained in the minds of the Congress policy-makers as to who really is the undisputed leader of the anti-CPM political mainstream in West Bengal—the Congress led by Pranab Mukherjee in the State or the Trinamul Congress led by Mamata Banerjee. But the run-up to the election also revealed the Byzantine nature of Congress politics that Sonia Gandhi should not have allowed.

The Congress and Trinamul Congress had formed an alliance to fight the last parliamentary election and it did extremely well capturing 26 of the 42 parliamentary seats from West Bengal. This was quite natural as the political, social and economic views of the Congress and Trinamul Congress are almost the same. Moreover it should always be kept in mind that Sonia Gandhi has a soft corner for Mamata Banerjee as Rajiv Gandhi used to like the Trinamul supremo when she was in the Congress. Additionally, the Congress had learnt a bitter lesson by the constant threats and blackmails from the Left when the latter had supported the UPA-I Government. So it was quite natural that the central leadership of the Congress wanted to once again strike an alliance with the Trinamul for the municipal election. But at the very outset it committed a mistake by agreeing to a policy, stealthily forwarded by a section out to scuttle such an eventually, that the details of the alliance would be decided at the local level. It again established that the central leadership of the party was not at all well acquainted with the structure of its West Bengal unit.

From the beginning, Mamata was willing to negotiate directly with the central leadership of the Congress as she had a fair idea about the rootlessness and other limitations of some of the leaders of the State Congress, an apprehension that has been proved correct by the results of the election. Still she agreed to carry forward the negotiations but only insisted that Pradip Ghosh, the Central Calcutta District Congress President, should be kept out of the negotiating team. It is still not clear why Mamata has developed reservations about Pradip Ghosh, but at that juncture matters were not helped by Pranab Mukherjee’s decision to involve Ghosh at all levels of negotiations.

The story that followed was extremely humiliating for the Congress. Subrata Mukherjee, one of the former Executive Vice-Presidents of the Congress who has recently joined the Trinamul, revealed that it was already decided in January that the Congress would not enter into any alliance with the Trinamul for the Kolkata municipal election. As Mamata had offered 25 seats to the Congress, some of the latter’s district Presidents went on a hunger strike demonstration in front of the State Congress office demanding ‘alliance on honourable terms’. The negotiations broke down. The Congress fought separately Fortysix of its candidates lost their security deposits in the Kolkata municipal corporation contest. In most other areas its share of votes was negligible. In the district municipalities also it lagged far behind the Trinamul Congress.

Now a contradiction is discernible between what Subrata Mukherjee had revealed and the steps the central Congress leadership had taken. On behalf of the Congress Keshav Rao, the AICC General Secretary, had entered into negotiations with Mamata and this could not have taken place without Sonia’s knowledge. But if Subrata Mukherjee is to be believed, then a plan was already finalised, in consultation with some central level Congress leaders, to disobey the topmost party leadership. If this surmise has any credibility, then the natural question is: who did really orchestrate the plan to frustrate the desire of the topmost party leadership?

If inside reports are to be believed, Pranab Mukherjee has already expressed his wish to resign from the position of the State Congress President and a section of the West Bengal unit of the party is leaving no stone unturned to make Adhir Chowdhury, the Murshidabad district Congress chief, the President of the State Congress. Till now, Sonia is against this move and she has reasons for it. Relations between Adhir and Mamata are extremely bad and it was Adhir’s pronouncement at the initial stage—there would be no alliance in Murshidabad—that had thrown the first spanner into the Congress-Trinamul realationship. As things stand today, Mamata’s value in the Congress is immense. Sharad Pawar’s NCP and Karunanidhi’s DMK have turned out to be troublesome and unreliable allies and sustained efforts are going on to topple the Manmohan Singh Government. So the Congress is in no position to earn Mamata’s displeasure. The Trinamul’s massive victory in the municipal election has placed Mamata in such an advantageous position that the CPM and its friends in the Congress are in no position to corner her in the UPA Government. The Congress is now in a pathetic condition. A victory for the Trinamul-Congress combination in the coming Assembly poll in West Bengal is important not for Mamata alone. For the Congress too it is necessary just to stay afloat at the national level and save the UPA Government from conspiracies.

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However, it is open to question to what extent Pranab Mukherjee, as the State Congress President, would be able to deliver in this endeavour. His political acumen is always under question and he supplied enough proof of it during the municipal election in West Bengal. He miserably failed to gauge the strength of his party in West Bengal and talked too much of taking up cudgels on behalf of those of his party-men who had assumed leading roles in spiking the Trinamul-Congress alliance. He had even threatened Mamata Banerjee by publicly saying that the results of the election would prove who wields how much power. He did not stop there. He came to campaign for Shankar Singh, a Nadia district Congress leader who is regarded as one of the principal wreckers of the alliance, and warned Mamata not to make a Karat-like mistake (thereby referring to the growing discomfiture of the CPM after its divorce with the Congress).

It proves that Pranab, the West Bengal State Congress President, does not have any idea about the ground realities of the State. Similar is the case of the CPM leaders. They used to harp on a rectification programme. But the results proved that the electorate does not believe that the CPM can be rectified. It now consists of leaders who have virtually no political judgement. Otherwise the painful happenings in Singur and Nandigram would not have taken place. Today it draws its principal strength from clerkdom (very aptly described by a renowned academic of Kolkata as ‘kerani communism’) and not from the factory workers. It resulted in adoption of anti-people policies one after another and a complete detachment from the common man. The election results have vindicated this. In Memary, the stronghold of Benoy Konar, the CPM has been all but wiped out. It lost many municipalities like Baranagar, which remained in Left hands for more than forty years. That the Left Front would lose the Kolkata and Bidhannagar corporations was too well known. But even the most ardent supporter of the Trinamul Congress could not imagine that his party would be able to deliver such a massive blow to the CPM in the districts.

Who is responsible for such a bleak future of the Left in West Bengal? The principal responsibility must now rest with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. All of his problems stem from his very inadequate understanding of Marxism and statecraft. Another liability is his own assessment about himself. He considers himself too erudite. (Remember his derisive observation about P. Chidambaram’s choice of words when the latter had said that in regard to the handling of the law and order problem in the State the buck stops with the Chief Minister.) Erudition is laudable. But if it is not backed by a touch of reality, then the thing is sure to create problems.

The CPM is now disintegrating like a house of cards and the party has only itself to blame. In the 30 years of Left Front rule corruption reigns in every sphere. Without trying to eliminate this disease, the Left, particularly the CPM, tried to be cosy with national and international finance capital. In the coming Assembly election it is likely to pay the heaviest price for such a step. The Left does not only face defeat in West Bengal, it is likely to be pushed into the margins at the national level too.

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