Tuesday, May 24, 2011

To the Comrades in Bengal

The 2011 Bengal assembly election is now over. A synthetically manufactured socio-political commotion that had embarked on a plotted journey from mid-2007 has finally arrived at its logical end. The much hyped circle of poriborton (change) is now complete. An assorted conglomerate of anti-Left elements, personified by the “magnanimous” Trinamool chieftain Mamata Banerjee have triumphed over a thirty-four years long uninterrupted Left Front rule in this eastern Indian state – the longest-serving elected communist government in the world. The euphoria over the victory in the anti-Left camp is therefore obvious. Prominent renegades, fence-sitter Leftists, drawing room revolutionaries and the awake-aware intellectuals have also joined to sing the celebration chorus. The winners and their embedded friends in the mainstream corporate media have announced with a big sigh of relief that Bengal, at last, is free. The people, we are told, is now liberated from a tyrannical and sluggish regime which has destroyed every aspect of democratic rights in the state. The Left’s terrible debacle, we are edified again and again, is therefore nothing less than historic. On the other side, a stoic silence has been observed from the losers who have gracefully accepted the people’s mandate and are presently tiring to protect their grass-root workers from the vicious attack launched against them by the victorious Trinamool goons.

A distinctive feature of this election, too obvious to be doubted, is the unprecedented, near total consolidation of anti-Left forces. All sorts of incongruent political elements, the ultra-Leftists, the separatists, the centrists as well as the reactionary Rightists, had deliberately assembled together with the singular aim to defeat the Left Front. This election has also seen an extraordinarily antagonistic, insolent and biased campaign by the corporate media against the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Though anti-Left campaign by the mainstream media is nothing new during elections, this time the modus operandi, dimension and range of the media campaign has actually crossed every imaginable limit. In an act of desperation, the corporate media perhaps have overlooked the fact that an overdose of anti-Left bias can turn counterproductive in the long run.  

Yet, the results have come like a body blow to the Left Front, particularly to the CPI(M), for a special reason. The way in which the party has lost the elections is not only stunning but also unprecedented in the party’s legislative history in the state. Almost all of its stalwarts including incumbent chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee have lost in huge margins to the opposition; many greenhorns of the opposition combine have emerged as giant-killers. The Marxists are also been routed from the four districts considered to be their traditional stronghold – Bardhaman, Bankura, West Midnapore and Purulia. The most shocking news for the CPI(M) came from the Maoist infested Jangalmahal area where in the past two years over 122 party activists were brutally annihilated, their families were attacked, hundreds of homes were burnt and thousands were displaced. In the fourteen Maoist-affected rural constituencies in Jangalmahal the Left Front has won only seven assembly seats. They were defeated in their stronghold Salboni and also in Jhargram that includes Lalgarh – the epicenter of the Maoist movement in the region. Earlier, the masses had never completely believed the lies spread against the Left parties and their leaders. This time they did.

From the moment the results were declared, Left Front and CPI(M) nitpickers are having a field day. They are yelling from the rooftops: Isn’t it true that the Left Front has ultimately paid the price for their arrogance, for imposing their myopic vision, for their incapability to deliver good governance, for their autocratic approach to control each and every democratic institutions, for their absolute but needless interference in the daily lives of the people, for unleashing a reign of terror in the countryside to maintain their supremacy? Have they not tried to cripple the people of Bengal and prevented them to flourish like the people of many “vibrant” states of the country like Gujarat or Maharashtra? Why the Bengalis needed to leave their homeland in numbers in search of better education, medical facilities and jobs? The decade long Left rule, as one Rupert Murdock blessed media group tells us, has ruined the state to such a level that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the new government to repair the damage in just one term.

Curiously enough, these viewpoints are not only raised by the vociferous critics of the Left but are also seen to be shared by many of their well-meaning advocates too. Even the Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary A.B. Bardhan has jumped into the fray with his “spirited” opinion that the electoral debacle in Bengal is the fallout of arrogance and corruption that has crept in among the cadres and leaders at certain levels and a series of “mistakes and sins of omission and commission.” (Source) Everyone seems to have grown wiser after the event.


