Assembly Elections in West Bengal: A Litany of Lies by the So-called “Left”

April 24, 2011

By Partho Sarathi Ray

The West Bengal elections are appearing to be fought in the intellectual space as much as in the cities and villages of West Bengal. As the CPI(M)-led Left Front increasingly stares at the scenario of being out of power after thirty four years of ruling West Bengal, the desperation of its leaders is increasingly portrayed by the ridiculous pronouncements and daily antics of Gautam Deb, the CPI(M) central committee member and West Bengal housing minister, the architect of the land grab that is Rajarhat, and the person the CPI(M) has put its reliance on to combat the opposition. At the same time, the CPI(M) has mobilized its intellectual brigade, in India and abroad, to write thoughtful pieces expounding on the “virtues” of Left Front rule in West Bengal, and lamenting the fate of the state that is fast going out of their grips. One such preposterous piece recently appeared in the CPI(M)-run website www.pragoti.org, written by US-based academic and CPI(M) apologist Vijay Prashad. In a desperate attempt to stand reality on its head, the author has presented a litany of lies about the record of CPI(M) rule in West Bengal, and has tried to anoint the CPI(M) with the mantle of the “Left” in India, a mantle that has been torn to shreds by its abject adoption of neo-liberal capitalism as its governing policy in West Bengal.

However, it is just not after Singur and Nandigram that the real face of CPI(M) rule has been exposed to the people. The entire “positive record” of Left Front rule in West Bengal that Vijay Prashad so proudly refers to is a record of abject surrender of the party to vested interests in the countryside on one hand and to the industrialist-promoter-real estate developer nexus in the cities on the other. What does this record show? Vijay Prashad beats again on the oft-beaten drum of land reforms in West Bengal and states that “till January 2010, the seven Left Front governments have distributed over 11.3 lakh acres to 30.4 lakh poor peasants.” This is a complete falsehood, as out of the 11.3 lakh acres of distributed land, 3.76 lakh acres have been distributed during the Congress regime and 2.5 lakh acres during the United Front rule. Therefore in the 34 years of rule by the “peasant-friendly” Left Front, the total area of land distributed to poor peasants, around 5 lakh acres, is less than the combined area of land distributed by the prior, apparently “peasant-unfriendly” regimes. How can Vijay Prashad unabashedly attribute this to Left Front rule?

And what has been the consequence of the “land reforms” by the West Bengal government over the last 34 years? The total number of landless peasants has more than doubled from 33 lakhs in 1971 to 78 lakhs in 2001! According to the West Bengal human development report, 4 lakh of the peasants who had received titles (pattas) for redistributed land had lost their land by 2004. What has been rampant in the countryside of Bengal over the last twenty years and more, is the phenomenon of reversal of land reforms, as poor peasants unable to bear the high input costs for agriculture and facing unremunerative returns have increasingly sold off their land to rural big and middle peasants, who have made the greatest gains during the Left Front rule. And this rich peasantry, which has grown fat during Left Front rule, forms the main support base of the CPI(M) in the rural areas and has a stranglehold over the rural economy. In village after village, it is this class which owns the shops for seeds and fertilizers, pump sets for irrigation, cold storages, PDS shops, in short everything that is needed for making a living out of agriculture; this has gone completely out of the reach of the poor peasantry.

More insidious, and dangerous, has been the way the CPI(M) has used land reforms as a means of controlling the poor peasantry. In village after village you will hear how the actual title-holders (pattadars) of the distributed land do not have the title deeds (patta) with them, the patta being kept at the local party office of the CPI(M), and efficiently used by the party bosses to bring any rebellious peasant in line. Doesn’t it sound more like the rule of the erstwhile zamindars than that of the “enlightened” Left Front?

And ever since the Left Front government under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took up “industrialization” as its mantra by adopting a completely neo-liberal economic model, the land belonging to the peasantry has increasingly been handed over to corporations and real estate developers on a vast scale. Abdur Rezzak Molla, the West Bengal land & land reforms minister, went on record to say in the state assembly in 2006, at the time of the Singur land acquisition, that in West Bengal about 1.20 lakh acres of farmland had been diverted for ‘urbanization’ and industrialization programmes in the previous five years. These policies have brought the poor peasant in West Bengal to her knees, making West Bengal sixth among the states in the number of farmer suicides, according to the records of the National Crime Bureau.

