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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 42, October 8, 2011

Bengal Bye-Elections: Message for CPI-M

Saturday 8 October 2011, by Barun Das Gupta

Both the bye-elections to the West Bengal Assembly held late last month were won by the ruling Trinamul Congress. The TMC wrested the Basirhat (North) constituency from the CPI-M by a margin of 30,941 votes. In the Assembly elections a few months ago, the CPI-M had retained the seat by polling 3943 votes more than the TMC. In just four months’ time, the TMC has gained 34,884 more votes.

At Bhowanipur (Kolkata), Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee was the candidate. Her winning hands down was never in doubt. What came as a surprise to everyone, including Mamata herself, was that despite a low voter turnout due to bad weather and polling being fifteen per cent less than in May, she increased her tally by 12.69 per cent, registering a win by 54,213 votes. The seat was vacated by Subrata Bakshi, now a Minister, to enable Mamata to enter the State Assembly.

Basirhat (North) is a rural constituency while Bhowanipur is an urban one. In both consti-tuencies, the verdict was loud and clear: the electorate emphatically rejected the CPI-M. The party had unleashed a non-stop high-voltage propaganda against the TMC from the very morrow of its defeat in May. It accused the TMC and its leader Mamata of unleashing State-wide terror. It called the State Government’s agreement with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (which provides for setting up a Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) as buying a temporary peace because the party was sure the GJM would revive the movement for a separate Gorkhaland State after some time and Mamata cannot prevent the vivisection of West Bengal. It continued to harp on the so-called TMC-Maoist nexus, despite the fact that the Maoists were gunning down TMC workers along with others.

The CPI-M criticised the Chief Minister for not imposing new taxes on the people, wondering how the State could come out of the financial crisis it was in. The party, of course, never admitted that the crisis was its own making during its thirtyfour year rule by violating with impunity every norm of expenditure and indulging in every conceivable form of corruption—from siphoning off hundreds of crores of rupees of Central grants on various schemes to allowing its favoured dealers to sell rationed rice, wheat and kerosene in the open market and blackmarketing fertilisers.

In public and party meetings, former Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, State party secretary Biman Bose and other ‘leaders’ (few of them now can claim a following) have continued to rave and rant against Mamata in their old fashion, using intemperate language and never tiring to remind the people that they had made a mistake by voting the TMC to power. At best, the party was willing to admit that it “failed” to convince the people and prevent them from committing the mistake. It was the people who had mistakenly put their trust in TMC and Mamata. The Stalinist party was infallible and blameless. It never committed any mistake.

The party dismissed the digging up of skeletons of TMC workers from mass graves at various places in West and East Medinipur and the arrest of some of its workers and top leaders like former Minister Sushanta Ghosh as ‘politics of revenge’ by the ruling party. And this in the face of irrefutable facts. DNA tests have conclusively established that the skeletons dug up from the graves were of TMC workers and supporters. CPI-M activists arrested by the State CID confessed to having picked up and murdered these victims in cold blood and buried them in sacks of salt under the direct supervision and instruction of leaders like Ghosh. Some of them have made in-camera confessional statements in courts.

The evidence against Ghosh is so strong that the Calcutta High Court has rejected his bail application. Ghosh was arrested on August 11 and has since then been in jail under judicial custody. His brother and some other close confederates against whom there are arrest warrants have been absconding. The CID has moved the court to attach their property. Huge quantities of arms and ammunition have been recovered from the CPI-M party offices in several districts. In some cases CPI-M workers themselves told the police where these had been kept hidden.

Naturally, the people have refused to be swayed by the CPI-M’s propaganda and venom-spitting against Mamata and the TMC. They have seen how hard she is working for a change in the work ethic, for bringing about an all-round change in government functioning and making it accountable to the people. She is trying to improve conditions in government hospitals where corruption is rampant.

