Two months before party’s foundation day, Bengal CPI shuts down daily mouthpiece
After a barrage of electoral setbacks since the fall of the Marxist government in 2011, the Left movement in Bengal suffered a jolt when the Communist Party of India (CPI) Bengal unit suspend daily publication of Kalantar, its mouthpiece, from Thursday because of financial constraints.
In a long announcement published in Wednesday’s edition, CPI state secretary and Kalantar’s publisher Swapan Banerjee said the mouthpiece would soon appear as a fortnightly. Though he said the daily edition was being shut down “temporarily,” party leaders said they were not hoping to see Kalantar reviving anytime soon. For the past few months, the daily was being run by an NGO appointed by the party.
Kalantar was launched in 1966 by CPI stalwart Bhawani Sen and legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray designed the masthead. The oldest surviving communist party of the country will celebrate its foundation day on December 26.
While Banerjee cited rising expenses, absence of state government advertisements since 2011 etc. as reasons behind the closure, the news led to resentment and despair among not only a section of CPI leaders but even other Left parties and intellectuals.
A number of CPI Bengal state council members said that the state leadership’s decision to shut down the daily was opposed by many. The issue finally came up for voting at the council’s meeting on October 5. Former state secretary Manju Majumdar and many others voted against the move but were outnumbered. At the party’s state secretariat meeting, Majumdar got his note of dissent recorded.
“This is not the first time Kalantar is facing a crisis. Publication was suspended in 1992 but the then state secretary Nanda Gopal Bhattacharya re-launched it, that too with colour pages, in 1995,” said Majumdar.
In its peak, Kalantar had a daily circulation of more than 40,000 copies. The number dwindled to a few thousand in recent months. Most of the staff members were volunteers.
“It is an irony that we announced closure of our Bengali mouthpiece four days after Kanhaiya Kumar, the national face of CPI, celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Indian People’s Theatre Association, the cultural icon of India’s Left movement, with actor Shabana Azmi and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani by his side in Patna,” said a senior state council member who did not wish to be named.
“The party should make some serious efforts to save the daily. The current monthly expenditure is around Rs 2.25 lakh. It is not impossible to raise the money. Moreover, Nanda Gopal Bhattacharya had set aside Rs 50 lakh for Kalantar. He said the interest earned should be used for the paper, keeping the principal sum intact,” the state council member added.
Incidentally, Ganashakti, the mouthpiece of CPI(M)’s Bengal unit is also going through a rough time.
“Though every registered newspaper has the right to print government advertisements and earn revenue, the Trinamool government has not given us any since 2011. We filed a lawsuit and got a verdict in our favour from Calcutta high court. The government challenged the decision and the matter is lying before a division bench. We are facing a tough time too but what is happening with Kalantar is unfortunate,” said Avik Dutta, editor of Ganashakti.
“Kalantar cannot survive as a daily under the present circumstances. The printing machine needs to be refurbished as well. The 50-odd staff members have been informed. Some will stay but the rest have to go,” said Banerjee.
“Closure of the daily does not mean Marxist movement in Bengal will end. But it proves that smaller partners in the Left Front have failed to grow over the years. In fact, CPI, Forward Bloc, Revolutionary Socialist Party et al are shrinking in the districts of Bengal because young people are not joining these parties anymore,” said columnist and political commentator Suvashis Moitra.
Poll results vindicate Moitra. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, vote share of the Bengal Left Front partners stood at 43.3 % but it went down to 29.9 % in 2014. In 2011 assembly polls, the Left parties had a vote share of 41 % but it went down to 26 % in 2016, resulting in their worst performance since Independence in terms of number of seats.
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