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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 21, New Delhi, May 8, 2021

Wiped out in Bengal - The Left a victim to its ambiguity and political confusion | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 8 May 2021

by Arun Srivastava

Failure of the CPI(M) to win even one seat in the Bengal assembly election, the state which the Left Front had ruled for 34 years reminisces the historic blunder it has committed by not allowing Jyoti Basu to become the prime minister. If at that time the Kerala line was responsible for that blunder, the CPI(M)’s failure this time owes to the complete lack of ideological clarity to the Bengal line.

The party general secretary Sitaram Yechury has tried to come out of the controversy through the proverbial narrow lane, by saying “In a first past the post system, if there is a polarisation then the third force often gets elbowed out.” It would be wrong to blame polarisation for squeezing out the so-called Sanjukta Morcha. The bare fact is the Morcha was merely a conglomerate with communal force ISF dictating the CPI(M) and Congress to follow its dictates.

Those who had the privilege to attend the Brigade rally where the Morcha was formally floated, would recall the show of the Bhaijan. The CPI(M) leadership simply promoted the communal element by projecting it as a secular body. Simply christening it as Secular does not sanctify its credentials. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Left leaders, especially the CPI(M) leaders, tried to fool their own cadres.

Strange has the political-ideological line of the CPI(M) on opposing Mamata Banerjee. They treated her as their first enemy. For them, it was more important to defeat Mamata than to defeat the BJP. It also refreshed the memory when in the nineties, Prakash Karat had refused to endorse the line that BJP was a fascist party. It was indeed pleasant to learn that CPI(M) leaders would defeat the BJP once they first ensured to defeat TMC of Mamata.

The narrative that the party had expected the votes which they lost to BJP in 2019 would return to their kitty but in their desperation to stop them, the votes went to TMC, is also ridiculous. The fact is the CPI(M) votes which had gone over to the BJP in earlier two elections of 2016 and 2019 continues to be with the BJP. They stfeel comfortable with the BJP as the CPI(M) leadership never tried to indoctrinate them. These people were the vote catching instruments. Undeniably one thing happened; the Muslim voters who had rallied behind the CPI(M) in 2019 shifted their allegiance to the TMC, as they had come to believe that it can fight the communal and divisive politics of BJP. In the eyes of the CPI(M) leaders Mamata was a communal party but the Muslims were more pragmatic. They did not subscribe to the identification of TMC as communal by the left.

The CPI general secretary D Raja is of the view; “Left will have to do a serious review of its political line and assessment of its situation. How did we lose the grip? And how did the BJP gain a firm foothold in West Bengal, needs a serious review,” but it would certainly prove to be a futile exercise. CPI(M) has developed the habit of committing one mistake, rather than blunder, after another in spite of making serious reviews.

The clarification for the defeat which has been offered by the CPI(M) politburo is really interesting. In a way it blames the people for not voting for it. It said; “People’s urge to defeat the BJP led to a sharp polarisation squeezing out the Sanjukta Morcha. People of Bengal have very clearly rejected the ideology of communal politics”. People adopted more prudent approach by rejecting Sanjukta Morcha and defeating BJP by voting for TMC. The left leaders live in their own ivory towers. It was during the campaign even the Muslim voters had made it clear that will not vote for ISF and MIM. They even said that a vote for these two will strengthen the BJP.

Even Hindu voters who in the last elections had voted for the left this time rallied behind the TMC. This could well be categorised as “conscience” voting. The CPM had contested in 136 of the total 294 seats in Bengal. Other Left parties like the RSP, CPI and the Forward Bloc fought in 11, 10 and 22 seats, respectively. Most of these candidates forfeited their deposits. Their overall vote share was also reduced to close to 7 per cent then. The Left Front had won 32 seats in the 2016 Assembly polls.

