In reply, Ram Guha wrote:
Many thanks for your most interesting and informative mail. I suppose I had Kerala in mind when I said the communist practice was superior to their theory. The Kerala communists have been turfed out of power so often that they are more on their toes, perhaps. The CPM needs to lose the next election in Bengal!
I wrote again:
You're right - with no opposition whatsoever, the CPM here has become an "enemy of the people"!
When you were here, in the early 80s - the CPM was still in some fear of the Congress. But from the time of the 1987 Assembly election - the party has really been in the situation of "phaanka maathey goal" (scoring a goal in an empty field). Besides they have perfected the machinery to win elections (from tailoring the voters' list through to jamming and stuffing the ballot boxes).
Mamata B remained as a maverick thorn in their side and even more so after she formed the Trinamul. But she has severely discredited herself, and is of no more than a nuisance value.
The "govt", as the constitutionally defined entity - has been systematically enfeebled and marginalised, with all power being with the "party". And the party itself - is now bereft of any capability to impact positively on the people at large, economically or socially; being entirely taken over by expediency, profit, deals.
"Decentralisation" - has actually meant weakening centralised govt, transferring power to the party in the name of transfer to a closer-to-grassroots level of governance and then vesting this level of governance once again with the party at that level. "Decentralisation" and distribution of the expropriation of public resources.
The Congress in WB, after such a long time out of power - one should actually be impressed that they have survived, and continued to win seats, have pockets of strong and unwavering support, seen through Trinamul ... And of course the fact is also that on % of votes cast - the difference between CPM and Congress in WB is quite slim.
But with the Left supporting the UPA at the centre - basically CPM is not going to face any opposition to its continued rule. (Elections due in May 2006.)
But the party is riven with conflict, as the current controversy relating to giving land to the Indonesian Salem group shows. (Ashok Mitra had written a piece in the EPW calling the WB govt's policy "rent-a-womb economics".)
I work closely with some like-minded CPM activists in my slum-related efforts in Calcutta and Howrah - and thus I receive feedback on what actually happens inside the party, at the LC (Local Committee) level.
The decision relating to the Salem land - everything was within the party, and finally at the CPM central committee level; and the media was reporting all this. Nobody was pointing out that the party and the govt are not the same thing; why was the assembly not discussing this? Or given its a sensitive issue, why were there no public hearings on this?
Some time back I read the position on NGOs written by Sitaram Yechuri of the CPM. That was another piece of hilarious bs pretending to be ideology!
Recently I have the opportunity to look at what's happening with the major British govt funded poverty reduction project in municipalities in the Calcutta metropolitan area. The project is in a complete mess, its implementation is completely through the party; the design guidelines of the project have been thwarted; the party does not have the capability or means to actually do this; requisite technical knowledge (e.g. on sanitary engineering), awareness of slum conditions, or even urge to do something substantive and good - are all non-existent. A huge amount of money is simply going down the drain and being defalcated - while conditions on the ground become worse by the day.
The top level of the party - has no control over what actually happens on the ground. Yes, if the top level wants, it can ensure by force that what it wants does happen - but this cannot be done all the time, in every case, everywhere. So what exists all around is chaos, paralysis, complete inaction as far as any developmental concern goes. The pandemonium, anarchy, indiscipline, filth, un-civic environment that one sees on the street in Calcutta - is a good indicator of the hollow, bankrupt nature of "the system".
The Maoists in some adivasi areas of the state, and North Bengal separatists are going after the CPM and the govt with violence - and this has terrified them. And so they send the might of the state - which they have otherwise enfeebled. But with the recent ugly killing of police in North Bengal - its going to demoralise the police terribly.
But I would see the CPM - as a part of the larger story of the crisis of Bengal society and culture.