From close to 50 per cent in the previous 2006 elections, the Left Front’s share of total votes has sharply reduced to just over 41 per cent in the present. Though the opposition TMC-Congress combine has received just 6 per cent more votes than the Left parties and the CPI(M) has still retained a core base, compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections the Left’s vote-share has reduced an additional 2.2 per cent. How is it possible that the Marxists who brag on their incisive organizational strength failed to even sense this immense public mood? Is it not then a clear indication, as one observer has judiciously concluded, how much detached they were from ground reality? Former Left Front minister and noted essayist Ashok Mitra has bitterly criticized the Left leadership for displaying a “grotesque” optimism and “ridiculous self-confidence” on the eve of vote counting.

However, C.P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh has shown in their post-election analysis that this optimism most likely came from the fact that the Left Front had indeed managed to considerably improve its performance by gaining nearly 1.1 million additional votes compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. “Not only was the Left Front vote in 2011 very close to that in 2006,” the authors have observed, “this increase was almost equal to the extent by which the Left Front had fallen short of the votes of the TMC-Congress combine in 2009.” The authors have further noted that even if “more people actually did come out to vote for Left parties than had done so in 2009 […] the party cadre apparently did not anticipate that many more people would turn out to vote for the opposition.” (Emphasis added) The opposition combine had the last laugh as 72 per cent of the 4.8 million overall votes which has increased between 2009 and 2011 have gone in their favor whereas the Left was able to garner only 23 per cent of the votes. (Source) A significant number of these additional votes came from the women voters. The women of Bengal, as some commentators have suggested, seems to have strongly identified with the famous lady.

Another point is worth noting. While the Left Front this time has received 19.6 million votes and ended up with just 61 of the 294 seats, in the previous 2006 assembly elections it had secured 19.8 million votes and yet won a massive 235 seats. Thus a fundamental question is raised by human rights activist and blogger Vidya Bhushan Rawat: “Just 6% of shift in votes has changed the fortunes of the left in West Bengal reflect a serious concern of all of us that we need to discuss on the issue of electoral reform. How can a mere 6% difference create loss of 162 seats?” (Source) The Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala, however, has lost the election by a slender margin and was also successful to slightly increase its vote-share from the 2006 assembly elections. LDF’s vote-share in the 2011 elections is just under less than one per cent of what the opposition UDF has acquired.


While gloating at the defeat, congenital Left detractors are pretending to be greatly worried about the Left’s future too! Advising to scrap Lenin and Stalin along with the ideological commitments, media-bred pundits have recommended that the Left parties in India now must “challenge existing beliefs and assumptions” to follow the path of revisionism and convert themselves into Social Democrats – just like what their Eastern European counterparts have done after the collapse of the Soviet Union. From the barrage of advices pitched towards them from all directions, the Left leaders and workers must be having a hard time to distinguish between the “friendly” and the “fiendish”. Furthermore, a malicious attack has been systematically instigated to dilute the historic contribution of the Left Front in Bengal – the remarkable role they have played to deepen grassroots democracy through decentralization of power, to uphold communal harmony for more than three successive decades, for distributing land to the sharecroppers, for bringing the poor and marginalized into the democratic mainstream and giving them the respect they deserve.

It was certain that when the law of Dialectics takes its own course, the Left Front government of Bengal was bound to fall. However strong it may be, no political party or alliance can remain invincible forever in a democracy. “In a democracy, political parties win and lose electoral battles,” commented senior journalist M.R. Narayan Swamy in a recent article. “There is no Shakespearean tragedy in the rout of the Left in West Bengal.” (Source) Why then some of us are feeling heartbroken and the others are trying to phrase the election results as a catastrophe for the Left? No doubt, the 34 year-long stint in absolute power is one of the key reasons behind such attitudes to develop. It will also be wrong to deny that a good section of the Left leadership and workers at various levels took the people of Bengal for granted and had started to think and behave like an everlasting ruler. Then there is another oblivious section among the Left’s extended family which had completely forgotten that winning elections is not the only purpose or the real marker of the significance and strength of the communist parties. The wise masses have given a fitting reply against these attitudes.

