Lok Sabha Elections 2009

June 27, 2009

June 29: Verdict 2009 and the Left: Key Issues and the Road Ahead – Kavita Krishnan, CPIML(Liberation)
June 13: The West’s fantasies of a free-market “New India”
May 25: A lesson for the revolutionary Left – Anol Mitra, Sanhati
May 25: Topic CPIM – A few thoughts – Pinaki Mitra, Sanhati (also appeared in Guruchandali.com). [PDF, Bengali] »
May 21: The Left and Electoral Politics in India – Dipankar Basu, Sanhati
May 19: Enabling Congress to rule the country, CPI(M) goes into “ostrich mode” – PS Ray, Pinaki Chaudhuri – Sanhati
May 19: Wave against big corporate aggression: Incomplete Alienation from the CPI(M) – Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri
May 19: Karat(e) against his own follies – Sankar Ray
May 19: What a great fall! – Faceless people put opportunists masquerading as Marxists in their place – The Statesman
May 19: Humility in victory, introspection in defeat – Siddharth Varadarajan, The Hindu


Verdict 2009 and the Left: Key Issues and the Road Ahead

By Kavita Krishnan, CPIML(Liberation). June 29, 2009.

Five years ago, the 14th Lok Sabha had witnessed the largest ever presence of Left parliamentarians. Along with the defeat of the NDA, the arrival of the Left as a major player in national politics was a key message of the 2004 elections. Five years later, the 15th Lok Sabha now presents a drastically different picture. The CPI(M) and the CPI, the two biggest constituents of the Left bloc in Parliament, have secured their lowest ever tallies, reducing the overall Left presence to a meagre 24.

On the face of it, this outcome appears quite baffling and out of sync with contemporary global reality. Global capitalism is passing through one of its roughest patches and in many parts of the world we can see a renewed assertion of the working people and a consequent tilt towards the Left. For quite some time India too has been in the grip of a protracted agrarian crisis aggravated by the onslaught of neoliberal policies, and now, thanks to increasing globalisation, more and more sectors of the Indian economy are feeling the heat of the global capitalist meltdown. Millions of toiling Indians are faced with the threat of outright pauperisation and ever shrinking means of livelihood.

On top of it, there has been this pronounced pro-US policy shift pushing India into a strategic alliance with the US and consequently rendering India much more vulnerable to both terror threats as well as greater American intervention in domestic affairs.

Such a context should have proved conducive to further growth of the Left, especially when the CPI(M) and its partners had already acquired a firm foothold in the 14th Lok Sabha. But the results of the 15th Lok Sabha elections tell a totally different story. Where and how did the CPI(M) lose the plot? There is a growing debate in Left circles on this question, and as the crisis of the CPI(M) deepens, the debate should also get deeper and sharper.

How does the CPI(M) look at its electoral debacle? The communiqué issued after the CPI(M) CC meeting in Delhi on June 20-21 describes the outcome as “serious reverses” amounting to an “electoral setback”. It acknowledged “political, governmental and organisational reasons for the setbacks suffered” in West Bengal including “shortcomings in the functioning of government, panchayats and municipalities based on a proper class outlook”, “failure of the government to implement properly various measures directly concerning the lives of the people” and “alienation amongst some sections of the peasantry”. According to the communiqué, the CPI(M) CC also felt it was a mistake to extend the call for building a third alternative to the formation of an alternative government. The CC admitted that “In the absence of a countrywide alliance and no common policy platform being presented, the call for an alternative government was unrealistic.”

This CC review of course comes in the wake of a whole range of public statements already made by several CPI(M) leaders pointing accusing fingers in different directions. Kerala Chief Minister and veteran PB member VS Achuthanandan has ruled out any ‘anti-incumbency’ factor against his government, thus indicating that the problems lie at the doorsteps of the party. Several West Bengal leaders hold the “third front” experiment responsible while some have started blaming the decision to withdraw support to the Congress. Two days before the last leg of the LS election, a Bengali TV channel broadcast an exclusive interview with veteran West Bengal minister Subhas Chakraborty where he openly questioned the party’s choice of third front allies and described the Congress as an indispensable partner not only for the defence of secularism but also in any fight against imperialism! Only a handful of West Bengal leaders, most notably Land and Land Reforms Minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, have dared mention the Left Front government’s forcible land acquisition drive as the main factor.

Addressing the press after the CC meeting Prakash Karat talked of near unanimity in the CC over the party’s act of withdrawal of support to UPA government on the issue of Indo-US nuclear deal, thereby indirectly acknowledging differences within the CC over the subject. The review which expresses the majority opinion does mention some of the key problems associated with the party and governments in West Bengal and Kerala as well as with the implementation of the party’s all-India tactical line. But these problems and mistakes are symptomatic of a deeper malady rooted in the party’s understanding and practice of dealing with governments whether in the state or at the Centre. The obsession with somehow retaining or acquiring power has been pushing the party deeper into the quagmire of right opportunism and in the same proportion the party has been moving away from the basic masses and their interests and struggles. The erosion in the CPI(M)’s votes is only a belated electoral reflection of this growing disjunction between the party and the people, between governance and struggle. The CC review of course scrupulously shies away from any inquiry into the root causes.

As far as West Bengal is concerned, the results indicate nothing short of a massive anti-CPI(M) electoral explosion and this can no longer be attributed to any one single factor. Singur and Nandigram have definitely been big issues but we need to understand why Singur and Nadigram happened in the first place. There is something fundamentally wrong with the notion of governance and industrialisation that believes that a modest Tata plant could be showcased as a Left-ruled state’s biggest achievement in ‘industrialisation’, and then pulls out all stops to appease the ‘investor’ and crush every protest of the land-losing peasants and livelihood-losing sharecroppers and labourers. After Singur, many had expected the CPI(M) to learn its lessons, but Nandigram showed that the Left rulers had lost the very will or ability to learn any positive lesson. One really had to see the CPI(M)’s election campaign in West Bengal to have a sense of its world of political make-believe. While Mamata Banerjee’s campaign endlessly invoked the now famous trinity of “Ma-Mati-Manush”, giving a highly emotive human form to the agenda of land, livelihood and liberty, the CPI(M) campaign revolved primarily around Nano, the promised lakhtakia (Rs. one lakh) Tata car! The CPI(M) believed it could win the elections by holding Mamata Banerjee responsible for the Tata’s decision to relocate the Nano plant in Gujarat and projecting her as a demon who killed Bengal’s dream of industrialisation and employment generation!

The spectacular past electoral successes of the CPI(M) in West Bengal were rooted primarily in a broad class alliance that carried the rural poor along with the middle classes, erstwhile landed gentry and the neo-rich sections. Having consolidated the rural poor base through a combination of much touted rural reforms (Operation Barga, land redistribution and panchayati raj, to name the three most well-known measures), the CPI(M) thought it could switch over to the usual trajectory of the ‘trickle-down pattern of development’. The class contradictions and popular grievances that are handled in other states largely within the matrix of competitive bourgeois politics were sought to be contained with measured doses of coercion and patronage as the party retained its overall grip over the broad social coalition. But with the rise and consolidation of a narrow nexus of corrupt officials, leaders and middlemen and steady reversal of much of the earlier gains won by the rural poor, the coalition had already started cracking and Singur and Nandigram widened the cracks and opened the floodgates for popular resentment and resistance.

