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Sunday, Aug 25, 2019

Hammered, sickled

Mamata Banerjee’s victory in the civic polls in Bengal has made the CPI(M) discover a new emotion: the fear of redundancy, writes Sumit Mitra.

india Updated: Jun 03, 2010 22:22 IST
Sumit Mitra
Sumit Mitra
Hindustan Times

Communists nurse a love-hate attitude towards parliaments. Lenin called them a “pig-sty”, but that was in connection with his hated anarchists being no good even at out-grunting the other ‘pigs’ there. And Engels, an older apostle, was elated that Germany’s communists were fighting hard the elections after the introduction of universal franchise in 1866. The election results, he cooed, “accurately informed us concerning our own strength”.

It may not quite be the time to discuss the arcane history of a creed that is in its death-throes worldwide. But living in West Bengal, it is difficult to be unmindful of the pride of its core Left party, the CPI(M), in its seeming electoral invincibility. In last year’s parliamentary elections, the party and its allies were jolted by a near-rout. But it held on to its pride and told its members that it was a one-off incident, which would not happen again as it would ‘rectify’ its mistakes.

In West Bengal, the CPI(M)’s arch rival, Mamata Banerjee, never tires of telling her swelling audiences, who love sporting metaphors, that the assembly elections, due next year, will be the “final” that the CPI(M) will lose and, with that, the trophy of governing the state that it had cornered for 34 years. Before the final, Banerjee would add, there will be the “semi-finals”, implying the recent municipal elections in 81 of the state’s 124 civic bodies, including the prestigious Calcutta Corporation. The CPI(M) did not scream at this labelling as it indeed believed that it would win the semi-finals because, unlike in 2009 general elections, the Congress and Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) are no longer in alliance in the state. It suspected there could be an understanding between the two at the grassroots level but it never doubted its ability to regain its primacy through its formidable cadre network.

As the results were announced, there was a fear in the party that, had the elections indeed been like competitive sport, it could face elimination at the semi-finals. The CPI(M)-led Left Front has been sent packing from most of the municipal boards where it was entrenched, its tally dropping from 54 in 2005 to 18 now, and the TMC’s score has zoomed from a mere seven to 24. The Congress was controlling seven of these 81 municipalities and has won in seven this time too. For the CPI(M), this is disconcerting as it expected the Congress to fare better as its ‘enemy’s enemy’. More galling was the fact that if the Congress and the TMC agree to be friends again, as many as 59 municipalities in this round of polling will have non-Left managers.

CPI(M) leaders kept their chin up in public, claiming that the rural people were still with them and they’d even regained some lost ground in far-flung areas, like Cooch Behar. But the fear of tasting for the first time in 34 years what it means to stay out of Writers’ Buildings is gnawing already. It came out when Bikashranjan Bhattacharjee, the outgoing CPI(M) mayor, described the results as “mass hysteria”.

Bhattacharjee had reasons to get shirty. He came to the mayoral room (once occupied by the likes of Subhas Chandra Bose) at a felicitous time when money was cheap and the UPA government, wedded to ‘inclusive growth’, had a lot of cash to spare for all cities, including Kolkata, specially under the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission. But, to Bhattacharjee’s dismay, his party’s votes went down the newly-paved drains. In a sense, the poll has left a question mark on the conventional wisdom that there is a constant linkage between development and the incumbent’s votes. Of the city’s 141 wards, while the Left Front got just 33 wards, against 75 in 2005, the TMC bagged 95, against 42 earlier. The Congress, which had won 21 in 2005, now got only 10.

That vindicates Banerjee’s earlier refusal to give the Congress the 40 seats that it demanded. In the light of the overall civic poll results, though, there may be renewed thinking on future ties between the TMC and the Congress. As many as 29 municipalities will come under them if they re-unite. And many of these towns, such as Serampore, Rishra and Konnagar, are just as close to Kolkata as Hapur is to Delhi. A close look at the voting figures will show that the Congress and the TMC are still cheek-by-jowl in many places.

Many voters across the state would like the Left to be thrown out of power. Yet, they’d not like Banerjee to lead the charge. They should take lessons from results in the town of Jangipur in Murshidabad district, supposedly a Congress citadel. In 2009 Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee won from the Jangipur parliamentary seat. But in the municipal elections this time, the Left Front has won 13 of the municipality’s 20 wards while the Congress has got six. It shows that the Congress is not solid as rock anywhere.

That puts Banerjee in a ‘game theory’ situation. If she plays with the Congress what economists call a ‘non-cooperative game’ by refusing to collude, the pay-off may be high. If she plays cautiously she’ll still be the real scorer in the ‘final’ but it will be a winning team of mixed jerseys, leaving room for leadership tussles in the future (as in Maharashtra). Much depends on her ability to bind down the Congress to a commitment that it will not demand more than a certain number of seats in the assembly elections. Being a waning force in Bengal, the Congress can violate the agreement only at its own peril.

The CPI(M) is history, though it will hate to hear this till the voters give it a coup de grace. Its synchronised microphones move from one TV talk show to another these days with the message that Banerjee is unfit to rule the very state that they’ve rendered unlivable by 34 years of misrule. The best solace they can draw is from the words of Mahatma Gandhi who told the British, after the Cripps’ Mission failed in April 1942: “Leave India to God, and if that be too much leave her to anarchy.”

First Published: Jun 03, 2010 22:19 IST

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