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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 1, December 26, 2009 - Annual Number 2009

Election Defeat of the Leftist Parties and Its Aftermath

Saturday 26 December 2009, by P R Dubhashi


The decisive defeat of the Communist Parties in the recent parliamentary and Assembly by-elections and local elections was a definite indication that the citadel of the Leftist power firmly entrenched in the soil of West Bengal over the last thirtytwo years is facing an imminent collapse. Already the representatives of the Revolutionary Socialist Party in the West Bengal Cabinet have openly demanded the resignation of the Buddhadeb Government paving the way for fresh elections in order to seek a fresh people’s mandate two years before the elections are due, since the present government has lost its credibility.

The defeat of the Communist candidates in all the three seats in Kerala also showed a similar trend though the political scenario in Kerala had been somewhat different since, as could be expected in a system of parliamentary democracy, power has shifted in a pendulum-like fashion after every election from the Communist-led Left Democratic Front to the Congress-led front and vice-versa.

The imminent collapse of the communist power in West Bengal and Kerala has also shattered the hopes of the Marxist Communist leader, Prakash Karat, to use power in the three States and unprecedented 60 seats in the last Parliament to gain influence in the Hindi heartland.

The imminent collapse of the communist power in India coincides with the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. This looks like a delayed effect, in contrast to its immediate impact in the home of communism, namely, the Soviet Union which, soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, disintegrated followed by the collapse of the communist system in Russia, the Central Asian Republics and East European countries like Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

The situation was somewhat different in China—another major communist citadel. There, under the astute leadership of Deng Xiaoping, the Communist Party quickly anticipated the situation and in 1979 itself launched on the path of capitalism under the auspices of the Communist Party itself, arguing that “it does not matter what colour the cat has, so long as it catches mice”.

What are the larger implications of this collapse of communist power in West Bengal? Is it an irreversible development or can the Communist Parties hope to come back? Is it a final defeat of the Marxist ideology in India as in the rest of the world? Has it ceased to be a relevant ideology for the Indian masses?

The Communist Parties had always argued that with power only in three States and not at the Centre, they had to work under the constitutional limitations and therefore had no plans to run the State Government and introduce policies and programmes in consonance with the Marxist ideology. It is only after capturing power at the Centre could they hope to introduce the full-fledged Marxist-Leninist programme of socialisation of the means of production and ‘taking away from each according to his means and giving each according to his needs’. All that they could do was to give a clean, progressive government in the States. That is what they tried to do under Namboodripad and Achutha Menon and their successors in Kerala and under the long regime of Jyoti Basu in West Bengal. In the latter State they claimed credit for the ‘Operation Barga’, a programme of radical land reforms, and a system of Panchayati Raj, that is, rural local government. Both the programmes liberated the productive capacities of the poor leading to increase in agricultural production and rural development.

But the private sector and industrialists did not take kindly to the Communist rulers and capital shied away. West Bengal, once at the forefront of business and industry, saw the existing industries shifting away while no new investment and entrepreneurship made an entry. This led to economic stagnation and widespread unemployment among the educated Bengali youth. The situation could not be allowed to drift and a breakthrough was needed. Obviously the Communist leaders had started giving a fresh thought to their economic programme, especially in the context of the winds of change sweeping over the world and in India as well after 1991 when India changed its economic policy of planning and state controlled economy in favour of marketisation, liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation.

Ultimately a way was found. Buddhdeb Bhattacharjee who succeeded Jyoti Basu decided to follow the economic-political model which Deng Xiaoping introduced in China. He announced a grand policy of industrialisation in West Bengal and invited the Big Business and multinational companies in the State offering red carpet treatment and liberal concessions to them, especially in making land available. He followed the model of ‘Special Economic Zones’. Ratan Tata was the first to meet Buddhadeb after he assumed office as the Chief Minister for a second time. But his dream was shattered.