The CPI(M) has suffered an equally severe setback in Kerala too. Unlike in West Bengal, the CPI(M)’s domination in Kerala has never been unchallenged and the party here has always had to operate within a highly competitive environment. Yet the intensity of the rout suffered by the CPI(M) in the 2009 elections indicates a deeper structural erosion in the party’s support beyond the alternating cyclical swings one expects in Kerala. The CPI(M) in Kerala remains mired in factionalism, the spirit of commerce dominates the official culture of the party and now we have this shocking case of major corruption allegations and CBI enquiry against the party’s state secretary. Alienation of landless dalit labourers has also assumed serious proportions in Kerala.

The poll debacle of the CPI(M) must also be analysed in the context of the party’s all-India tactical line. With a sixty-plus-strong contingent of parliamentarians at its command, in 2004 the CPI(M) had come to acquire a greatly increased visibility and say in national politics. Even after cobbling a post-poll alliance, in 2004 the Congress had to rely on the CPI(M)’s support to form government. While not joining the UPA government, the CPI(M) utilised this juncture to enter into a programmatic alliance with the Congress, limiting dissent against Congress policies to talks within the framework of UPA-Left coordination committee. Even on the one issue of Indo-US nuclear deal, the opposition came too late and encumbered in lot of technicalities and devoid of any attempt to build any significant mass resistance.

The CPI(M) now claims credit for ‘pressurising’ the Congress to legislate NREGA and waive farm loans. These claims would have sounded somewhat convincing had the CPI(M) ever unleashed any major mass political initiative on the issues of rural unemployment or farmers’ suicides, or for that matter, if West Bengal could top the list of states in terms of implementation of NREGA. Ironically, while the Congress derived considerable political mileage from measures like NREGA and farm loan waiver, the CPI(M) exposed itself as the most brutal defender of corporate landgrab. Indeed, the failure of the Left to oppose the SEZ Act 2005 in Parliament and the wholesale adoption and implementation of neoliberal economic policies by the West Bengal government seriously dented the CPI(M)’s oppositional claims on the economic policy front.

After the eventual withdrawal of support, instead of going to the masses the CPI(M) leadership got busy with desperate attempts to seek dubious allies. On the eve of the elections, the CPI(M) formed a programme-free “third front” with motley regional forces ranging from the AIADMK and TDP to the BJD and projected it as the core of the next government. The CPI(M) now admits that the “third front” did not fit the bill of a credible and viable national alternative, yet Prakash Karat would like us to believe that it served two important purposes.

His first claim is that the third front denied the BJP the luxury of finding any ally in the southern states and thus prevented the NDA from emerging as a national alternative. Well, if the AIADMK or TDP did not choose to ally with the BJP, it was because they did not expect to gain anything by entering into a pre-poll alliance with the BJP which has little presence in the southern states except Karnataka. Likewise, the BJD’s decision to dump the BJP just on the eve of the elections was also prompted by the BJD’s own electoral calculations and had nothing to do with the CPI(M)’s “third front” initiative. In the event of a hung parliament if the BJP-led NDA had any realistic chance of forming government, these parties would have had no problem in jumping on to the NDA bandwagon. Did not we all see how the TRS switched sides in anticipation of an NDA victory?

Karat’s second argument deals with the combined vote share of the “third front” parties and the BSP, a respectable 21 per cent. According to him, “this shows the potential for building up a third alternative … which is not merely an electoral alliance but a coming together of the parties and forces on a common platform through movements and struggles for alternative policies distinct from that of the Congress and the BJP.” If the combined vote share of the BJD and the BSP, and the AIADMK and the TDP shows the potential for a movement-based third front committed to “alternative policies distinct from that of the Congress and the BJP”, what prevented the CPI(M) from actualising that alliance? Karat’s answer is simple and smart: since electoral combinations were forged statewise, it “precluded any national policy platform from being projected.” But if all these parties are committed to alternative policies why could not they agree to a common policy platform? And if it was indeed so difficult on the national level what stopped the alternative policies from being projected in the respective states?

While Karat valorises the whole range of non-Congress non-BJP parties as prospective anti-corporate anti-imperialist partners, many of his comrades would love to return to the safety of a strategic understanding with the good old Congress. Both Karat and his detractors who find him ‘dogmatic’ and ‘adventurist’ actually reduce the question of revival and independence of the Left to the choice of allies and forging of convenient electoral combinations. Instead of sticking to a set pattern of alliance, Karat would prefer to swap allies and we have already seen this line in action in Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Orissa and Assam. Dumping the DMK the CPI(M) has now chosen the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu; in Andhra electoral understanding with the Congress has given way to mahakutumi (grand alliance) with TDP and even TRS (the TDP has all along been opposed to the idea of a separate Telangana and so has been the CPI(M), yet they had no problem in forging a grand alliance with the TRS whose sole agenda is the formation of a separate Telangana state); in Orissa the CPI(M) has tied up with the ruling BJD and in Assam it wanted to have a seat sharing pact with the AUDF.

On paper, the combinations looked pretty formidable, but on the ground the results have been quite dismal. The alliance arithmetic has yielded only two seats to the CPI(M) – one LS seat in Tamil Nadu and one Assembly seat in Andhra. In Orissa and Assam, the CPI(M) has not only failed to win any seat but it has also suffered a major erosion in terms of votes. The loss must not of course be assessed only in terms of seats and votes, the credibility of the party and the morale of the party’s support base are far more important parameters. What did the CPI(M) expect to gain by glorifying and allying with Naveen Patnaik in Orissa? While Kandhamal happened, Naveen Patnaik’s government did nothing to stop the anti-Christian violence. On the eve of the elections, Naveen Patnaik dumped the BJP and the CPI and the CPI(M) rushed to glorify him as a new-found secular hero, enabling him to reduce the Orissa elections to a contrived showdown between the two estranged partners – the BJD and the BJP. The issues of displacement and deprivation of the tribal and other toiling masses were conveniently brushed aside. Will the CPI(M) ever be able to stand up in Orissa by glorifying Naveen Patnaik? (The story of the CPI’s victory from the Jagatsinghpur LS constituency that includes the site of the ongoing popular struggle against the land acquisition plans of the South Korean steel major Posco is no less shocking – while the local CPI leaders spearheading the anti-Posco movement languish in jail, a Congress leader opposed to the movement joined the CPI and won on the party’s ticket with the blessings of Posco and Naveen Patnaik!)

Basing on its stable bases in West Bengal and Kerala, the CPI(M) has over the years evolved a political line and praxis in which the oppositional role of the party is thoroughly subordinated to the agenda of power-sharing at the central level. The party programme too has been suitably ‘updated’ to provide for this scheme of things. In 1977 when the CPI(M) first came to power, it projected the Left Front government as a weapon of struggle. But now in the party’s perception state governments have been delinked from any idea of struggle and are seen exclusively as instruments of ‘development’ and ‘governance’ and, in the national context, as stepping stones towards power-sharing at the Centre. The CPI(M) now fights elections only with the slogan of government formation no matter whether the party is in a position to form one or not. The concept of a committed and vigorous Left opposition has virtually become alien to the CPI(M)’s entire tactical framework and political praxis.

