The appointment was for a little after noon. The CPI(M) state secretary and Left Front chairman was working in the library at the party headquarters when the HT team arrived. In the one-and-half-hour-long interview that followed, Biman Bose spoke about everything from the anti-incumbency factor to disillusionment among CPI(M) workers and, of course, the party's expectations from the coming elections. Excerpts from his views on a government that has been in power more for than three decades
Is 2011 your toughest electoral battle since 1977?
After the Left Front emerged as a force to reckon with on Bengal's political horizon, we faced many battles. In 2001, we faced a tough fight. 2011 has acquired a new dimension because national and international forces have united against the Marxists in conjugation with Opposition parties. In a few days, this consortium will initiate a campaign with their own market surveys and so-called poll analysis to tell people that the Marxists will be defeated in Bengal. The campaign has already started but very soon it will become widespread, courtesy a section of the print and electronic media. I won't be surprised if foreign imperialist forces are found to be active behind this because we have always opposed their designs. The US was the happiest nation when 61 Left MPs withdrew support from the first UPA government opposing the India-US nuclear deal. Now, West Bengal is a target because it is the strongest base of those who are opposed to liberalisation, de-nationalisation of PSUs and efforts to make India a junior partner of the US.
The Left parties have opposed many policies of the second UPA government pertaining to banking and insurance sector and claimed that India escaped the fallout of global economic meltdown only because the Marxists demanded safeguards. Have you failed to make the common man understand this?
Only a few people understand this, not the entire population. It is a fact that the Left parties have been able to stop multinationals and big corporate houses from taking total control of the lives of the people. We are taking this message to voters and we are convinced that the wider section of the people will understand it.
In that case, how can Trinamool Congress establish a pro-people image in alliance with Congress that is leading the UPA government?
I have never heard that the Trinamool took any stand against anti-people policies of this UPA government. Recently, Left MPs in the Lok Sabha opposed the motion on provident fund and pension bills. But while 43 MPs opposed, 115 members, including two members of the Trinamool, voted for the motion along with Congress and BJP. Attendance in Parliament was very low that day. It is a dangerous trend that provident fund savings of a common working man will be invested in the share market.
Do you feel that the Left Front has become a victim of the anti-incumbency factor?
I won't say that the anti-incumbency factor does not exist at all. But it is not the deciding factor in this election. The main factor is that communist party workers who are supposed to work among the masses, identify needs of the poor and ensure implementation of development polices have failed to do so across Bengal. In some areas, there were deviations. Also, communist party workers failed to carry out their responsibilities among the masses the way they do so when they are working inside the party. As a result, people, who found Marxists by their side through thick and thin, got irritated. They are not large in number but the negative fallout of deviations spreads everywhere. If five among 500 of our men have faltered, then their shortcomings have affected our workers everywhere. That is why we initiated the rectification campaign. We took penal measures and announced that in public. People sometimes ask why we are going public now. The fact is that in the past we always took such actions. Many members of local, zonal and district committees were expelled but we did not go public. Many were cautioned or asked to step down. But now we announce them. It is a fact that between 2009 and 2010 membership of many of our men were not renewed. They were found incorrigible. Since 2007, thousands of our members have been dropped. Many were also demoted from committees.
Does this mean that there was a point of time when people were given membership without proper scrutiny, bypassing the strict rules of your party?
Yes. In some districts, procedures were not followed while granting membership. It is a regulation that one has to first become part of the auxiliary group and undergo political training before becoming a common member. Only after that can he become a primary member. We found during scrutiny that this was not followed and people were given primary membership without adhering to the rule. We have taken serious note of this and we will stop such practices.
In that case will the CPI(M) try to emerge as a youthful and transparent party in future ?
Undoubtedly. While selecting our candidates for this election, we introduced a 1-in-3 formula. It means that out of every three candidates, one will be a member of the young generation, one will be middle-aged and one will be a veteran. Our youngest candidate is only 25 years old. There are many who are below 35 and a sizeable chunk are in their 40s. This is a matter to reckon with because people usually join politics at a later age. In future, the CPI(M) will introduce the same formula inside the party also. We will transfuse fresh blood. The average age group of party members and functionaries, right from local committees to the state committee, will definitely come down. The process has already begun.
Was this policy discussed at the Coimbatore party congress in 2008?
This was not officially discussed or adopted at the congress but we were thinking loudly. In a communist party, it takes some time for anything like this to percolate.
While touring the districts, we have often found CPI(M) workers who appear disillusioned. They seem to believe that the war has already been lost. Have you observed the same trend?
That was two months ago. The situation has changed drastically. That particular section of our workers, which never saw the party defeated, could not take the shock. This syndrome was visible even among some functionaries and committee members. It took us some time to make them understand and boost their morale. I can say this disillusionment has been taken care of to a large extent.
A chunk of votes in Bengal, something around 40%, always seemed to be with the Left. The same is true with the Opposition as well. So will the remaining 20% decide the fate of Bengal?
The fall in our share of votes started with the panchayat elections in 2008. In panchayats, the priority is always on development and people expect their problems to be redressed. Some mistakes were made in a few districts and people taught us a lesson by voting against us. We lost several panchayats and even two zilla parishads. But in the Lok Sabha polls in 2009 the difference between votes secured by us and the Opposition stood at 11 lakh. There were many reasons. First, we announced that we would form a third front government at the Centre. There were no takers for this because we never had the numbers. So people were afraid that the BJP might come back to power again if they voted for the Left and their secular and democratic partners. Second, our own mistakes and shortcomings again came under focus. We could not explain to people some actions of the state government. The government also failed to do so. This led to a shortfall in 11 lakh votes. Our shortcomings and behaviour of our men once again went against us in the civic polls in 2010.
But these factors will not matter in 2011 because people have seen the performance of the Left Front since 1977. And, in the meantime, they have also seen how the Opposition. The violence they have perpetrated, the anarchy, the Maoist connections et al.
So, are you optimistic that the Left Front will return to power for the eighth time?
There is not an iota of doubt. It will be revealed on May 13.