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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 25, June 11, 2011

CPM confined to Infancy even after 47 Years

Tuesday 14 June 2011, by Amitava Mukherjee

WITH JUVENILE LEADERSHIP, IMMATURE POLITICS AND COSY PARTY-MEDIA TIES

From 1964 to 2011 it is 47 years and the time is certainly ripe for anyone to graduate from infancy to adulthood. This has, however, not been the case with the CPM, its leaders and its sympathisers among the literati and media-persons. The party has been mauled, to say the least. Yet there is no sign that it has drawn appropriate lessons.

Take the case of Prakash Karat by way of example. He is the General Secretary of the party. But he will not take responsibility for the rout. He should have encouraged discussions at the Polit-Bureau meeting after the election results. But the Polit-Bureau did not do it. Instead dissection of the defeat was pushed further away, for the Central Committee meeting. On the other hand there are reports that Karat refused to take responsibility on his own shoulder and instead passed it on to the CPM’s West Bengal unit in the name of organisational weakness etc.

Remember what Biman Bose had said before the declaration of results. Once he hinted that the Left Front would get around 200 seats. On another occasion he expressed that the Front was certain to come back to power. Bose was not circumspect enough. His district party units had fed him wrong and unrealistic information.

This shows that the CPM, once a self-proclaimed mouthpiece of the poor, has lost touch with ground realities. This is quite natural and true about almost all the Left parties which have become a haven for middle and upper middle class people. For the CPM the feature is too glaring. Most of its top-ranking leaders come from the background of students’ politics and 34 years of power in a State has earned the party some sort of blessings from a section of the media which has not helped the cause of the CPM in the long run. The media, on its part, should have been more careful before showering praise on the Left Front’s performance. One who immediately comes to mind is Shekhar Gupta of The Indian Express. In an article in the midst of the election he reasonably tried to be balanced and praised Mamata’s indefatigable energy, single-mindedness and honesty of purpose. But while striking a balance he showered so much praise on the Front’s performance which is far from the reality. Road conditions are abysmally poor in West Bengal. But Gupta had seen the roads absolutely spick and span. It is obvious he had moved, while on a tour of West Bengal, on national and State highways only. Had he visited rural roads he would have had a different idea. Gupta could not see anybody who had bare feet. But there are umpteen number of villages in the State where people survive on ants’ eggs and roots of wild shrubs.

Shekhar’s predicament is understandable. He was writing during election time. Moreover he is not known to be one of the best informed journalists on communist politics. But how can one explain Manini Chatterjee’s hope against hope of 150-170 seats for the Left Front even when the news of the Left’s massive rout was pouring in on May 13? In the same genre falls Shikha Mukherjee’s attempt to compare Anil Basu’s obscene comments about Mamata with the West Bengal Chief Minister’s one-time description of the Congress as a B team of the CPM.

It should be a part of the CPM’s rectification programme to introspect whether too much hobnobbing with the media has done it any harm or not. For the cause of the Left’s ignominious defeat lies much deeper and it is not possible for any section of the media to sweep it under the carpet. Interestingly, the Trinamul Congress has made deep inroads into some invincible red areas like Burdwan, Birbhum and parts of North Bengal. This shows that Mamata’s campaign had no urban-rural divide. Why did the Left lose so heavily in Bengal’s rural belt? Singur and Nandigram are no doubt the most important reasons. There are many other ones, the most important of them being its failure to extend major irrigation which now covers only 30 per cent of the arable land in the State. So agriculture has now become a domain of the rural rich who can arrange shallow tubewell-based minor irrigation. As a result huge areas remain unculti-vated and large scale pauperisation of small and marginal farmers has taken place. With a severe decline of agriculture the conditions of the landless agricultural workers can easily be imagined.

THERE was a complete lack of brains during the 34 years of Left Front rule. Jyoti Basu’s steward-ship bore all the marks of mediocrity. With the exit of the last Congress Ministry of Siddhartha Sankar Ray, West Bengal also lost an able Finance Minister named Shankar Ghosh. Sadly Ashok Mitra, his successor, was no match. While Shankar Ghosh had left a healthy balance for the State coffer, the same could not be said about Mitra’s performance. Asim Dasgupta, Mitra’s successor was worse. He has left a Rs 2 lakh crore debt for West Bengal.

The problem with people like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose, Nirupam Sen etc. is the fact that they have no vision. They groped blindly at many things without reaching any-where. That they had no idea about industriali-sation become amply clear from the fact that about 87 per cent of all the industrial units in the State are located in the five districts of Howrah, Hooghly, Burdwan, North and South 24 Parganas, apart from Calcutta. Most of these units are decades old and slowly becoming unviable. That the Tatas could find land only in a fertile region like Singur is quite natural as the Left has failed to build any infrastructure like roads and electricity in the rural belt where fallow land is available.

The people’s hate-filled rejection of the Left in West Bengal also means the banishment of a vicious mechanism of destruction of the State‘s socio-economic life. Even a little more than a decade back agriculture contributed around 30 per cent of West Bengal’s internal production which has now come down to around 20 per cent. In 1965 industry contributed 36 per cent to the total income of the State which has now been reduced to only 11 per cent. What a pathetic picture! In the same period West Bengal’s contri-bution to total industrial output of the country has nosedived from 18 per cent to four per cent.

The Singur episode points to another interesting sidelight—that the corporate sector in India is manned by mediocre and below-mediocre people. Had the Tatas done their own socio-economic survey before dancing to the tune of the CPM, they would have realised that acquisition of land in Singur is bound to give rise to dour opposition. The long Left rule in the State has seen only a decadent ruralisation where all the beauties and pleasant sides of village life have vanished and only poverty and cadre raj persist. It is no wonder that rural unemployment is higher than urban unemploy-ment in the State. Again, it is no surprise that the poor village folk would reject the CPM and its followers who are nothing but political caricatures.

By continuously harping on the theory of a ‘turn-around’ before the elections, the CPM leaders were only trying to deceive themselves. Their performances in West Bengal and Kerala have not given them such an opportunity. It will be interesting to bear in mind that so far as the average annual unemployment rate is concerned, West Bengal, with its figure of 4.93 per cent per year, is next only to Kerala which showcases a figure as high as 5.56 per cent.

This is sufficient to explain the rout of the Left in the just concluded elections. Prakash Karat has to explain why Achuthanandan, with his record of probity in public life, was first denied nomination and later accommodated only under public pressure. Without going into the arguments for and against Pinarayi Vijayan in the Lavalin case, one should keep in mind the damaging observation by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade that Lavalin was given entry into the electricity sector of Kerala so as to prepare the utility services for privatisation.

Even a child would not accept that this could be done without a green signal from the CPM top brass. How can the CPM reconcile this to its declared policy of anti-globalisation and anti-privatisation? Self-contradiction, which is a hallmark of communist politics in India, has really sunk the CPM ship.

While talking to this correspondent nearly a month before the election date one very important election manager of the CPM had predicted that his party could at best win between 70 to 80 seats in West Bengal. His forecast reminded one of the late Subhas Chakraborty’s assertion that from 1952 onwards the Left had twisted the election process to its advantage. The manager’s anxiety was that the strictness of the Election Commission might rob the Left candidates around 50 crucial votes in each booth which the candidates secure defying electoral arithmetic.

The manager’s apprehensions did not go wrong. The Left Front’s vote share came down to around 42 per cent from 48 per cent and the TMC-Congress combine got 48 per cent of the votes (from more than 41 per cent in the 2006 Assembly elections). A true reflection of the people’s judgement on Left politics comes out from these figures.

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