While the CPI(M) has theoretically and practically ‘upgraded’ itself as a party of power, ironically the 2009 elections have pushed it closer to the oppositional slot. Nationally it has no other choice but to sit in the opposition and if the present trend continues, the CPI(M) will soon have to reinvent itself as an opposition party in West Bengal too.

The other big question that confronts the CPI(M) is the issue of its attitude to people’s struggle and the democratic intelligentsia. While the CPI(M) has developed considerable expertise and experience in forging fronts with disparate forces and brokering peace among sparring bourgeois parties, it exhibits a near-pathological inability to deal with popular movements and people’s outbursts. To take a few examples, we can recall the CPI(M)’s response to the Naxalbari movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s in West Bengal, the 1974 youth movement in Bihar, the Assam movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Gorkhaland agitation in the 1980s which resurfaced again in the recent past and most recently the Singur-Nandigram movement in West Bengal. It has been a habit of the CPI(M) to dismiss every such popular movement as a conspiracy and side with the state in crushing these movements. And now in Lalgarh, the Congress has once again trapped the CPI(M) into discharging its repressive ‘responsibility’.

In the 1970s the Congress had usurped powers in West Bengal through highly dubious means and gone on to unleash systematic state terror on all sections of the Left. Even though the CPI(M) could not put up any significant resistance to the Congress-led reign of terror, and the CPI(ML) had already suffered a massive setback, the overwhelming public mood in West Bengal remained very much against the Congress. The semi-fascist terror in West Bengal soon gave way to a countrywide reign of Emergency that was overthrown by the people through the historic mandate of 1977. The CPI(M)’s ascent to power in West Bengal was an integral part of that larger democratic upsurge. But today, West Bengal is witnessing a reverse phenomenon when the CPI(M) is being rejected not only by large sections of the democratic opinion but also a significant section of its own base.

Prakash Karat is right when he says that the CPI(M) has in the past overcome many difficult periods, but the present juncture poses a different kind of challenge when the party is fast losing ground in what used to be its most stable and powerful stronghold. Karat is again right when he says that “anti-Communist quarters who have been rejoicing at the setbacks suffered by the Left … will be proved wrong.” But the point is not just to counter anti-Communist canards and wild dreams, but more importantly to address the questions that have emerged from within the CPI(M)’s own base and the larger Left and democratic circles that once provided such tremendous support to the party.

It is quite clear that the ruling classes see the poll outcome as a handle to malign and marginalise the Left. As mentioned in the CPI(ML) CC communiqué of 27 May, “Armed with a security doctrine that identifies Maoism/Naxalism/Left extremism as the biggest threat to internal security and an electoral outcome which has handed out the worst ever electoral drubbing to the parliamentary left, the ruling classes are now all set to launch a comprehensive assault on the Left as a whole.” The Left can thwart this design only by mounting a powerful counter-offensive. Reclaiming the Left role as a consistently secular, democratic and anti-imperialist opposition and reasserting the Left identity as the most committed and trusted champion of people’s interests and struggles is the need of the hour.

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A lesson for the revolutionary Left

By Anol Mitra, Sanhati

The recent parliamentary election (2009) has some notable features especially in the context of West Bengal. In West Bengal, Trinamool Congress and Congress have been elected by huge margins and CPM has been quite thoroughly defeated.
One lesson that the revolutionary left, adopting strictly non-parliamentary strategy, can derive from this is that the election results in West Bengal possibly illustrate that in parts of India there does exist some space within the existing parliamentary set-up to capture some components of state power. These forces can utilise this space even without giving up their non-parliamentary strategy for achieving the people’s democratic revolution in the context of the entire India. The point is not new at all, but the election results in West Bengal possibly provide some support in favour of this.

Put very simplistically, our argument is as follows. In a country like India, translating the policies (and even activities) of a political party into electoral outcomes requires at least two things to happen. First, these activities and socio-economic policies of a party must translate into people’s “will” to support the party and second, the people has to be able to actually go out on the election day, cast their votes according to their preferences, and later, be able to bear the consequences of doing so. Let us assume that the first always happens (see Endnote 1). What is crucial in making the second happen, i.e., in translating people’s sentiments into votes is the organisational structure of a political party and its cadre base. Also, this same organisational structure is often able to also circumvent people’s “will” against the political party and generate an election result that is in its favour. We know that CPM received severe beatings in the Panchayat elections of 2008. History has shown that CPM has always strongly (and with open violence when necessary) tried to “recover” lost ground after any setback. Then why did it not do so after the Panchayat debacle and ensure an election victory in this 2009 General Elections? Was it because it had lost its organisational superiority over the other political parties in West Bengal? That is hardly true. So, we conclude that if CPM could not recapture its “turf” after the warnings in Panchayat elections in spite of its superior organisational capabilities and the absence of any organized competing elites emerging in its erstwhile strongholds during this span, then that would mean that presently there does exist some democratic space in areas like West Bengal to capture some components of state power while remaining within the existing set-up of parliamentary procedures in India.

The Obviously Incomplete and Probably False Lessons

There have been attempts at explaining the election results: including the crassly stupid explanation that people wanted stability at the centre and there was a consequent “wave” for Congress. A more plausible but as yet unjustified one is that the “people” have rejected the neo-liberal onslaught on them and this mainly explains the trends in the election result. This also, is misleading. Without going into the well-known details we see that parties with similar economic and political orientation have won in some states but lost in others. With its share of neo-liberal economic programmes, BJD has won handsomely in Orissa, BJP has suffered relatively marginally in Gujarat etc. Even with its emphasis on “stability”, BJP has been defeated at many places. So, for a valid answer one has to concentrate substantially on the local factors and orientation of political forces at the local level (going down to the level of villages and blocks) and NOT on data based on General Election results which are at a huge level of aggregation.. In other words, a relatively valid analysis of the causality of policies on electoral outcomes requires studies at much deeper level than at the aggregate. CPM at least, in spite of some of its initial statements like the idea of 3rd Front not catching up with the people, has emphasized that it would go into the causes of its defeat in Bengal in detail; taking the local factors into account.

Without political organization and cadre base, mediation between policies (or even practices) and electoral outcomes does not take place.

