THE debacle of the CPI(M) in West Bengal Assembly elections has given rise to a sharp debate within the Left movement, and for once, within the CPI(M) itself. The post-election meeting of the CPI(M) PB had mildly expressed its disapproval of the party’s alliance with the Congress in West Bengal by recording in the PB communiqué that the line pursued in West Bengal was not in consonance with the party’s central political line. The PB remark has since been openly rubbished by senior CPI(M) leaders in West Bengal, including the state committee secretary as well as several other Bengal-based PB and CC members.
A month after the declaration of the Assembly election results, the matter finally came up before the Central Committee and the inescapable question as to how this was allowed to happen was finally raised quite forcefully by the gutsy woman leader from Haryana, Comrade Jagmati Sangwan, who had been inducted into the CC only a year ago at the CPI(M)’s Visakhapatnam Congress in April 2015. Not satisfied with the wishy-washy ‘not in consonance’ description which just states the obvious without any fixation of responsibility or adoption of any concrete measure to stop the Bengal line, she eventually resigned in protest, briefed the media waiting outside the CPI(M) central office where the CC was in session, and characteristically the CC expelled her for what it called her act of ‘gross indiscipline’.
The question raised by Comrade Jagmati is a most pertinent one. Whatever happened in West Bengal did not happen overnight. It is not a ‘mistake’ which came to light only after it had happened. Anybody who cares for party policies and principles could see the CPI(M) in West Bengal moving in this direction at least for the last one year. When the issue was raised in joint Left meetings in the state and at the central level, CPI(M) leaders always dismissed it as a media speculation and insisted that nothing of the sort was going to happen. But it happened first in the municipal elections in Darjeeling district when CPI(M) leader Ashok Bhattacharya won the mayoral post in Siliguri municipality and the alliance came to be known as the Siliguri model. The December organisational plenum of the CPI(M) in Kolkata was held in the backdrop of intense political discussion over how to replicate the Siliguri model on an all-Bengal scale.
The CPI(M) of course chose to ignore the debate in the plenum, saying the plenum was meant only to discuss organisational questions while the political-tactical line of the party had already been settled in the party’s Visakhapatnam Congress. Immediately after the plenum, alliance engineering was however in full motion, leaders of CPI(M) and Congress began to argue vocally in favour of the alliance idea, and seat adjustments were finalised over a series of bilateral meetings between top state level leaders of the two parties. But to maintain a fig-leaf of sanctity for the Visakhapatnam line, it was said that the alliance was only a ‘people’s alliance’ built from below to satisfy the popular mood to overthrow the TMC government. Even in the middle of the election campaign, Sitaram Yechury told the press that there was no alliance and that there was no question of his sharing stage with Rahul Gandhi or other Congress leaders! A false and fictitious distinction was thus introduced between PB and CC members from within and outside the state. When the whole party in Bengal was busy carrying out a joint election campaign and the alliance gave a call for formation of a Congress-Left government in the state, thus making it clear that the two alliance partners were all for power-sharing, did it matter at all as to who shared stage with whom?
We all now know how the dream of a Congress-Left alliance victory flopped miserably in the elections. And it flopped most spectacularly in North Bengal – the laboratory of the much-hyped ‘Siliguri model’ – with the TMC making significant headway leaving the Congress-Left alliance way behind in all but the lone district of Malda where the Congress held sway. There was only another district – Murshidabad – which favoured the alliance, but here again, it was the Congress which dominated and the TMC improved its tally from only one seat in 2011 to four in 2016. Even after this miserable showing in the election, a good number of CPI(M) leaders in West Bengal are desperate to continue with the alliance. Before the elections, the alliance was projected as the winning formula, now it is being defended as the only possible survival strategy for the CPI(M) in West Bengal. Before the results came in, CPI(M) state secretary and projected chief ministerial candidate of the Congress-Left alliance, was predicting a double century in the 294-strong Assembly. After the results, he now says had the alliance been not there, the CPI(M) could not possibly have reached even double digits! Some leaders even go to the extent of suggesting that it was important to enthuse the ranks with the illusion of a possible victory of the Congress-Left alliance for otherwise the Left ranks would not have come out to campaign and confront the TMC brigade.
