Buddhababu’s Shilpayon (Industrialization)

May 21, 2011

by Sunil Gupta

The year was 2006. Apprehending take over of 1000 acres of farm land, Singur had started to simmer. The chief minister famously wondered: we are 235, they are 30, who will stop us? For those not tuned in, these numbers refer to seats that Left Front and the Trinamool Congress won in the 2006 assembly elections. As a matter of fact LF had won 233. But courtesy Mr. Bhattacharjee 235 became the more quoted figure, a figure of hubris. Mr. Bhattacharjee’s question deserves close attention, but a small piece of information first. The Left Front won 233 seats in an assembly of 294, that’s 79% of seats. But percentage of votes it secured was less than 50%. In the distorted mirror of the first-past-the-post system CPM had more clothes on than it actually had. It is in the fitness of things perhaps that the party which had invested so much in nirbachoni sangram (electoral struggle) should get undone by smoke and mirrors of parliamentary politics.

But I would not lay the entire blame at Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s door. Who is he after all? Unlike Harekrishna Konar or Promode Dasgupta the man is not an astute organizer. He does not belong to the league of mass leaders of Jyoti Basu and Mamata Banerjee (lack of oratory skill, elite proclivities notwithstanding Basu was popular). Nor is he known for his grasp over matters of ideology. He had had his moments of madness as well. In early ’90s Mr. Bhattacharjee quit Basu’s ministry in protest. Apparently it was teeming with crooks. This episode might have done wonders to his standing among Left Front baiters but such theatrics surely go against chief ministerial prospects.

However there were things that went for him. One, his acceptance among the urban middle class. For all the aura surrounding Basu, in his days CPM ruled Bengal, sans Calcutta. The party could afford the slight as long as it lorded over the land-reformed, panchayat-ified rural Bengal. In Bhattacharjee a route to reach the urban middle class was found. He was one of them. Mr. Bhattacharjee had gone to Presidency College, he wrote books of poems and plays, he translated Mayakovsky and Marquez. Bhattacharjee is not a doctrinaire. He has an affability, strangely similar to George W Bush’s.

Two, not unrelated to the first point, his approach towards law and order. Shortly after his assumed power in 2001 the US consulate in Calcutta was attacked. His response was to thunder at Arabic and theology-teaching madrasas. Bhattacharjee ordered a survey and a database of madrasas, he threatened to close the unregistered ones down. Many of these were harboring jihadis from Bangladesh he felt. The then union home minister L K Advani would go on quoting Bhattacharjee in his campaign speeches. Basu would gently admonish him. We shall see a similar response, a similar meeting of minds with the union home ministry 7 years down the line. Adivasi people’s uprising at Lalgarh would be tackled not through political means, not by showing sensitivity towards a people ostracized culturally, economically for millennia. But by sending in armed police, central para-military personnel, who would go on a killing and looting spree. All this made right noise to the middle class, media and establishment.

Three, his culture buddies of Calcutta, who were showered with state patronage, of course. Many of them stood by him after the Nandigram massacre of March 14. On March 16 Sunil Ganguly, popular Bengali novelist, pontificated in an op-ed: women who stood at the forefront of Nandigram resistance did not have the correct emotions. Needless to say what happened to those women with incorrect emotions, but we note Mr. Ganguly became the president of Sahitya Akademi the very next year as the bondhu-sarkar (friendly government) UPA-I ruled the center. Bhattacharee’s friends would regularly organize public meetings “Intellectuals Meet the Chief Minister”, in hard times specially, and swear their allegiance. Last of these intellectuals’ meet happened before the elections. The crowd was thinning out apparently.

As events unfolded, we realized The Fourth Reason: willingness to speak the words big capital like to hear. Amazed by criticisms that Communist Party of India (Marxist) was going out of its way to placate capital, Mr. Bhattacharjee informed us the party is building capitalism. Socialism will come afterward. Big media houses sang hosannas for him. His courage to take on the party higher ups for the sake of Bengal’s industrialization is stuff of legend. Mr. Bhattacharjee would sign MoUs with industrialists, grant them thousands of acre of public land and quote – rather inappropriately – Tagore and Shakespeare. In sum, Mr. Bhattacharjee fit the bill. He was the face to sell the New CPM to the new clientèle: the urban middle class and corporate houses. In the process CPM would emerge out of its vestigial socialist moorings. The tactic worked for a while, urban votes of CPM were on the rise. The LF won the Calcutta Corporation in 2005. This is why I say Buddhadeb did not go there alone.

One has to remember that none less than the party general secretary supported land acquisition at Singur. But unlike ordinary party workers general secretaries are made of sterner stuff. They do not go beating up peasants, raping them, or setting corpses on fire. Neither do they exhort foot soldiers to strike paddy-field snakes with the staff of lal jhanda. For general secretaries the right theory comes first, for without revolutionary theory there cannot be revolutionary practice. Opposition to land acquisition was theorized in the correct Leninist perspective. At best they were utopian socialists who romanticize peasantry without realizing that capitalism is the immanent destiny. The party standing by peasants whose land the LF government was taking for the Tatas is as absurd as the party passing resolutions against the functioning of steam engine. It’s pure science you see. Communists dispassionately analyze movements of this huge machine called human society. That’s why communism is scientific socialism. After all did not Marx write India was undergoing a social revolution under the British rule? I leave it to do the reader to remember the thoughtful treaties that other intellectuals and leaders delivered as Bengal writhed through the glorious industrial revolution.

I began with the delusion of grandeur that first-past-the-post system is capable of conjuring up. Here is another data to close the circle. In 2011 the TMC combine has won 226 seats, with 48% of votes, this is close to the high conversion rate of the Left Front in 2006. It remains to be seen if their fates come close. Parachuting FICCI bosses give me reasons to hope.

1 Comment »

One Response to “Buddhababu’s Shilpayon (Industrialization)”

  1. souvik ghoshal Says:
    June 5th, 2011 at 04:00

    Is there any left content in the defeat of so called lefts in Bengal? The answer is blowing in the wind. It is loud and clear that there was no left essence during the last era of the so called left rule in Bengal. People from various corners, mainly from right lobby and also from a large section of frustrated and renegade lefts, are now a day’s busy to prove that old fashion communist ideology bought the end of CPM rule. They are bold enough to pass well advices to their left ‘friends’ for their future and that is loud and clear also. ‘Don’t make barriers before neo liberalization. Accept its economics, politics and its necessary foreign policies.’ In a word these ‘friends’ of lefts are suggesting them to leave everything that is left.
    Any reader of any daily news paper or a listener or viewer of any audio or audio visual media know that CPM and its government tried their best to make happy these ‘friends’ of them and walked bold and fast on the road of LPG. SINGUR and NANDIGRAM not only invoke the model of state atrocity against the rebels, but the forceful land grab for the sake of huge profit of monopoly business houses of state and abroad. It clearly exposed the class character of CPM and direction of the so called left front government. They rejected peasants and agrarian labourers and embraced TATAs and SALIMs; they made them busy to secure the entry of monopoly capital in retail trade, ignored the demands of salary hike, PF & pension of labours and favoured the rotten and corrupt industrialists. It is not a joke that there is highest number of PF defaulters in West Bengal.
    These are the examples of running busy through the high way of liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG) and opposing the fundamental ideologies of Marxian politics. So if CPM is discredited among the people of Bengal, it is not for embracing the left ideology but for the embracement of its proponents and supporters.

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