As we mentioned before, even if we accept that in India, like in western capitalist societies, socio-economic policies of a political party shape the people’s “will” to support the party there are many a slip between the formation of this “will” and this getting translated into election results in the de facto scenario of parliamentary voting in India.. Since we are concentrating on West Bengal let us take an illuminating statement by Biman Basu after the defeat of Left Front in the Nandigram by-election in January 2009:

…there the Trinamoolis went to the residences of the voters from onward the night before the election and threatened them in various ways. In spite of the presence of security forces in the area, we all know that the police does not protect every household…we have come to learn that identity cards were taken away from the voters at various places and many were forced to leave the booth area. In spite of that, the braver ones went to vote but more than a thousand of such voters were beaten up on their way to polling and were sent back. (Translated from Ganashakti, Jan 10, 2009)

Apart from the element of irony embedded in the statement (because, as is well known, the opposition parties in West Bengal allege that CPM had been perpetrating exactly the identical practices (and some more; Basu did not mention the partisan role of police etc) to win elections in West Bengal so far), this statement illustrates quite lucidly some strategies for winning elections. People can see through a political party’s doublespeak and get disenchanted; but that does not mean they can simply saunter to the polling booth and express their grievances freely through ballot. As Basu has explained so candidly, even without blatant practices like direct booth capturing or false voting, there are ways to “make the vote” (“vote karaano” a translation of a Bengali phrase common among some CPM workers); state power (under whatever banner) does not easily grant the luxury of a “fair” election as understood in western bourgeois democracies. It is notable that almost whenever and wherever the parliamentary left in India gained electoral success for the first time (in Andhra, Bihar, Kerala, West Bengal…) that was preceded by fierce non-parliamentary struggles which changed the composition of the de facto political power in these regions. (On May 19, a Special correspondent in the Statesman has nicely summarized the distinction between the coercive tactics employed by Congressites in the 1970s and CPM later). Therefore, what is crucial in translating policies or people’s sentiments into votes is the organisational structure of a political party and its cadre base (see Endnote 2).

CPM gained hatred in West Bengal, but did not lose its organization; still the people successfully bypassed their organization.

As a contrast to the present election results, the recapture of Nandigram toward the end of 2007 showed the immense superiority of CPM’s political organisation even in parts of Eastern Medinipur. There is no doubt that CPM’s conversion in West Bengal from a social-democratic revisionist party to almost a thorough-going agent of multinational- imperialist capitalism naturally generated immense hatred against it among the poor common people (poor peasants, agricultural and industrial labourers, the unemployed,…) . And that perhaps is the only valid factor-component that can be put forward unambiguously in explaining CPM’s defeat. (Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri’ s recent piece in Sanhati and Ashok Mitra’s article in the Calcutta Telegraph on May 22, among others, contain some descriptions of this; so, I am not repeating). But its organizational structure has hardly broken down.

CPM received some beatings in the Panchayat elections of 2008. The beatings continued in this election also. But the most surprising element in the present election is the massive rout of CPM not only in some of its rural strongholds (like in Birbhum) but in semi-industrial areas like Barackpur, Howrah, Uluberia etc where the organisational network of CPM is legendary. (The case of Hooghly is also somewhat surprising given that Mamata was at back-foot there after the departure of the infamous Nano plant of the Tatas from there.)

The Lesson

So, the crucial feature of this election result in West Bengal is that CPM, in spite of its superior organizational strength and a substantial portion of state and governmental power at its command, failed to shape the voting as it wanted it to be. It did not make any ostensibly forceful effort to do so (as it did, in Keshpur, say, in 2001) either and also the common people could subvert its organizational stranglehold.

Is this because they failed to sense the impending disaster? This is possible. This point is very candidly put forward by a CPM-sympathiser in pragoti.org:

“But the whole point in case here is how come we were not aware about this very strong anti-incumbency wave blowing all over the place in the state. That leaves the whole organization high and dry, and clearly shows either our comrades have lost touch with the grass root, or people have deserted the party cadres in such a way that they even didn’t open up in front of our cadres about their anguish and anger. They preferred to show their wrath against the party through ballot, and this phenomenon, if true, is quite chilly. Whereas a communist party is supposed to be with the people like a fish in water [sic]. Probably if our party could have anticipated a rout in the elections, we would have been much happier today, at least it would have showed we haven’t lost touch with the reality.” (http://www.pragoti.org/node/3435#comment-2312)

(See also the recent statements of Sitaram Yechury in, e.g., http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Yechury-admits-CPM-has-lost-touch/articleshow/4572728.cms .)

But, as we mentioned before, history has shown that CPM has always strongly (and with open violence when necessary) tried to “recover” lost ground after any setback. For example, after the Trinamooli hoodlumism of the Panskura line in Medinipur, CPM ferociously “recaptured” it over a long span of time. (see, e.g., http://www.hindu.com/2001/05/08/stories/1508226j.htm and http://www.indianexpress.com/ie/daily/20000921/ina21075.html). And of course, the “sunrise” in Nandigram in November, 2007 is history! So, if CPM could not recapture its “turf” after the warnings in Panchayat election and could not afford to be “careful enough” in the industrial belts in Southern Bengal, then that would drive home a lesson.

That would imply the following notable lesson for the non-parliamentary revolutionary left. Their assessment is that in the absence of a democratic revolution in India, the parliamentary system has even less significance than in a bourgeois-democratic state and therefore, this system is not only useless but also positively harmful in the way to ushering in a people’s democratic revolution. Therefore, for them, opposing the present parliamentary procedures is raised to the level of strategy. According to this assessment, parliamentary politics is a harmful waste because of the very structure of the economy-polity in India: it merely creates illusions and paves the way for revisionist decay as, they argue, has happened with CPM. However, the phenomenon in West Bengal shows that at least in parts of India (where, presumably, some reforms toward bourgeois-democracy have taken place), parliamentary procedures, with their limitations, still can bring about changes in power at the governmental level in spite of the potential capacity of the ruling classes to influence elections massively through its cadre base and use of governmental apparatus. The point is old (CPM itself harps on it) but the lesson seems new (see Endnote 3). So, a mixed strategy—trying to use parliamentary procedures in parts of India—may not be beneath consideration for such forces.


Endnote 1: It may not. For example, the very poor may not be aware or be able to infer the significance of the policy positions. More importantly, the local patron-client networks may be much more important in shaping the pattern of votings: the people may be coerced/tempted by their caste/religious/local superiors into voting for particular candidates or be precluded from voting at all.

Endnote 2: Some, especially belonging to the intelligentsia, express (feigned?) shock at the `hooliganism of the party cadres’ etc. They possibly pretend not to recognize that any party, right or left, must have a cadre base and that the party must influence the social activities (with political movements, class terror and, if necessary, with arms) by using this cadre base: that is the very raison d’etre of a political organization.

Endnote 3: I think the same conclusion, however, cannot be drawn in the context of another similar incident: the trouncing of Indira Gandhi in 1977. However, a comparative analysis of that is beyond the scope of the present write-up.


Enabling Congress to rule the country, CPI(M) goes into “ostrich mode”

By Partho Sarathi Ray and Pinaki Choudhuri, Sanhati. May 19, 2009

After their devastating electoral losses in West Bengal and Kerala, it seems that the CPI(M) leaders have gone into the “ostrich mode”. Not only do they not want to analyze the causes of the collapse, it appears that they are even unable to do it. Most of the Bengal leaders are busy blaming their central leadership for the mess, while the official reason being forwarded by the party for its debacle is a purported countrywide wave for a continuity of Congress rule that will bring about a stable government. They do not have the minimum honesty, or possibly the analytical ability, to understand and accept that people have rejected their pro-capital and anti-people policies. It is quite clear that people across Bengal have expressed their vehement opposition to the state government’s recent land-grabbing policy in the name of industrialisation and its tyrannical rule during the last three decades.

