Saturday, July 15, 2006
West Bengal scenario
The "machinery" with which the CPI(M) was able to win elections in the past was completely stymied this time around. All this came as a great shock to local grassroots party workers. No one could imagine that this could actually happen. CPM activists were saying that if these arrangements had been made in 2001, the CPM / Left Front would have lost that election.
But given the lack of any viable alternative, and out of a kind of pauper’s dependence on the one who throws coins to him, the people voted the party back into power.
Party's and governments are ultimately about winning elections. With election victories being delivered through money and muscle power, politics was necessarily criminalised. The party was hostage to its criminal-lumpen section and their overlords.
Now the party is realising that this section has become redundant. They cannot do anything on election day. It is the people who will vote you in or out, so one better work for and with the people.
As the criminal-lumpen section is redundant and thus unnecessary, they can also be dispensed with, and the deep toll taken by this nexus can be cast out.
Something else has also emerged quite strongly. The real struggle is within the CPM, between the old guard and the new generation, the latter led by Buddhadev Bhattacharya. The old guard and the CPM led by Jyoti Basu till 2000 (and with continuing but waning influence) - is basically an enemy of the people and of pro-poor development, utterly bankrupt, incompetent, corrupt. And Buddhadev is an enemy of this, for his own reasons. Even if one is totally against all his current policies - e.g. land of poor farmers for foreign and local real estate developers and industries, out and out embrace of foreign capital etc - he has to be seen as someone doing something, anything, rather than nothing.
The CPM headquarters has no option but to support him. They cannot afford to lose their bastion of West Bengal. They have realized that the state and its people cannot be taken for granted any longer. They may vote for them, in the absence of any credible and organized opposition, but the party can sense the dismay and anger against their failure to deliver in real and tangible terms. The danger is not so much from any political opposition, but from itself, in terms of its utter incapability to deliver, anything to anybody.
West Bengal has also seen a surge of new Maoist violence against the state, in some of the most backward tribal areas.
West Bengal was / is in danger of becoming a completely redundant backwater of the Indian and global economy. That would be disastrous for pro-poor concerns too. Through Buddhadev, the state is being brought back to the global capitalist economic fold. Such things are also rather easier to do, compared to addressing fundamental and long term issues of poverty and social justice. And someone or the other must be there, in power, to do all that.
There was almost a conspiracy of media / big bourgeoisie to ensure that the Buddhadev-led CPM came back to power. There being no organised credible, reliable political opposition in WB, the alternative would be disastrous, chaotic and anarchic, and especially so for the promoter lobby that has been the first to benefit hugely from Buddhadev. Even party workers were surprised by the extent of “bourgeoisie” and media support to the CPI(M)!
In Howrah, there was a dramatic turnaround in the Urdu-speaking labouring Muslim pockets. The CPM has failed this poor section completely, even while getting re-elected by them. But this time the Samajwadi Party entered this niche (anti-CPM, anti-BJP) and worked hard and steadily. Opposition party workers and even some CPM supporters joined the Samajwadi band. Voter turnout was immense, in some pockets 100%, and without any false representation. As if there was a mass movement within the Muslim section to vote for Samajwadi, i.e. against the CPM. As a result of this swing, the CPM legislator won marginally, because of the non-Muslim votes. This was a CPM stronghold area, earlier represented by a powerful member, who was also a criminal don; he passed away a few years ago.
People have to awaken to the new situation of "free and fair elections" and evolve appropriate means to ensure public debate, which is the essence of democracy and elections. The focus has shifted to media, and the media has been dominated by the big bourgeoisie's shrill support for Buddhadev.
With the civil society and intelligentsia of the state completely compromised, co-opted and bankrupt, progressive anti-establishment and pro-poor forces in the state - have now to engage with Buddhadev, and explore the scope for strong pro-poor policies and ongoing steady, diligent work for long-term ends, in livelihood, education, healthcare, housing and infrastructure.
The forceful exit of Muslim support would also be an assertion of the acute poverty and hardship Muslims in West Bengal are facing (which is only in line with the situation faced by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes), and a rude warning to deliver.
If that space is there, if he is open to such engagement to integrate equity and social justice concerns into his reform and economic drive, so as to build a wide popular support base for himself and his team, then it brings a positive new opportunity for progressive civil society.
If that space is not there - then Buddhadev can be seen for what he is, a promoters’ lackey. And people will have to ponder over how and through whom the real issues can be taken up. Maybe its time for a new political party in WB, a progressive, democratic, secular, development-oriented front.
But whatever the case, it must be conceded that Buddhadev has come into his own now, and I for one have been surprised that he had it in him to take on the corrupt party. He may not know how to or have the wherewithal to improve the quality of life of the poor in West Bengal; but being an old party hack, he would know how to fight and manoeuvre and manipulate. In an institutional and systemic sense, change was needed, and he is bringing change.
There is hope!