Vijay Prashad writes “The TMC’s (the opposition Trinamool Congress party – Ed.) paribartan (change) is to reverse course and welcome with open arms the takeover of agriculture by big capital that has doomed farmers from Vidharba to Warangal.” What has been the course taken by the Left Front government? It proposed a new agriculture policy in 2002, closely following the recommendations made by the notorious US consultancy firm McKinsey in its report on the “Problems and Prospects of Agriculture in West Bengal”. This new policy envisaged a shift from agriculture to agribusiness, which was touted as “central to West Bengal’s 2010 agribusiness vision.” And over the last eight years the Left Front government has done exactly what Vijay Prashad has alleged that the TMC would do if it comes to power. It has opened the agricultural sector to big capital, adopting various measures such as allowing contract farming by corporations, amending the agricultural produce marketing committee (APMC) Act to allow big corporates into agricultural product marketing and reserving space in cold storages for agricultural products used by big corporations. Recently there were protests in Hooghly district by farmers who protested against the reservation of huge space in cold storages for the potato used for making Lay’s potato chips by Pepsico (locally called “Pepsi aloo”) while their potatoes were rotting outside in the summer heat.

The Left Front government has gone to the extent of amending the Land Reforms Act, incorporating the infamous 14(Z) amendment in 2005, which allows it to change land use patterns at its whim. This has allowed land alienation not only from agriculture, but also from industries into real estate, as evidenced by the proliferation of malls such as South City on industrial land. If Mamata Banerjee really wants to welcome the takeover of agriculture by big capital, she just needs to follow the course set by the Left Front.

In his article Vijay Prashad presents some statistics on death rate and birth rate and infant mortality in West Bengal as evidence of what he calls “social effects of the land policy, and of the provision of social services”. These numbers are directly picked from the Left Front manifesto, where the source of the information has not been stated. On the other hand, data from the Planning Commission shows that in 1974, the infant mortality rate in West Bengal was 51 for every 1000 live births. In 2004, this has come down to 41, a decrease of around 20%. During the same period, the infant mortality rate in Tamil Nadu has come down from 106 to 41, a decrease of 61% and in Maharashtra from 57 to 36, a decrease of 37%. Why has West Bengal, which had a head start over other states in this important marker of social wellbeing, fallen back over the years of Left Front rule, if there has been “provision of social services”? In nearly every social sector, the record of Left Front rule has been one of failure.

In West Bengal, only 24% of the population has access to government health services, which is lower than the national average of 29%. According to WHO recommendations, there should be a bed in a hospital or primary health centre for every 350 people; in the case of India this number is 800 whereas in case of West Bengal it is one for every 1100 people. And in the backdrop of this miserable condition of state health services, the Left Front government has gone on a privatization spree, handing over state hospitals and health infrastructure to private players, transferring a state tuberculosis hospital in south Kolkata to private ownership for Re 1 (for setting up a private medical college) and recently trying to similarly hand over a state general hospital to a private trust. And while more and more people are turned back from government hospitals for lack of infrastructure, CPI(M) leaders from Jyoti Basu to Subhash Chakrabarty have received five star treatment in super expensive private hospitals owned by industrialists.

Vijay Prashad has asked whether “the policies and administrative practices of the Left Front [should] be judged solely on the basis of Singur and Nandigram?” I agree with him in saying an emphatic “No”. It should be judged on the basis of all this, on depriving and exploiting and terrorizing a people for 34 years, and giving rise to a promoter-developer-mafia raj which has grown rich and powerful during this period. The position of the CPI(M) in the eyes of the working class was succinctly described to me by a worker from a locked out factory in Howrah district. He told me that the real expansion of CPI(M) is “Camai Party of India (mithyabadi)”, which can be roughly translated into “income party of India (liars)”. The working class of Bengal might not have any illusions about the Trinamool Congress, but it definitely wants the CPI(M) to go.

And what about Singur and Nandigram? Vijay Prashad writes that the CPI(M) has learnt a lesson from Singur and Nandigram that “even the most generous compensation package is not sufficient unless people are truly convinced that their well-being and that of their fellow citizens will be improved by the sale of their land to the state.” The resolutions taken by the party at its Vijaywada plenum said the same, but its central committee member Gautam Deb emphatically said in Kolkata that during land acquisition the government cannot distinguish between willing and unwilling farmers, because if it does that, land cannot be acquired for industries. He even said that the government should have been more proactive in destroying the opposition to land acquisition in Singur. Gautam Deb is the right person to make these pronouncements, being the mastermind behind the forcible acquisition of land and eviction of thousands of farmers in what is today Rajarhat Newtown. Therefore, the CPI(M) has not learnt anything. It will mouth such platitudes for the sake of its image, but its real face in West Bengal are people like Gautam Deb and Lakshman Seth, the latter being the mastermind behind the failed attempt to acquire land in Nandigram. Interestingly, Lakshman Seth, after being miserably defeated in the Lok Sabha elections, has ensured the candidature of his wife Tamalika Panda-Seth in the current assembly elections.