CPI(M) today is so enmeshed with business interests – lower-rung local leaders tied to middlemen, promoters and contractors, middle-level leaders linked with businessmen like the Todis, Goenkas etc., and the ministers acting as managers of big corporations like the Tatas and Salims – that if they were to accept that their downfall is due to their pro-capital policies and attempted any rectification, the party would probably split into hundred parts.

And so, we find ourselves at the mercy of a possibly stable Congress rule having a parliamentary majority that almost allows the rulers to unleash policies according to their own free will. Press reports indicate that the corporate houses, elated at the success of their favourable formation, have already prepared a wishlist – reforms in pension and insurance and opening up of retail and banking to greater foreign investment, besides providing tax sops. Neoliberal gurus, both of Indian and foreign hue, have already praised the reform-oriented credentials of the new rulers. There are also rumours that Manmohan Singh wants Montek Singh Ahluwalia – his cohort in designing the neoliberal economic policies – to be the next finance minister. Along with this, more repressive laws are likely to be enacted in the name of battling insurgency. But, in reality, such laws are meant to provide the “shock therapy” to further the goals of the corporations.

It is certain that as and when the new government unleashes the next round of neoliberal economic reforms and draconian laws, the lives of large sections of the Indian population will be tremendously affected. And, the CPI(M) will be largely responsible for the suffering of the people – their pro-capital and anti-people policies in Kerala and West Bengal have generated a backlash that has given the UPA coalition 35 MP-s on a platter – the largest gain in 2009 elections, for the UPA, at the cost of another political block. It is not common that a party can wrest away 35 seats in just two states from an opposition party, in the absence of any overwhelming nationwide wave. It can be categorically stated that in neither province, the so-called wave in favour of Congress has had any impact on the electoral fortunes. Nor was the nuclear deal or the withdrawal of Left support to the UPA government an issue at all, it rarely even came up in the discourse.

In Kerala, the internal factionalism has not only badly affected the functioning of the party, but also the central leadership chose to side with the corrupt and neoliberal-leaning faction of P. Vijayan. The pro-capital activities of this group, such as the Lavlin scandal where Vijayan is an accused, acceptance of huge monetary contributions from S. Martin, the “lottery king” of Kerala and the blocking of the land requistion drive against the Tatas in Munnar, have only reinforced the pro-capital image of the party in the eyes of the people. In West Bengal, the state leadership (which is supposed to be anti-Karat) has been at the forefront of implementing pro-capital polices and have used both the police and its own cadres to brutally enforce its will with results such as Singur and Nandigram – it has only evolved to being a staunch ally of corporate houses, cheered on by the big media houses.

In fact, many commentators, on mainstream TV channels, have recently lamented that even though the West Bengal Chief Minister’s industrial policy was good intentioned, its implementation had gone wrong. In West Bengal, the CPI(M) also made a cynical attempt to inflame Bengali regionalism and chauvinism by raising the bogey of a renewed partition of Bengal, something that has never been done before in Bengal politics and which has backfired on the CPI(M). They are not even talking about it now, instead trying to stress that it was the opposition that had raised such state-level issues.

In both West Bengal and Kerala, the common people have come out and voiced their rejection of the way CPI(M) has governed. It is interesting that the other partners of the Left Front – RSP, Forward Block and CPI – seem to have been much less hit by the popular anger; in Bengal each has won two of the three seats they contested. It seems that public anger is specifically directed at the CPI(M). Outside these two states and Tripura, the presence of CPI(M) in other regions has been shrinking over the years, mostly beacuse of opportunistic alliances with right-wing parties. In the 2009 elections, the central leaders, in the name of building a non-Congress non-BJP third front, resulted in forging opportunistic alliances with TDP in Andhra Pradesh and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and with the likes of Abdul Nasser Madani’s PDP in Kerala – forces which have no inclination towards progressive politics. In all these states, the third front has come a cropper.

Thus, at the end of elections, CPI(M) finds itself in an absolutely reduced and marginalised state – far from its declared role of being the force that uses the parliament to bring relief to people within a capitalist economy.

Across the world, the neoliberal economy is in a state of crisis. In many developing countries, people are turning to the communists and social-democrats in these difficult days. It is indeed sad that in such a worldwide scenario, the common people, in their negation of the communal/corrupt/anti-people politics of many local and national parties, are forced to elect a government which is in alliance with neoliberal forces. CPI(M) leaders, in their post-poll sound bytes, are claiming that they will stand with the struggling people as the impact of the global economic crisis unfolds in India in the coming days. But no one believes them because they stand exposed in the eyes of the people.

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Wave against big corporate aggression :Incomplete Alienation from the CPI(M)

An initial summing-up by Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri. May 18, 2009.

The CPI(M) has been seriously mauled in the Lok Sabha elections. The Left Front has been wiped out in the districts of Kolkata, N&S 24 Parganas, Howrah, Purba Medinipur, Nadia, Murshidabad, Malda, and Darjeeling. It has lost a seat in Birbhum, and two in Hooghly. However, it has retained Purulia, Paschim Medinipur, Bankura, Burdwan, Bolpur(SC), Arambagh(SC), Balurghat (SC), Cooch Behar(SC), Alipurduar(ST), Jalpaiguri(SC). If one looks at the map of West Bengal these two areas, I and II, form two continuous patches. Let us try to analyse these facts and form hypotheses which can only be checked, however, after much more detailed results are in.

The major reason for the dramatic drubbing in region I is the CPI(M)’s image of land-grabber. A gut reaction to stave them off has, no doubt, activated the peasantry in the panchayet elections and now. One must also understand that the distorted, slow pace of industrialization in West Bengal has hampered the formation of truly urban towns centred on consolidated groups of industrial workers, and the so-called urban centres, including the poorer quarters of Kolkata, retain strong links with the countryside and their inhabitants have intense empathy with the rural folk and their problems. This led to the rejection, even in the urban areas, of CPI(M)’s justification of ‘industrialisation’ by acquiring agricultural land, and their main propaganda issue of Mamata Banerjee being an opponent of development was also not acceptable, except to a section of the middle class and students with no link to the villages, many of whom were, again, resentful of the generally growing fascist character of the CPI(M) and its local dadas. The attempt to replace small trade by big corporate retail operators was also a matter of life and death to small traders. The protest of the intellectuals, too, had an effect on the educated middle class. Also, the Left Front government had become identified as a corrupt and ineffective government. So, there was a rural wave and no urban backlash, rather a continuation of urban resentment.

Why did this logic not succeed in region II? One important factor in region I was the presence of a peasant community which subscribed fully to the logic — the Muslims. N&S 24 Parganas(56%), Nadia(48%), Murshidabad(52%), Malda(54%),Birbhum(35%) of region I are all districts with a proportion of Muslims above the state average (the percentages in parentheses refer to the proportion of the population as per census, 1991, except for Birbhum, for which the source is The Times of India, 24.6.04, which gives also consistent figures for Malda, Murshidabad, and S.24 Parganas). N&S Dinajpur have substantial Muslim populations(TOI, 24.6.05, puts this proportion as 47% in N Dinajpur), Balurghat was lost by the TMC by a very small margin. In Kolkata, there is no doubt that the Muslims voted against the CPI(M) en masse, the Rijwanur death never having been forgiven. The general feeling among Muslims is one of deprivation, especially as regards employment, the stark reality having been well-documented by the Sachar commission report.