THE CPI-M had ruled by terrorising the people and the Opposition parties. Everyone who opposed—or were peprceived to be opposed— to the party became a target of attack. Naturally, where terror had been most severe, there have been reprisals by the villagers in spite of Mamata asking people not to take revenge. Her slogan on the very morrow of victory was: “Badla noy, badal chai (We want change, not revenge).” Despite this, CPI-M workers were driven out from some party offices. Some were ransacked by angry mobs. But these were stray incidents and not allowed to spread. But the CPI-M tried to make the maximum political capital from these incidents and tried to make the people believe that the party was under attack throughout the State. It was a victim of TMC’s santras raj or reign of terror. Mamata has asked the police to take action against all trouble-makers, even if they belonged to her own party.

The CPI-M propaganda cut no ice with the people. They are aware that lumpen and criminal elements, so long enjoying the protection of the CPI-M, are now changing their jerseys and trying to get into the Trinamul Congress, especially in rural areas. Wherever the local TMC leaders have admitted them into the party, they have in no time marginalised the old workers and taken over control of the party apparatus. It is because of them that lately there have been reports of ‘group clashes’ or ‘faction fights’ in the TMC. But Mamata has already issued strict instructions to lower level leaders not to admit any deserter from the CPI-M without clearance from the State leadership.

The CPI-M has learnt nothing from its ignominious defeat and loss of power in May. There is no change in its behaviour. It remains insufferably arrogant and unrepentant. Despite occasional talk of “admitting our past mistakes and correcting them” nothing has been done to identify what exactly the mistakes were and what specific corrective measures need to be taken.

The party still suffers from the self-righteous attitude that it was never wrong. It is the people who were wrong in voting Mamata and her party to power. The only ‘mistake’ the West Bengal unit of the party has admitted is that it was wrong on the part of the central leadership to have fallen out with the UPA and withdrawn support to its government in 2008. In West Bengal the party had lost the support of the majority of the people long ago and was continuing in power due to division in the Opposition ranks, especially between the Congress and the Trinamul Congress. This is admitted in a “Party Letter” dated July 27 and marked “only for party members”. It says (page 15): “In seven consecutive Assembly elections since 1977, the Left Front could never get more than fifty per cent vote in the seats it had won. The majority secured by the Left Front was always contingent upon the division in the Opposition votes.” (Italics mine—B.D.G.) The implication is that as soon as the Congress and TMC entered into an electoral alliance and the vote division came to an end, the fate of the Left Front was sealed.

All through, the thirty-page long “party letter” reeks of self-righteousness. This is what it says about the Singur land movement (page 6): “In pursuance of our pre-election promise, we embarked on the process of industrialisation in order to reduce the pressure of population on land and to create job opportunities. The main Opposition party in the State, the Trinamul Congress, could not achieve the success it wanted in obstructing land acquisition in the first phase. But taking advantage of the geographical location and population pattern of Nandigram, the Trinamul Congress built up its network for spreading confusion and organising opposition. Combining religion-based politics with the Maoists and forging an alliance of ultra-Right and ultra-Left fundamentalist forces, the TMC started the process of obstructing the establishment of the rule of law through violent means.”

The West Bengal party leaders, including former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, have, off and on, talked about the “mistakes” committed in acquiring land at Singur for the small car factory of the Tatas. But the official document of the party does not admit to any mistakes having been committed. It blames the Opposition for obstructing industrialisation and employment generation by resorting to violence.

The political bankruptcy and organisational collapse of the Bengal party is all too evident. The utter hollowness of its claim that it had built a well-knit and ‘invincible’ party organi-sation now stands fully exposed. It was not the people’s spontaneous and voluntary support that had made the organisation appear solid and invincible. It was built on quicksand and hollow inside. It was the administration and the police that had propped it up. The moment power slipped out of the hands of the party, the much vaunted organisation collapsed like a house of cards and found itself in utter disorganisation and disarray.

There is not the ghost of a chance for the CPI-M to ‘turn around’ in West Bengal under the present leadership. And the present leadership is irreplaceable because there are none to replace them. Most of those down below in the hierarchy are a bunch of politically illiterate self-seekers who neither understand the party’s politics nor have a sense of the political perspective nor a sense of commitment to the party. The bulk of them joined the party after 1977 to partake of the loaves and fishes that the ruling party offered them. Like rats deserting a sinking ship, they are now deserting the CPI-M and frantically seeking new pastures. One hopes the Trinamul Congress will not become a pasture for them.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Dasgupta.

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