Surprisingly none of the Left leaders accepted their failure to judge the mood of the people. Their formation of the Left-Congress-ISF alliance and christening it as the Sanyukta Morcha was the first major mistake. The people failed to repose their trust in Morcha. After the defeat Biman Bose, the chairman of the Front again committed a major mistake by saying; “The responsibility of anti-Trinamul forces has increased... I also urge the workers of the Morcha to stand by the people in these difficult times...”. He has to be objective. The time is rise for bringing together the Left and democratic forces. The Bengal leaders owe an explanation, why Manik Sarkar the star campaigners was not allowed to campaign after two meetings? Was it because his address was focused more on stopping the BJP which was against the Bengal line?

The CPI(M) is besieged by its own confusions and contradictions. The first has been the Bengal line must continue to be relevant. A misjudgement and a wrong move would diminish its stature inside the organisation. This would disrupt its internal balance and Kerala’s boss Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will overshadow the party itself. Bengal line has a running feud with the Kerala line on issues like its relation with the Congress and other opposition parties. In 2021 election while Congress was the main enemy of CPI(M) in Kerala, it was an alliance partner in Bengal.

It would sound too harsh, but the fact cannot be ignored while deciding the strategy for the assembly election the elements of personal like and dislike worked more for the CPI(M). A little scratch will unearth the real nature. The plight and sufferings of the daily workers and labours during the first phase of epidemic did not witness the left adopting a strong proactive role. It could not connect with the suffering proletariat. It got manifested in the election to Bihar assembly. In Bihar nearly a 60 lakh workers had come back to state to save their lives.

The CPI(ML) stood by them and succeeded in getting their support. In Bengal CPI(M) treats Mamata as a communal force, but it does not discard her at the national level where she has her image of a secular force. In national perspective Mamata is regarded as India’s most formidable secular icon, singlehandedly taking on the might of the BJP. In Bengal, leftists of all hues, decry her. After this gigantic victory, there is no doubt Mamata will be projected as the opposition face. Will the CPI(M) leadership accept her new found status and image or refuse to associate with her. After Gorbachev fiasco one had expected that the big brother of the Indian left will reshape it and come out with a concrete evaluation of the character of the state. But it did not happen. The reason was the leadership failed to comprehend and took shelter behind the façade of real politik.

The CPI(ML) which contested 12 seats also could not win a single seat. But it has a clear approach the election and Mamata. CPI (ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya from the beginning held that defeating the BJP should be the prime agnda. He said: “This election was all about BJP trying to capture Bengal and Bengal trying to stop BJP. Left in fact should celebrate BJP’s defeat. This in many ways is a vindication of the Left’s inclusive legacy in Bengal.” He was critical of the Left front’s political line and strongly believed that the Left was never a factor in this election. But this historic low is deeply worrying for many. Bhattacharya said that the Left has been callous and will need to “re-orient and rebuild” itself.

Dipankar was one of the first to advocate the resistance against the BJP. He had said the Left Front in Bengal must realise the primary task was to stop the BJP and not Trinamul. He held; “The Left in Bengal must rebuild and restart. They need to understand that the results are actually a vindication of the Left legacy of Bengal. People have strongly rejected communal politics and chosen the strongest party”.

The Left has suffered organisationally since 2011 and the party leadership has not been able to deal with the challenges. The fault lies with the CPI(M) leadership. In the wake of the operationbarga a new set up left supporters emerged on the political scenario of the rural Bengal. This constituted the creamy section of the rural poor, OBC, SC and EBC. The CPI(M) leadership never tried to indoctrinate this new class. It was content of their unflinching support to the leadership. Had this section been really indoctrinated they would not bowed to the onslaught of the capitalist manoeuvrings or to the TMC assault.

During the TMC rule their main priority was to protect their gains than to preserve their ideological commitment. This was the reason that they shifted their allegiance to the TMC and again to the BJP when they came to perceive that TMC was on losing pitch.

The state leadership of the CPI(M) earned applaud for promoting youths in this election. But the bare fact is this infusion of youth leadership lacked any concrete dimension. In fact it should happened years ago and not precisely coinciding with the election time. The state leadership led by Biman Bose resorted to this tactics simply to hide their weaknesses and failure. The people and the cadres will feel enthused at the sight of a galaxy of young faces. It worked but these young faces were butchered and perished between the war between Modi and Mamata.