Buddhadeb could not do what Deng could do in China where there is an authoritarian government, with power concentrated in the hands of the Communist Party. Buddhadeb could never hope to do so in democratic India. His attempt to acquire large chunks of productive agricultural land to be handed over on a platter to the
Tatas in Singur for an ambitious automobile project and in Nandigram to an Indonesian multinational firm owned by a Chinese tycoon for a chemical complex, fell flat on the face of a long drawn and aggressive resistance by the agricultural community to whom inspiration and leadership was provided by Mamata Banerjee and her workers of the Trinamul Congress. Mamata for many years had been waging a war against the communist power though without success. In her attempt to uproot the communist power in West Bengal, she did not hesitate to join hands with the Maoists who, without much apparent notice, had built a wide network of organisation speedily in the tribal belt. The Muslims, for long supporters of the Communist Parties, also deserted them. The intellectuals and the celebrities too supported the agrarian resistance. The people’s resistance to compulsory acquisition of land was so fierce that, after unsuccessful attempts to crush it in Deng’s Tiananmen style, in which many became the victims of police firing, Buddhadeb had to give up. The Tatas left West Bengal after a severe setback to the installation of the auto plant at Singur. The Nandigram project proved to be a stillborn effort.

But this explosion of people’s resistance to the West Bengal communist regime was not an isolated event. It was long coming. At long last, people had seen through the reality of the political system which the Communist Parties, especially the Marxists, had imposed on rural Bengal. The party machine had established a firm grip over the local community as well as the local administration. Only the Communist Party functionaries and their underlings and favourites cornered all the benefits of development programmes leaving the common people high and dry in their miserable daily grind to eke out their livelihood. The party functionaries built palatial houses for themselves in the dismal surroundings of the huts and hovels of the people with no improvement over the years. The high-handed behaviour of the local political bosses did not endear them to the common people. The anger against injustice was waiting for a spark to explode and that was provided by the Singur-Nandigram agitation and the rabble-rousing speeches of fiery Mamata Banerjee. Slowly the fire of anger spread to rural as well as urban West Bengal, to the north as well as the south.

It is widely expected that even if the elections were to be held in 2011 and not immediately, the Marxist and Communist Parties will not be able to retrieve the situation. Even the Leftist coalition might disintegrate. The edifice of the party power built in West Bengal would in that event collapse. Moreover the youth, restless to get lucrative employment opportunities, would no longer feel attracted to the communist ideology. Indeed after the collapse of the communist power in Russia and earlier European countries and its complete transformation in China, the ideology has virtually lost its relevance. A new social philosophy and ideology, as a viable alternative to capitalism, has yet to be formulated. In the meanwhile the communist power in India is facing extinction, as in the rest of the world.

Not that the fortunes of the people of West Bengal would improve were Mamata Banerjee to be the next Chief Minister of the State in 2011 or earlier. With a lifetime spent in political agitation and rabble-rousing speeches, with indifferent performance in government whenever she had the opportunity to hold office, she does not seem to have the talent or the capacity or the inclination to provide leadership to a successful government with a constructive programme. She does not seem to have evolved any coherent ideology or any constructive programme. With a proclivity to fall out with people—unless replaced by sobriety coming with maturity of age—she may not be able to give a steady government with good performance.. In that case only disappointment is in store for the people of West Bengal, who have suffered long even under the stable and long lasting Leftist Government which was neither dynamic nor efficient. It went on harping on ‘Operation Barga’ and Panchayati Raj introduced in the initial years without presenting any new, innovative programmes of rural development. Even in implementing the Centrally initiated programmes it gave a lacklustre performance. The government and administration in West Bengal need rejuvenation. It is too much to expect that Mamata Banerjee could do in West Bengal what Nitish Kumar is doing in Bihar.

Dr Dubhashi, IAS (retired), is a former Secretary to the Government of India and erstwhile Vice-Chancellor, Goa University; he is currently the Chairman, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Pune Kendra. He can be contacted at dubhashi@giaspn01.vsnl.net.in

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