Has the time come to write an elegy for the Left? Will it be possible for the major Left parties in the country to recover from this enormous defeat? These are the fundamental questions which has prompted much discussion and debate in various corners in and outside the country today. Instead of backing away after the defeat, the Left parties must look-up at the silver lining outshining the gloom. The election results have provided a unique opportunity for them. First of all, after a long time they are now free from the apparent obligations of balancing their “words and deeds” while functioning to run three state governments in Bengal, Kerala and Tripura within the parameters of a fiercely competitive neo-liberal bourgeois democratic framework. After a long time, the Left parties will not have to constantly defend or explain their inner contradictions, alleged as “duplicity” or “hypocrisy” by the critics, for adopting the neo-liberal policies on one hand and opposing pro-US neo-liberalism on the other. They have nothing further to lose and therefore there will be no need now to go on defending the concentrated attack launched against them on this question. Instead, they have more time to focus on past mistakes, seriously introspect, undertake in-depth analysis and initiate systematic rational debates within itself which will eventually help to generate newer ideas on their future approaches to socio-political issues. They now have a golden opportunity to transform themselves from within and reinvent a creative Left Front – reflecting the aspirations of the masses, being uncompromising in their anti- imperialist, anti-liberalism stand.

The Left parties will have the wonderful chance to sharpen their praxis and launch waves after waves of vigorous mass movements against the mounting imposition of economic burdens on the livelihood of the people. They have the capacity to emerge as a dedicated, meaningful and uncompromising opposition force, protesting each and every anti-people policies of the corrupt Congress government at the central and its tributary in Bengal. We sincerely believe that it is only the Left parties who can take-up such a crusader role. They will also have more time now to rethink, reorganize and bounce back stronger with a viable, structurally reformative and alternative concept of governance.

On the other side, the Trinamool led government will gradually get strangled in its own web of perilous incongruity. The hideous rogue elements which are carefully kept obscured as of now will soon take full charge of the situation. News reports has already started rolling out that 38 per cent of the victorious Trinamool legislators are facing pending criminal cases against them which includes serious charges like murder, attempt to murder, theft and kidnapping. (Source) The crooks, buffoons and cunning opportunists, those who have been steadily creeping into the Trinamool bandwagon for quite some time will start demanding their pound of flesh. The “matured” media-made “honest and humble” new chief minister has afforded quite a lot of time and money to change the color of her skin. “I am against the Left here but not against Leftism. I share the values of the old Left,” she had boasted in order to emotionally impress the Left-minded voters just a few days before the crucial election. Though it looks like she has succeeded to impress them for the moment, the people of Bengal will eventually realize that a snake, after all, remains a snake.

Keeping in mind the core composition of the new rulers, certain possibilities are almost inevitable. Shortly after the honeymoon period is over, the feel-good factor will vanish into the blue. Many of the bombastic ideas, the duplicitous “leftist” slogans and hollow policy concepts will eventually get exposed as plain rubbish. The demand to fulfill the bogus promises will grow louder and louder. Bertrand Russell once made a distinction about the difference between change and progress. “Change,” he wrote, “is scientific, progress is ethical; change is indubitable, whereas progress is a matter of controversy.” On their “progressive” path towards a “change”, Mamata Banerjee and her Ma-Mati-Manush (Mother-Earth-People) army of gallant warriors will start churning out a sufficient amount of illegitimate and divisive stuff and eventually create ground for a complete reversal of the circumstances. Time will come when the victors of today will recognize why it is too dangerous to gamble with people’s lives.

So, there is no real need to rush. Responding to the new chief minister’s “courteous” opening, popular CPI(M) leader Gautam Deb has written the following words in an article in his party organ Ganashakti: “We have taken an oath – for the sake of Bengal, for the sake of the country, for the sake of democracy and for the sake of courteousness we will return you your teachings in due course.” Deb then wrote with conviction, “We have taken an oath – to meet up again on the grand road of struggle.”


The primary task of the Left Front parties is to win back the people’s trust they have lost. It will be a terrible blunder to lose faith on the ordinary masses who are disenchanted right now. The corrupt elements occupying a good portion of the deck also need to be ruthlessly weeded out. The Left parties must concentrate on widening and strengthening their social base with more imagination, maturity and integrity. This is a pivotal task and is easy to say than done. But it is the only way for the Left Front to pull off a stunning comeback. 

Meanwhile, we want to ask all the Leftist critics of the Left Front to spare some time and ponder why the neo-liberal, pro-US lobby requires to aggressively and repeatedly suggest the “end of the Left in India” after Left Front's defeat in Bengal and Kerala. We really do not want to disagree with these adored critics when they say that the Left in India is certainly not the Left Front parties alone. But how can we deny or ignore the significant contribution and relevance of the Left Front parties in contemporary India? Only an iniquitous mind or a fool can afford to do so.  

Image Courtesy: thehindubusinessline.com