The old guards or the veterans of the party could have envisaged the futility of this exercise. The Left had adopted new electoral tactics in this election of which the most talked about was the “youth factor.” At its state committee meeting in January, the CPI(M) had decided that 60 per cent of its candidates would be under 40 years and barring exceptional cases, it would not field anyone above the age of 60. This resolution implied that the party intended to create band of future election candidates than a strong and dedicated regiment to launch and spearhead revolutionary and democratic mass movements. It simply reinforced the notion that the party is transformed into an organ to focus on electoral politics.

The CPM not just fielded young candidates but left it to the youth to plan and execute the campaign. No doubt the party could claim that this lent a freshness and vivacity to the Left’s outreach seldom seen before. But if at all the party was really interested and concerned to prepare them to face the future challenges, it should have entrusted them with the responsibilities and reoriented them long back.

Even some party leaders feel that this should have happened long back. Imagine the gap between Pramod Dasgupta’s protégé Biman Bose and Minakshi or even between leaders like Md Salim and Sujan Chakraborty and Aishee Ghosh or Dipsita Dhar. After the fall of the Left Front in 2011, it is a brute reality that the number of young faces has dropped. These young faces ought to be given responsibility and public exposure instead of presenting them as mannequins. The youngsters such as Minakshi, state SFI secretary Srijan Bhattacharya in Singur, and SFI president Protikur Rahman in Diamond Harbour have attracted media attention. Many come from humble backgrounds such as Jhunu Baidya, the daughter of a sharecropper, who is fighting the Krishnaganj seat in Nadia district or Chandicharan Let, whose father runs a cycle repair shop in Bardhaman. Youth is not the only factor that makes these Left candidates different from the past. Many come from humble backgrounds leading an old timer to comment: ‘After a very long time, a communist party has fielded communist candidates’.

It is sad that even after aware of the fact that Singur had been a setback for the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government the CPM still wants to stick to the old formula. The party during the last ten years, during Mamata’s rule, has not preferred to come out of the old shell and start reassessing the mood of the peasants and farmers. The party did not use this period to formulate a policy for the industrialisation. This small observation from Aishee makes clear the challenge. She holds; “There are a lot of differences between JNU and the Jamuria Assembly area. But for someone like me, the fight is the same”. She made her first appearance in politics beyond the campus.

Jamuria has been a CPM stronghold even after Mamata Banerjee came to power in 2011. People had elected CPI(M) candidate, Jahanara Khatun, twice from this seat. Several factories here are closed. Neither the state nor the Centre has taken proper initiatives to solve the problems here. They are either busy blaming each other or making false promises. It has several closed public sector units like Mining and Allied Machineries Corporation Ltd, Bharat Ophthalmic Glass Ltd, Bengal Chemicals and Hindustan Fertiliser Corporation. But the CPI(M) never fought for the labourers of these closed units.

CPI(M)’s decision to field fresh new faces and experiment with new alliances to break the communal binary has failed to yield result. It was not unexpected. What is really the main matter of concern is whether this election will witness their frittering away. Or, do the veterans mould and involve them in policy and programme making procedure. Will they allow their imagination, intelligence, zeal and skill to grow and flower in an increasingly inhospitable environment? These elections are just the starting point for a much bigger challenge.

The determination to defeat the BJP was the prime consideration for the voters, but besides this they cannot repose their trust in the Left for its apathy to fight for them. People always looked towards the Left with hope. But unfortunately they did not come up to their expectations. This is the reason that the Left which once symbolised the social and cultural ethos of the people of Bengal has been on decline in recent years. What has been really surprising is that both in perception and in reality once mighty CPI(M) led Left has been decimated by the TMC. The latest election results nevertheless underline that TMC is more powerful at this point of time than the carrier of the Hindutva politics, the right wing BJP. The Left’s inability to withstand TMC assault has been reflected in the steady erosion of its vote share over the last ten years.

CPI(M) is feeling glorified after fielding young faces in this election. But in true sense the changes have been brought long back. The party suffered with the sense of content. Till a decade ago the leadership nursed the view that they would win the election by having some sort of alliance. But it did not work.

