At a painting exhibition in Kolkata in 2007, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said art has no future without industrial development. It is only industry that can nourish art.
The shift in focus of the Left Front [Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Revolutionary Socialist Party, and Forward Bloc] from agriculture to industry could not be painless. And so severe has the pain been that the Left is in danger of losing power in West Bengal in 2011.
The year 2009 has been the most important year for mainstream communist parties since 1964, when the undivided Communist Party of India split. In May this year, when the results to the Lok Sabha polls were declared, the writing was on the wall. The impregnable Left fortress in the country, West Bengal, was slipping out of the Left’s grasp. And in Kerala too, the second haven of the Marxists, the CPI(M) won just four of the 14 it contested.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
What accounts for the change in situation, in West Bengal at least? In the assembly election of 2006, the Left won 235 seats in West Bengal out of 294. What happened since then?
The Left slogan that year was: “Krishi amader vitti; shilpo amader bhobiswat” (Agriculture is our foundation; industry is our future). The West Bengal government considered industrial projects — in Nandigram in West Midnapore (about 150 km west of Kolkata) and Singur (50 km north of Kolkata) in Hooghly. Land had to be acquired for those. Farmers had to part with fertile land. Sharecroppers were in danger of losing their livelihood. The middle peasants, whose support had sustained the Left Front for decades, began to perceive the government as their enemy.
With two major pillars of strength crumbling, the middle classes, which were in sympathy with the industrial initiatives the government was taking, renewed their hostility. All areas that the government had neglected, health, for example, became glaring.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
While the Marxists do soul-searching and try to rectify the corrupt in their ranks, introspection becomes necessary as the year comes to an end. Even the hardcore optimists won’t disagree that 2009 was a moment of truth for the Left.
In Bengal, the Left blamed the Maoists, the Trinamool, the BJP, the Congress and a combination of all the “evil forces”. They blamed everybody except themselves. The blame game reached epic proportions with a section of leaders, including the late transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, openly challenging central leaders like Prakash Karat, general secretary of the party, to come out of the four walls of A.K. Gopalan Bhawan in Delhi and face the ballot for a taste of realpolitik.
Many CPI(M) leaders, as well as their counterparts in the CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc, agree that 2009 was spent in defending the Bengal fortress because cracks in the Kerala organisation were getting too wide to plug.
“This year we were busy protecting our vote bank and our supporters.
But 2010 will be the year of rejuvenating and revamping the party. 2010
will be a challenge for the Left,” CPI(M) Bengal secretariat and central committee member Muhammed Salim said.
Salim is right. The polls have made it clear that youth looking for jobs, farmers scared of losing land and Muslims puzzled by the Sachar Committee findings (which paint a not too happy situation of the community in the state) are drifting away.
Bengal state secretary and Left Front Chairman Biman Bose could not hide his anxiety the day the Lok Sabha results were declared. “Even the Indira Gandhi wave could not touch Bengal in 1971. This time we failed to gauge the undercurrent,” he said.
In Kerala, the United Democratic Front trounced the CPI(M). The squabble between Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and CPI(M) State Secretary P. Vijayan has been a thorn in the CPI(M) flesh. Vijayan is facing corruption charges in his stint as minister in the state government between 1996 and 2001, when he is alleged to have illegally favoured a Canadian firm called SNC-Lavalin.
The CPI(M) central committee acknowledged that the Opposition managed to mobilise a large section of the Christian community before the Lok Sabhs polls. The Catholic Church organised other churches and campaigned against the Left Democratic Front for opposing the Education Act, which sought to impose control on self-financed colleges.
There was also a common perception that the CPI(M) was trying to woo Muslim voters through the People’s Democratic Party of Abdul Nasser Madhani, who was once an accused in the Coimbatore blasts of 1998. Disharmony among Left partners, especially the dispute with the CPI over the Ponnani Lok Sabha seat, further weakened the conglomerate in Kerala. However, the CBI investigation of the SNC Lavalin scam became their Achilles’ heel during the election campaign.
Against the backdrop of Tripura, where Chief Minister Manik Sarkar is going great guns with the policies that the CPI(M) preached in Bengal for three decades, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee should be having his hands full in the coming days.
After the electoral debacle in the Lok Sabha polls this year, the CPI(M) politburo admitted that some leaders weren’t leading the life required by the party and “corruption, nepotism and the influence of money had crept into the party mechanism badly”.
Now the party is busy herding its comrades to schools in the hope that those who strayed can be made to fall in line.
Recently at the central committee meeting of the party it transpired that the party was considering ways to cap at three the number of terms a state secretary can hold.
The 2011 assembly polls call for more. Probably much more than what the Marxists had ever hoped to deliver.