In N 24 Parganas, another agricultural community the Namasudra SC acted as a vehicle of TMC’s winning logic, its cultural leadership (the Harichand Thakur-Guruchand Thakur legacy) openly blessing the TMC.

What is common to the areas in which the Left Front retained influence? First, we note the presence of special ethnic groups. Medinipur(N&S), Jalpaiguri, Purulia, Burdwan, Bankura had ST of proportion (census, 2001) of 19%,15%,11%,10%,8% to the population, respectively. It has been claimed (The Organiser, 3.5.09) that Alipurduar has 45% Gorkha voters and 35% Vanvasis. Darjeeling, of course, is mainly Gorkha. If one adds the votes polled by the BJP and the Greater Coochbehar Democratic Party to the TMC votes in Coochbehar (even one at a time) the tally exceeds the CPI(M) vote. The BJP in these areas, as is well-known, is trying to cash in on the resentment against the influx from Bangladesh.

Secondly, Medinipur, Bankura, Burdwan, Purulia fom the homeland of the Bagdi, Bauri, Dom and other SC communities, traditional supporters of the CPI(M). A look at the N Bengal constituencies, too, where the Left Front won will show the importance of the SC in these constituencies. Most are marked SC or ST.

Thirdly, Jalpaiguri workers are mainly tea-workers, only 20% depending on agriculture.

One concludes that the wave against the CPI(M) has been confined to certain agricultural and semi-urban communities, most prominent among them being Muslims and Namasudras(SC), apart from middle class people in urban areas harassed by the CPI(M) cadre, and small traders and hawkers. Factory workers on the two banks of the Hooghly joined the peasants against land-grab. Indifference of the CPI(M) to closure and a generally pro-capital stand also alienated the workers.

So, all in all, the wave was powered by the resentment against land-grab and big corporate aggression, in short, by Nandigram and Singur.

But, the SC communities, other than the Namasudra, and the tribal peoples, both in N & S Bengal, and the ethnic formations of N Bengal and the tea-workers have not been swept by the wave. One feels that insofar as the Janajati have become disillusioned with the CPI(M) they have started searching for their own identities with a distrust of all external politics. The Gorkhas took this trend to an extreme by inviting the BJP and winning the Darjeeling seat for them. In the near future, there will be a struggle for winning away the rural SC communities of Rarh Bengal from the CPI(M).

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Karat(e) against his own follies

By Sankar Ray. May 18, 2009.

Mandarins of Muzaffar Ahmed Bhavan, seat of West Bengal state committee of India’s largest official Leftist formation, Communist Party of India, were shell-shocked when the party’s polit bureau rejected the M A Bhavan explanation – read alibi – that the debacle of Left Front in the 15th parliamentary elections is due to the “pro-Congress wave” . The evasive tactic fell through as the PB suggested a thorough scan on the most disastrous performance of LF – CPI(M) in particular – including alienation from masses.

Insiders among senior party functionaries, apathetic to buy the wave theory – prepare for a political-organisational stand- off with the brass at M A Bhavan which until 16 May reposed great faith on party organizational network as the decisive factor for repeated electoral successes. So the strategy of passing the blame on to the party general secretary Prakash Karat for the debacle doesn’t work. The Waterloo at the central committee , the highest-decision-making body, is to be awaited with bated breath.

The West Bengal CPI(M)’s assertion that the ignominious setback could be avoided, but for Karat’s insistence on severance of ties with the UPA over the 123 Treaty with the USA, probably has no serious takers among the Left. “That was a blunder, an over-reaction, but had nothing to do for reduction of our party’s LS strength from West Bengal from 26 to 9” – a professor-comrade associated with CPI(M)’s History Commission.

Many comrades associated with the labour front , including white-collar workers- lament that the party failed to read the resentment of masses, even after ignominious defeat at Nandigram and Bishnupur assembly bye-elections with 30,000+ margins. They appreciate Land reform minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah’s chagrin at the bumptious party bosses who couldn’t see the wrinkles on the face of party veterans and common masses too during poll campaign. Mollah openly disagreed with the manner of land acquisition and giving away of fertile land for industries – such as 990 acres at Singur, one of world’s best ten highly fertile tracts, for the abortive Nano small car project to the Tata Motors Ltd.

Karat – his hard line attitude notwithstanding – was taken for a ride by the West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Commerce and Industry minister Nirupam Sen and Left Front chairman Biman Bose – all CPI(M) polit bureau members – on the so-called pro-peasantry amendment to the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. On good faith, the CPI(M) chief wrote a piece in party’s central organ – Peoples Democracy -on 11 September 2005 – ‘On Land Use In West Bengal’ – snapping fingers at the critics for maligning the CM and depicting the ‘reformist’ chief minister as one, bent upon “handing over large tracts of prime agricultural land to industrial houses and foreign companies” .

He was all praise for the amendment to section 14 (z) in the original act but did not delve deep into it. And he wrote assuringly : “The purpose of the amendment was to clear the legal hurdles so that the land locked up in closed mills, factories and industries can be put to use”. Sub-section, he believes, would “enable through a written order of the state government the transfer by way of open auction of such land at a price not less than the reserve price to be determined by the collector.

Karat did not keep tabs on the style of implementation and believed that it would ensure use of money, raised by application of section 14 (Z) to help revival of sick units and curing of industries that fell sick due to financial reasons such as lack of working capital. It would be used for “revival of the mills, factories or workshops including the payment of the outstanding liabilities of the employees of such mills, factories or workshops, in such manner as may be prescribed and the price realised from such auction shall be utilised under the supervision and control of such authority, and in such manner, as may be prescribed, “ the CPI (M) supremo emphasized.

The reality was the reverse. Take the case of Hindustan Motors. State government acquired 314 acres from the Hindustan Motors Ltd’s unused land at Uttarpara works. It was a lease-hold land. The government took it back, freed it from lease, and sold to the C K Birla group which owns HML at less than Rs 11 crores, fixed by the collector . The catch lay there as the price was mysteriously low. The Birlas smoothly sold the land at Rs 297 crores to Bengal Shriram Hitech which plans to transform into real estates. Not a single rupee of the earned sum was invested in the HML, let alone back paying workers who are paid low wages. Furthermore, the land is mostly marshy and the fisheries department objected to the real estate project. The objection was in vain.

Almost the same thing was done to help the Bata India Ltd in which foreign equity comprises over 51 per cent of paid up capital., which the shah-en-shah of A K G Bhavan, CPI(M) national headquarters erred in not having impressions, given by M A Bhavan, checked by independent Left sources. As a result, he wrote all rubbish . Referring to a Webcon study in five districts around Kolkata, he mentioned 41,000 acres of lands, locked in closed mills, factories and sick units, and cannot be unlocked for new investors. Those lands were “lying unutilised for decades because of legal complications”. This is a damn lie. Most of those lands are leased out by the state government which could take back the land if it wished. An Aluminum factory at Dum Dum, for example, was allotted to one Anup Dhar as a “going concern” – condition for running the factory, by an order from the High Court of Calcutta Judge Manjula Bose. Within a few months, a sub-divisional land reform officer signed a notice at the gate, saying that it was a govennment-owned land, leased out. It was taken over and given to a real estate promoter. The same thing happened to Krishna Glass and several other factories.