Even historian Irfan Habib, a CPM member since 1953, has expressed fear that the party’s "absurd’’ tactical line on alliances has been responsible for the present status of the party. It has pushed the Left movement to the sidelines of India’s polity. The Leftist leaders cannot deny that it is their incorrect analysis of the India’s state and their inability to experiment with the changing political economy of the country that has been primarily decline of the party. The leaders were scared of experimenting with the new ideas and did not have clear ideas as to how to implement the ideology.

The perception of the ground realities among the leaders so skewed that they failed to define a new political line. This was the reason that some CPI(M) were not willing to identify the BJP as fascist party, while Habib held the view that fascism can develop in India as it has a capitalist society. He feels India is a capitalist country, so there is the increasing possibility of India turning fascistic under a party like the BJP with its huge corporate backing.

The mainstream left consists of four parties: the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the Revolutionary Socialist Party, and the All India Forward Bloc. The CPI and the CPI(M) belong to the same current, and the historic reasons for the split are long over. The CPI has repeatedly called or a unification of the two parties. The CPI(M) has rejected the appeal with a certain arrogance arguing that, as it is a bigger party, the CPI should enter it instead. In reality, these debates boil down to who is the legitimate legatee of an undivided CPI. Interestingly the CPI(M) and CPI, have together governed the southern Kerala province in recent years under the Left Democratic Front.

It is an open secret that the CPI and the CPI(M) have not been revolutionary parties. The Leftist leadership tried to implement Marxism in a mechanical manner. It is worth recalling that Stalin had suggested to the Indian leaders who met him to apply Marxism keeping in view the ground realities and existing situation. Between 1977 and 2011, the Left front was continuously ruling West Bengal at the provincial level, and it also had a long stint in Kerala, alternating with the Congress-led alliance. In the small state of Tripura it ruled for a quarter century. These experiences, and above all the West Bengal experience, transformed the CPI(M). Party cadres took less part in real mass movements, only engaging when those movements were not hostile to the interests, or were directly sanctioned by, the CPI(M) government.

While the left parties and their mass fronts continue to be important mass movements have lost relevance. This is most clear when we look at the working class. The government and the ruling class has been launching planned assault in the name of globalisation since 1991 on the labourers, the trade unions maintained a passive approach. The left trade unions were content with holding once in a year protest, what could be described as periodic general strikes. But the work of rebuilding unions, organising contract workers, and launching new struggles has been seldom done, either in the provinces where the Left ruled in the past or elsewhere. The main task of the left parties was to form alliances with bourgeois ‘democratic’ or anti-imperialist forces.

One of the charges that have been levelled against the Left, from post-modern intellectuals as well as people claiming to be on the radical left, is that the left parties come to heavily rely on the bhadralok parties and bhadralok politics. In contrast the TMC led by Mamata Banerjee strived to represent the subaltern. It is an irony that the Left parties even did not go whole hog to oppose the design of the BJP-RSS and Modi government to control the state apparatus and dismantle the democratic institutions and forums. The institutions which had some autonomy were brought under control of the Prime Minister’s Office. This was widely visible in this election. How the Election Commission tried to subvert the process and finish the opposition.

The RSS strived to exercise ideological control. It has already been working for greater control over education and the media. Curriculum changes are being carried out. The recent attack on JNU and Jamia Milia are testimony to it. The last five years have shown that there will be state-sponsored use of force against the movements that seek to oppose all of this. Left organisations have adopted a passive approach in the matter of opposing saffron machinations. The Modi government has put a large number of left academic and intellectuals in jails on the plea of their being urban Naxals. The left has vast space before them to assert. But unfortunately, it has been behaving like an ostrich. What is needed at this stage is to build a new left. This will have to emerge from sections of the mainstream left willing to challenge their leaderships’ drift to the right. Instead of relying on elements like ISF, the left should find its ally in the radical left, in social movement-oriented left activists and in caste activists. The left must identify its enemy. It must not be a victim of ambiguity.

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