According to Vijay Prashad, the Left Front “is programmatically committed to the widest forms of democracy and to the promises of social justice.” Unfortunately its record in West Bengal shows just the opposite. The CPI(M) has systematically strangled democracy in West Bengal, completely constricting the space for any popular organization outside the ambit of the party, from the para (community) to the university. Experience shows that even as mundane an action as a few kids getting together to clean up a pond in a locality will be prevented by party bosses if it is against the latters’ wishes. And a little investigation yields the information that the party bosses’ interest in keeping the pond dirty is to ensure its filling up so that a promoter can take it over for building an apartment complex. In colleges and universities, year after year the CPI(M)’s student wing has won elections uncontested, as anyone in opposition has been prevented from even filing nomination papers. In villages ranging from Keshpur-Garbeta in West Midnapore to Sashan in north 24 Parganas, local CPI(M) strongmen have ensured that all votes polled goes to the CPI(M). The programme that the CPI(M) has been committed to is one of patronization and intimidation, used in parallel, and alternatively to keep a stranglehold over the population. If you vote for the CPI(M), you might get a BPL ration card, if you do not, you might lose a hand.

Vijay Prashad writes in conclusion: “In the Indian political scene at large, the Left is a crucial pillar of rational politics, and a singular hopeful sign for the future…Without a strong Left, the Indian polity would be morally weaker.” It could have been, but alas, its 34 year rule in West Bengal has eaten into its core and destroyed any potential that it had in that direction. Today, power is the glue that holds the CPI(M) together, loss of power might lead to its breaking up into fragments. That might be good for the party as it might be the only way to get rid of the baggage that it has accumulated over the past 34 years.

Whatever be the fate of the CPI(M), it is clear that without the CPI(M), the Indian Left would be morally stronger.

Picture from Nandigram protest photo montage, courtesy Indranil Ghosh Dastidar.

6 Comments »

6 Responses to “Assembly Elections in West Bengal: A Litany of Lies by the So-called “Left””

  1. Stray Cat Says:
    April 24th, 2011 at 14:59

    Actually Mamata is following what the CPI(M) has done all these years. That is why they are flummoxed.

  2. Partha Says:
    April 26th, 2011 at 04:23

    Parthasarathi Ray,

    “If you vote for the CPI(M), you might get a BPL ration card, if you do not, you might lose a hand.”

    The last election, nearly 40%+ of the rural electorate voted against the CPI(M). Can you please tell me if all of them are hand-less?

    If you have to rebut an argument, kindly take your head outside your backside before making arguments, else all of your argument is reduced to what is equivalent of the residue of intestines.

  3. Nisha mehta Says:
    April 26th, 2011 at 17:13

    I cannot resist the temptation of paying you back a bit by your own coin–the phrase immortalized by Buddha. The garbled metaphor at the end of your paragraph shows English is not your strong point. So it is no wonder you did not understand the usage of the word “might” in the sentence you quoted.

  4. sankar ray Says:
    April 26th, 2011 at 22:33

    Prof Vijay Prashad is a replica of Ardha-Nariswar. On the one hand, he often writes exposing imperialism (although not always without incongruencies and errors), and on the other hand, he dishes out Goebblesian lies in defence of CPI(M). Unashamedly, he parroted Beriaite interpretaion of the murder of Tapasi Malik -http://sanhati.com/news/307/ . After all, CPI(M) blindly ape Stalinisque side. Imran Jal in an article in EPW in defence of Leninism characterised Stalin period as ‘ counter-revolutionary’. Netizen-friends now are free to characterise CPI(M)’s 47 years.

  5. Amitayus Says:
    May 3rd, 2011 at 02:04

    @Nisha Mehta

    Well then, at least say, how many hands were chopped off in the say last 20 years for not voting for CPIM? Amta (19 years ago) and.. and..??

    And while we are discussing the probability, may we also discuss the probability of being mercilessly butchered in the kangaroo courts of jungle mahal (victims being the poorest of the poor) if someone dares to raise CPM’s flag there?

    I’m no apologetic for the CPM, but the alternative is even more horrendous. Kindly pay visit to the Sunderbans Panchayats (mostly controlled by TMC) and you will (NOT might) see (if you really want to) the loot of poor people’s money. Or simply take the data of any Govt. programme, say NREGP (nrega.nic.in) and check for yourself.
    One one hand embrace SEZ champion Amit Mitra & project him as a Minister and on the other, give liberal dossiers on the ill effects of SEZ. Is this double standard any less?

  6. skj Says:
    May 3rd, 2011 at 13:44

    Amitayus is free to read a fast evaluation of TMC’s manifesto: http://sanhati.com/articles/3528/#2

    where some of his questions have been discussed.

    He asks: ” Is this double standard any less?”, presumably comparing the double standards of CPIM and TMC. I agree with him that they are comparable.

    Regarding hands chopped off, political violence as retribution is widespread under LF rule. Well-known examples are Lalgarh, Nandigram, Singur, Rajarhat, etc. Besides, there are thousands of lesser known murders/intimidation. Alongside, there is judicial terror in the form of false arrest, false cases, etc. which is widespread.

    So yes, many hands have been chopped off.

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