If Karat is serious for self-criticism, he must see things with honesty and propriety in stead of dancing to shrill tunes of Bhattacharjee or Sen.

If a cold war between AKG Bhavan and M A Bhavan is on, it’s CPI(M)’s internal matter.. The syndrome is of a grave crisis, organizational, political and ideological too.

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What a great fall! – Faceless people put opportunists masquerading as Marxists in their place

May 18, 2009. The Statesman

Finally, it’s come full circle. The demolition of the “Red citadel” in Bengal by the Opposition combine, reducing the Left Front’s Lok Sabha tally to 15 out of a total of 42 seats, is greeted by the man in the street almost everywhere in the state with the same sense of relief and deliverance as the people had when the Congress’ semi-Fascist terror of the 1970s was smashed through an overwhelming victory of the Left Front in 1977.

The only difference is that while the 1977 triumph had a strong ideological underpinning coupled with a revulsion against lumpen politics, this success of the Opposition is the outcome of the mortal scare of the state’s rural poor of being robbed of their sole means of livelihood ~ land ~ by the so-called champions of the poor; also, the hatred of the urban population against the Marxists’ insufferable insolence, corruption and pretension that theirs was the last word on every issue.

The body blow that the Opposition combine dealt to the Marxists is nothing short of a miracle. That the Red regime was tottering became evident when the Trinamul-Congress combine, without being in any official alliance, wrested half of rural Bengal from the LF in last year’s panchayat elections, implying that the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state would be halved and if the wave continued to work when votes were finally cast, the number would go up for the Opposition from 20 to anywhere between 24 and 26. But even the die-hard Opposition supporter couldn’t imagine that the CPI-M’s tally would be reduced to a single digit figure against 26 that it had secured in 2004.

But the real credit for ending the CPI-M’s 32-year-long stranglehold on the state goes to the people more than the Opposition parties. The verdict was an explosion of their pent-up anger that had been accumulating for the past 22 years, if one accepts that the first 10 years of LF rule did produce some positive results.

And it was no ordinary explosion. It took the form of serial blasts occurring at 27 places (constituencies) which could be possible not with ordinary sparks, but with the two powerful fuses provided by Nandigram and Singur. The impact was so huge that the red flag completely disappeared from eight of the 19 districts ~ a feat that even the staunchest Opposition supporter couldn’t dream of.

It was indeed a miracle because the Trinamul-Congress combine could achieve the spectacular success with their poor organisational network that was no match for the CPI-M’s far superior election machinery and state power at its disposal. This was possible because the people had resolved to show their power to the mighty, arrogant Marxists.
The corruption in the ranks of the CPI-M and misappropriation of panchayat funds were nothing new to the people. Yet, over the years they preferred to ignore them as they could somehow eke out a living by tilling their farmland ~ a “privilege” the earlier Congress regime had denied them ~ and there was no viable Opposition.

But once they discovered that the Marxists, in league with their hand-picked industrialists and investors, were out to grab their land, whatever trust or fear they had about the CPI-M was gone. The insufferable insolence of the three “B”s (Buddha-Biman-Benoy, the Alimuddin Street triumvirate) and their statements humiliating all their critics, including Opposition politicians and intellectuals, steeled the people’s resolve to teach them a lesson they would never forget.

The mistake that the Marxists made over the years was that they took the mute, meek and patient people in rural Bengal for dumb, driven cattle. They merely believed that these people were their guaranteed vote-bank and ignored their real strength. They forgot these people were once roused by the selfless work of the Marxists of the 1960s and 1970s who declassed themselves and mingled with the poor and the downtrodden and the toiling masses in urban areas so that they could be freed from the oppressive big landlords and a lumpen army in the city and the towns.

If the Congress in the 1970s employed crude, vulgar tactics to rule the entire state at gunpoint with the help of its army of armed goons and state power, the Marxists only refined those tactics. The reign of terror they unleashed was different from the previous version only in degree as it was not so visible in both rural and especially urban areas as it had been before.
In the 1970s, the writ of lumpen elements ran so powerfully that the most common experience in those days was that there was no guarantee that the men and women who had gone to their workplaces in the morning would return home alive in the evening. Marxist terror in the main didn’t assume such a form.

But the CPI-M’s oppression surpassed the Congress’ terror as it became far more pervasive, though silent, and its control spread to all spheres of life and the administrative bodies. They clamped a complete one-party rule with the result that even the most unworthy was hugely rewarded for his loyalty to the CPI-M and the most worthy refusing to kowtow to a Buddha or Biman or Benoy was thrown by the wayside and condemned to languish.

CPI-M cadres spoke the language of overweening pride and contempt for the people as their top leaders did. They and they alone had the monopoly over power and truth.

The people of the state had been smouldering with rage all these years, but were powerless in the absence of organised resistance and a viable Opposition. But, Nandigram and Singur breached all the fears and self-doubts of the people. The rural poor, who mainly decide whether a party or combine will rule or not, realised that they had nothing to lose but their chains because the Marxists were now out to throw them to the wolves in the skin of industrialists and investors by taking away their land and turning them into virtual slaves.

Once they could see through such machination of their pretended champions, they hit back with all their might without caring to know whether there was a viable Opposition or any political force that might back them up. The political groups ~ the Trinamul, the Maoists or the Congress ~ appeared on the scene much later with their respective agendas.

Once the resistance began at Nandigram and Singur, it lit the fire that was in the embers in nearly every home and hearth~rural and urban~ majority and minority population. For, the Marxists, as is the general perception, had cornered all the resources and official privileges for their loyalists alone leaving millions of people to fend for themselves.

The Marxists fell and “what a fall it was”! The fall has been precipitated not by a nuke deal or a Trinamul-Congress alliance, but by the nameless, faceless people who wanted the rank opportunists masquerading as Marxists and their running dogs in different spheres, including film, theatre and literature, to be put in their place ~ the dustbin of history. With the landslide victory of the Opposition, the countdown for the overthrow of the Marxist regime has begun. Whether the people are jumping from the frying pan into the fire is an irrelevant question.

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Humility in victory, introspection in defeat

By Siddharth Varadarajan, The Hindu. May 19, 2009

If the Congress party needs to guard against the triumphalist revival of ‘Congress culture’, both the Left and the Bharatiya Janata Party must also re-evaluate their political strategy.

With the poorly conceived Third Front promising little more than political instability and the Bharatiya Janata Party standing for greater social turmoil and division, the victory of the Congress is a vote for calm, centrist stability of the kind the country has not seen for more than two decades. That voters have attached a premium to both the formation of a stable government and to the pursuit of social-democratic policies should come as no surprise given the spectres of economic hardship, terrorist violence and communal polarisation that haunt our collective psyche today. The only irony is that the Left and the Congress, whose partnership for four out of the past five years provided the United Progressive Alliance both the aura of stability and the caché of populism, should have ended up such bitter rivals on the eve of the election.