Against this backdrop, Comrade Jagmati has been absolutely right in describing the West Bengal experiment as a wilful violation of what the CPI(M) claims to be its own political line adopted by the Party Congress, the highest decision-making forum in a Communist Party. It is ironical that this gross and deliberate collective political violation of the party line in a state as crucial to the CPI(M) and the Left as West Bengal did not merit the kind of disapproval by the CPI(M) Central Committee (and going by Comrade Jagmati’s statement, the blackmail to which two Bengal leaders subjected the CC by threatening to resign if a stronger resolution was adopted) as the act of protest and its public expression by an individual CCM. Time was when the CPI(M) wanted to expand in the Hindi belt by building on its growth in West Bengal. Today, the CPI(M) sacrifices its prospects in expansion in the Hindi belt, that too in the most difficult and challenging terrain of Haryana, to defend the indefensible affairs in West Bengal. Ten years ago, the CPI(M) central leadership failed to intervene at the time of Singur and Nandigram which cost the CPI(M) its power in West Bengal and its political credibility across the country. Not learning from history, they are repeating the same mistake of flowing with the so-called ‘Bengal line’ to even more disastrous effect.
This is a challenging time for the Left in West Bengal and of course in the country as a whole. Having secured a resounding electoral victory, the TMC has unleashed systematic targeted violence against the Left. Left activists, supporters and offices have been attacked across the state. Left forces must summon all their strength, courage and resolve to combat this offensive. Some progressive social scientists have begun to talk about a paradigm shift in West Bengal politics, describing Mamata Banerjee as a symbol of the rise of the ‘subalterns’ in West Bengal. It is true that as of now she has a big appeal among the rural and urban poor and among the dalit, adivasi and Muslim voters in the state. This is primarily because of the disillusionment caused by the arrogance and betrayal of the last few years of Left rule and the hope generated by the various populist schemes of the TMC government and Mamata Banerjee’s style of communication and governance that keeps her closely connected with the people.
We must however understand that the policies of her government are the standard policies of every neo-liberal regime and sooner rather than later, mass disenchantment is bound to set in. Already in this election, eight ministers were defeated and the winning margin of several leaders including Mamata Banerjee herself got considerably reduced. Instead of expecting the Congress to stand by the Left against the TMC – there are considerable talks of a possible defection of several Congress MLAs who won with Left support to the TMC – the Left must focus on the basics of class politics and play a dynamic opposition role to challenge the TMC and also check the BJP in west Bengal.
Final Demolition of India's Affordable Medicines, Entrepreneurs, Security!
MODI government's 100% FDI push in key and sensitive sectors like pharma, food retail, civil aviation and defense amounts to a ‘Final Demolition’ of India's affordable medicines, medium and small entrepreneurs and start-ups and country's security. The tell-tale timing of the FDI push following Modi's latest US visit cannot be missed, nor can we miss Modi’s and BJP’s shameless U-Turn on the issue of FDI.
Comprising Security, Lives and Livelihood:
• 100% FDI in defense sector marks a shameful surrender of country's sovereignty and security to US strategic designs. Further, in announcing 100% FDI in defense, the existing condition of access to state-of-the-art technology in India has been removed and replaced with an ill-defined term “modern technology”. This is a craven surrender to the US arms dealer lobby and sell-out on the much touted "technological benefits" claims about FDI.
• The brunt of the latest FDI push will be borne by the Pharmaceutical sector which is one of the rare thriving sectors in India and whose ability to produce cheap drugs has been constantly targeted by the US big pharma industry. The 100% FDI in brown field Pharma sectors will severely damage India’s generic pharma industry, which is a lifeline for the poor patients not only in India but also in many other poor countries.
• The FDI in food products retail and e-commerce is another attack on Indian farmers as well as on local entrepreneurs and start-ups.
• In another shameful surrender to the global big capital, the nominal relief given earlier in single brand retail of 30% local sourcing has now been lifted (for three years). This is going to impact local production and small retailers very badly. If big corporate retailers succeed in this design then nothing much will be left of small traders and retailers after three years.
• 100% FDI in civil aviation sector is meant to give ownership of Indian airports and other infrastructures other than owning an airline to foreign investors. This has serious national security implications beyond the bad economics it exhibits.