What is the height of optimism? Believing that the West Bengal CPM can rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the 2016 assembly election results. There will be futile attempts of course. Talks of introspection and analyses are in the air; chintan baithaks (meetings/discussions) will be held at various levels, local committee, state committee, central committee, politburo, you name it, frequent flier miles will accrue to many leaders of the proletariat.
Not that they haven’t had enough time for rectification already. Five years at least, though they could have started after the 2009 Parliament elections if they’d wanted to, as that was when the rise and rise of Mamata Banerjee really began. By then Singur had become the name of a movement and Mamata Banerjee its face. The rewards were reaped in 2009. Trinamool Congress captured 19 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats – 18 more than its 2004 tally when Didi was her party’s sole representative in the Lok Sabha from this state. The CPM’s answer: police firing at Nandigram.
The party’s leadership is yet to apologise for its actions in Singur and Nandigram. It doesn’t even seem to be aware that it needs to. The state conference held last year explained these incidents away as “exceptions” rather than fundamental failures in policy, whether for industry or for land acquisition, as well as in administrative functioning. In fact, the only policy statement made in these elections was the promise of a return to Singur, i.e. industrialisation and jobs, which they presumably thought would sound enticing to the voters and not, coming from them, a threat. Evidently there are no limits to the extent the state leadership can delude itself.
It is self-delusion of this magnitude that made them believe that all they had to do to return to power was some back of the envelope calculations and some secret confabulations with a once-sworn enemy and they’d be through. The leaders fell over each other to explain that this was a people’s jote (alliance), a demand from below that they couldn’t say no to.
Spending all their time as they do in the echo chamber of their party headquarters in Kolkata or in air-conditioned studios of television channels, they did not even realise that cadres do not equal voters. To cadres this may have appeared a last-ditch survival tactic, the leaders didn’t know any better.
Most of them are grey-haired, they barely remember the years of struggle that brought them to power in 1977, while those below 40 were wholly innocent of such activities. So building up sustained movements that affect a large number of people in the face of opposition from the state never appeared to have crossed their mind. Now, after the debacle, Ashok Bhattacharya, the CPM leader credited with creating the Siliguri model that served as the template for the CPM-Congress jote, was heard muttering gruffly about the need to reach out to people, to meet them “physically, not through social networking and Sms and Whatsapp.”
There was no dearth of issues if they’d wanted to do so in the last five years. The Saradha scam affecting the rural poor, crimes against women, price rise, closure of factories including iconic plants like Hindustan Motors and Shalimar Paints, suffering tea garden workers, price rise, farmers’ suicides, the Trinamool government can’t be accused of not providing them with enough people-friendly issues. Most were either side-stepped or received half-hearted, sporadic attention from the party bosses.
But, of course, these things take time and success is not guaranteed. All the more so if success is defined as winning at the hustings. Hence the willing surrender of the business of Opposition to the media and the desperation for unnatural electoral alliances even at the risk of jeopardising ties with traditional Left allies who frowned upon going to bed with a lifelong enemy. Used to playing big brother for too long, the CPM simply railroaded protests of its smaller partners which had made the Left Front such an implacable force once.
In the process, the party’s pro-poor image got hijacked by Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress. Mamata Banerjee, with her various populist schemes, her “development” work in the villages, her adamant refusal to allow peasant land to be taken over come what may, is the undisputed leader of the poor, the symbol of the new Left. While she talked of her largesse to the have-nots, the CPM could only talk of corruption and state repression. Given its track record, its protests obviously sounded hollow. Public memory is short but evidently not that short. Clearly, the decades of CPM’s oppression are still fresh in the minds of rural Bengal.
True, the CPM is a spent force almost everywhere but it is still able to hold on to Tripura and return to power in Kerala every five years or so, as they have done once again just now. So the rapid dwindling of the party’s support base in Bengal has to have more to do with problems here than a national or global malaise. Something the local leadership itself has unwittingly underlined by insisting that conditions here require special consideration so that there could be dosti with the Congress in Bengal even while they do kusti in Kerala. In other words, the CPM in Bengal is as much a regional party as the Trinamool Congress.
But they are either unable or unwilling to look things in the eye. Already, the near-decimation of the party is being wished away with facile comparisons to the BJP which had been reduced to two MPs in Parliament and look where it is now. The misalliance with the Congress is being explained away with the lament that it fructified too late. How that explains the fall in the CPM’s share of both votes and seats is not clear. There was a grudging admission that maybe vote transfer, specifically the transfer of adequate Congress votes to the CPM, did not take place but that still begs the question of the overwhelming positive vote for the Trinamool.
It must hurt to be told by Mamata Banerjee, who has joined hands with both the BJP and the Congress at different times, that integrity matters. At the press conference after the results were in, the re-elected chief minister said sagely, “Going with the Congress was a blunder for the CPM. A state level blunder for the CPM, a national level blunder for the Congress. You can’t compromise with character. If character is lost everything is lost. If ideology is lost everything is lost. They have lost everything.”
If Bengal still needs the Left, if it needs a party with an organised set of beliefs that is the true expression of the popular will, one that will deliver real, substantive change for the masses, a new force that will emanate from popular mass movements and respond to people’s hopes and aspirations instead of being fobbed with sops and inducements, then the only way out is to have a CPM-mukt Bengal. The process has begun, it is unlikely the party will be able to save itself from itself.
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Updated Date: May 20, 2016 11:29:33 IST