On the eve of the general election, the coming together of major challenges like the world financial crisis, the implosion of Pakistan and the rising tide of religious intolerance within India and the region had shifted the matrix of rational policy in such a manner that the issues on which the Left and the Congress had parted company last year made no sense at all to voters in 2009. On most issues of consequence, domestic and foreign, the distance between centrist and leftist policy was getting eroded. Having resisted the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme when activists first mooted the idea in 2004, the Congress took it up seriously only after the Left parties made it a priority. Even then, conservative elements within the ruling establishment like Montek Singh Ahluwalia of the Planning Commission remained sceptical and sought to limit the Central government’s fiscal commitment to it. Only when the economic slowdown hit India in 2008 — and the importance of NREGA as both a politically convenient safety net for the poor and an accelerator-multiplier to kickstart the economy became apparent — did the Congress make its implementation a priority. The Congress may have been a late and even reluctant convert; but what matters finally is that the party and the Left ended up on the same page.

Same language

On other economic matters which divided the Congress and the Left like financial sector liberalisation, the fact that the Indian banking and insurance sectors were insulated from the global turmoil which felled giants like AIG and Lehman Brothers provided a further basis for the two sides to speak the same broad language. Instead of celebrating the return of the social-democratic paradigm and using this to leverage a further shift away from neo-liberal dogma, however, the Left found itself holding the can on the one free-market policy its rural support base viscerally opposed: land acquisition. If nationally, the CPI(M) and its allies were pilloried for a leftism that was largely declaratory, the Left Front paid the price in its bastion of West Bengal for the “rightism” of its policies that allowed Mamata Banerjee to emerge as a defender of the peasantry’s right to till the soil.

Consider the irony: the Left broke with the Congress because it felt the latter had deviated from the Common Minimum Programme of 2004. But in 2009, it allied itself to a diverse set of political parties without any programme other than the desire to establish a “non-Congress, non-BJP” government. So it was that the Left found itself at election time with allies such as the Telugu Desam Party, the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Biju Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party — groups that had no interest in pushing the direction of national economic policy one way or the other and which had all, in recent times, been closely associated with the BJP and its communal politics. This programmatic dilution of the ‘Third Front’ allowed the grouping to look strong on paper but it was devoid of any political ballast. But even this might not have proved fatal except for another factor: As a result of its break with the Congress over an issue that was not so decisive to the direction of Indian foreign policy in the long run — the nuclear deal — the Left facilitated the creation of a coalition that went on to storm the seemingly impregnable red fortress of Bengal.

To be sure, there were and are valid reasons for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to have wanted to build a Third Front. But its failure to articulate a positive pro-people programme around which such a front could be established rendered the exercise electorally and politically futile. As it looks towards rebuilding itself in Kerala and West Bengal and enlarging its prospects as a genuinely national alternative, the Left will have to be self-critical about its preference for conjuring up expedient top-down coalitions rather than organic, bottom-up alliances based on the kind of struggles and movements the communists know best. Unless it does so, the parliamentary communist movement will find itself increasingly squeezed by Maoist extremism on the left and the electoral machine of ‘bourgeois’ parties on the right against which it cannot easily compete. If the Left needs to introspect, what of the BJP, which paid the price for believing that the Indian voter would prefer divisiveness and strife to the comforting anchor of centrism?

Rot runs deep

The rot in the party runs so deep that it cannot be reversed by the resignation of L.K. Advani. The very fact that its spokesmen thought Narendra Modi’s name would generate a wave in favour of the BJP despite the Supreme Court ordering a probe into his role in the 2002 mass killing of Muslims in Gujarat shows the extent to which they are out of touch with the pulse of the country. But since the party did relatively better in Gujarat and Karnataka, especially the coastal region where Christians, Muslims and ‘immoral’ Hindus have been targeted by the sangh parivar, it is possible the RSS will conclude that religious polarisation is a good electoral strategy for the BJP to pursue. If this is the direction the party takes, its capacity to generate tension and insecurity in civil society will increase even if its national political prospects continue to remain dim.

As for the Congress, the party needs to guard against the hubris that usually accompanies the kind of dramatic, unexpected victory it has just received. The INC defeated the Left fair and square but must realise that its success owes more to the social-democratic elements of its economic policies than to the ‘reforms’ the party’s more affluent backers espouse. Second, vanquishing the politics the BJP stands for requires more than electoral success. The socio-economic and administrative support structures on which the politics of communalism thrives need to be dismantled through careful, sensitive intervention. The party must resist the old Congress way of pandering to identity politics as a low-cost way of doing the right thing by India’s diverse electorate. India’s Muslims, for example, want equal opportunities and justice, not the banning of a book or the expulsion of a Taslima Nasreen. Providing these will involve taking on entrenched interests and attitudes, especially in the police and administration, something the Congress has always shied away from doing.

Finally, the re-election of the UPA must not be seen as a licence to indulge in the ‘Congress culture’ of the past. The public got a glimpse of that culture when some leaders started pushing for Rahul Gandhi to be made Prime Minister as soon as the scale of the party’s victory became apparent. Sonia Gandhi did well to nip these demands in the bud. If she can go further by pensioning off entrenched interests and democratising the functioning of the party’s leadership, the Congress will be better placed to meet the expectations of those who have voted for it.

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3 Responses to “Lok Sabha Elections 2009”

  1. sachin Says:
    May 20th, 2009 at 08:36


    This isn’t the first time that he has created history and this one is as prestigious and big as the last time. Dr. Sanjeev Naik – the NCP-Congress-RPI-Samajwadi party candidate from Thane constituency has created history by winning the Thane constituency. The win can easily be termed as a thumping victory as Dr. Sanjeev Naik beat his rival saffron alliance candidate by 49020 votes. We bring to you all the moments from the counting center at Thane with this report.

    After 25 years if anyone could rock Sena fortress Thane and capture Thane – it could only be Ganesh Naik. That’s why it’s the victory of Navi Mumbai NCP……….




  2. sumanta banerjee Says:
    May 31st, 2009 at 12:08

    Congratulations from an ageing comrade ! You’re doing great work ! Carry on – sowing seeds for a new revolutionary change. Best of luck in your endeavours for a debate on the future strategy and tactics for the Left. But instead of remaining confined to W. Bengal, please try to reach out to others, who may be sharing your feelings, in different parts of India. Let’s build up a sort of co-ordination among different groups…both from the disillusioned and disgruntled sections of the parliamentary Left and those isolated (from the mainstream movements) groups of the armed Maoists, as well as the social movements that are emerging outside the control of the mainstream political parties (e.g. narmada, anti-SEZ, anti POSCO, etc.)

    Sumanta Banerjee

  3. rama Says:
    June 6th, 2009 at 12:34

    Many thanks for the views. After a very long time, jubilation in West Bengal as the CPM thugs / mafia gets a thrashing. The analysis by Mr Yechury that the party had lost touch with reality – is actually not a profound statement, but a simple statement like “he is dead because his heart is not beating”. In short, it is the most vapid, cynical, bankrupt statement. What he meant was that the various rounds of pre-election reports that cadres have to submit, were completely incorrect. The party was blind and deaf to the deep ire of the people. It became a victim of its own vanity and delusion that it could never be ejected, and only saw and heard what it wanted to. If Yechury was serious he should have left the party! But of course, like a leech he prefers to stick to the “lost touch with reality” party!

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