Left Defeat in Bengal: Ear to the Ground
Leading academicians speak on the future of the left movement in the country
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
Social analysis based on the existence and development of different classes in society, with their divergent and often contradictory and conflicting interests, inform, in large measure, the economic and social policy formulations, the actions and movements of the Left. In Bengal, the Left movement was built brick by brick on the basis of this understanding, and the Left Front government was born in the crucible of the class struggle. In office, within the limited rights and resources available to state governments, the Left government had to a great extent been a symbol of alternative policies to those followed by the central government, particularly through its historic achievements in the field of land reforms, development of agriculture, decentralisation and growth from below, and promotion of small and medium scale industries with a focus on providing employment. Ironically for those who see no development in Bengal, it is the World Bank that has assessed Bengal as being among the top states in the country in the reduction of poverty. Moreover, at a time when India was being torn apart by sectarian strife, Bengal under the Left became a beacon of hope for secularism.
Brinda Karat, CPM politburo member, The Indian Express
In fact, the Left Front government of West Bengal had precisely begun to follow this much advised path of ruling class wisdom. A few years ago, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was the greatest darling of the corporate media, much like Chandrababu Naidu in his heyday or Narendra Modi, Naveen Patnaik and Nitish Kumar in their current phases. Some media houses had even enthusiastically elevated him to a new brand of Left politics in India, 'brand Buddha' as they fondly called it. The CPM has not gone down in West Bengal resisting the LPG (liberalisation-privatisation-globalisation) policies, it has just paid the price for daring to implement those policies by trampling upon the rights and interests of the rural poor and the labouring peasantry.
Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary, CPI-ML (Liberation) Excerpts from a recent article.
People woke up after the Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh movements. Before that there was silence and fear. When the peasantry in Singur came out against the ruling classes, it inspired a lot of people, including the middle-class and the intellectuals. The peasants stood their ground even after the CPM government brutalised them - that's when the people realised that the social-fascist network can be broken. Then Nandigram happened, with more brutal repression in its wake. This, however, drove more people in rural Bengal to revolt against the CPM. After Nandigram there were revolts against the appropriation of the PDS by a small coterie of the ruling party. Then came Lalgarh, once a CPM stronghold, where its goons had been sitting on the natural resources. The Adivasis revolted. This rebellion emboldened everyone, including factory workers and other toiling classes. TMC could cleverly utilise this sentiment and rage, even without any deep roots in the masses.
This is not the end of CPM, however, as some people believe. Mamata won't fulfil the promises she has made, and her policies would be no different from those of the CPM. Maybe this is the beginning of an era in Bengal where the parties would take turns in power. Unless a radical democratic movement takes over, this won't change.
Maoists do not choose to adopt violent methods. They set out to organise the people to fight for their democratic rights, but the State does not allow it. Instead of giving up, they take this as an obstacle to be overcome, and therefore carry arms to resist the State's attempts to curb their political work among the masses. Even as all political parties possess huge caches of weapons, why are only the Maoists singled out? Mamata herself accused the CPM of killing thousands of TMC workers in the last two decades. The Maoists stand out among all the existing political parties as they are the only ones who openly announce that they won't hesitate to use weapons in self-defence, alongside other forms of struggle. Moreover, they have a totally different vision for society - a future in which the exploited people would wield State power. As the ruling classes will never allow such a redistribution of power and resources, the Maoists feel they have to keep weapons, otherwise they will be wiped out.
GN Saibaba teaches English Literature at Ramlal Anand College, Delhi University
I think that they won't stay out for power for too long and will come back. This is the first disappointing thing that despite this historic defeat where they have been wiped out after 34 years they will still want to come back and also there will be no serious introspection. By introspection I mean to say that firstly, I feel they won't go back and think on what was wrong with their policies like after what happened in Nandigram, Singur etc., and secondly, they would also not introspect on how they have not worked on deepening democracy; has their governance model been democratic in the true sense or not? They might come back to power again but it won't make much of a difference. I believe there will be no politics on the Left paradigms. However, I want to say that there is a need to demarcate the loss of the parliamentary Left from the other Left forces. This is not a defeat of the Left forces in general. Moreover, this defeat might throw up opportunities for other un-organised Left forces. There are so many progressive Left movements going on successfully in the country. This is not just confined to taking the cause of the people but the CPM, the Left Front, ended up betraying the whole meaning of Left politics. Everything which could be termed as Left and progressive and for which the people fought for has been nullified by them. I don't see any of the existing left political formations at the helm of any democratic revolution in the country. Like in the Paris commune or even in the Russian revolution, the propellers were people from unpredictable quarters. So even here I think any democratic challenge to the State will come from the un-organised Left and certainly not from the parliamentary Left or the Maoists.
Mukul Mangalik teaches History at Ramjas College, Delhi University
In Bengal, it is a vote against mal-governance. There were no consultations before the decision on Nandigram. If you are an organised party, you need to take the workers into confidence before any important decision. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was not confident about himself, so nobody took him seriously. Also, you can't just allow the opposition to hold you to ransom. This is what happened in Nandigram. The people thought that it is a weak government. Now the party has an opportunity to rediscover itself. And it will have to do it if it must survive.
A CPM academic in Delhi University who doesn't wish to be named
It is actually a statutory lesson for the Left Front. It needs to realise now that the area of politics is not just confined to the state assemblies and Parliament but it should prioritise extra parliamentary, pro-people movements which are going on in the country. I hope this defeat pushes the parties to focus more on fundamental issues of concern. The parliamentary Left has become flabby. They were absent from all the movements. One did not find them anywhere in the agitations for the Right to Information, the Right to Education or even the Right to Food. All kinds of people poor in political ideology became a part of the organisation. Now the CPM and Left Front have to connect with the people once again and go back to the politics of agitation.
Gautam Navlakha, Consulting Editor, Economic and Political Weekly (EPW)
It is quite clear from the defeat that there was a disconnect between the people and the Left Front. To quite an extent the happenings in Nandigram, Singur and Lalgarh were responsible because the state government reacted late. Law and order is a state issue. And post Nandigram, many intellectuals or pseudo intellectuals, the ones you see on television, went with Mamata. Also, one thing you have to realise that there has always been a 40 per cent anti-Left vote in West Bengal. This time there has been a change in the rural and suburban voting patterns which led to the defeat of the Left.
Rajib Ray teaches Philosophy at Kirorimal College, Delhi University