People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 21, 2006
SEVENTH LF GOVT IN WEST BENGAL
NONAGENARIAN – to be precise 92, Dulali Kar was the first to cast her vote in
Bhomragaria booth in the remote Bandwan area of Purulia district on April 17,
2006, the first day of the West Bengal elections.
Dulali Kar is the bereaved mother of Ravindranath Kar, the CPI(M) Purulia
district secretariat member. Ravindranath
and his wife Anandmaya were burnt to death by the so-called Maoist extremists in
their village home few months back and Dulali Kar symbolised the indomitable
spirit of the people of West Bengal which shaped the final outcome of the
assembly elections. It was truly a celebration of democracy that people enacted
over the unprecedented five phases of the elections to the state assembly.
Election Commission which later admitted that it was moved by a pre-conceived
perception, largely on the sustained canard against the people and the
government of West Bengal – that no past election in West Bengal has been free
and fair – conducted the elections in an unprecedented manner. While officials
from the state – state government employees and teachers – were all eyed
with suspicion, the state police forces were considered partisan and not
considered impartial enough to be posted in the polling premises. Hundreds of
companies of Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMF) were mobilised to discharge all
the crucial poll duties, dozens of election observers landed in the state in
different phases to weed out so-called bogus names from the electoral list
–– thousands of whom were later found to be bona fide voters. Phulrenu Guha,
an octogenarian freedom fighter, a veteran former parliamentarian and minister
from the state belonging to the Congress party having reached the polling booth
on the polling day on a wheel chair found to her dismay that she was dead
according to revised electoral rolls that these observers had ensured. The
entire polling process was organised on the basis of production of voter
identity cards, perhaps for the first time in the country, which was a good
thing generally. However, this was the most protracted period of elections in
the country and an expenditure of more than Rs 150 crore was incurred which, to
a great extent, was unnecessary and a drag on the state exchequer.
alas! All these unprecedented rules
resulting from the propaganda orchestrated by the opposition and sections of the
media, in the past and the present, produced results which knocked out the
bottom of the ‘ scientific rigging’ theory.
Unlike Bihar, where the strong arm methods in the elections had been
successful in bringing down the polling figures to 45 per cent, the people of
Bengal created a new history by registering a whopping 83 per cent voting
figure. Among this more than 50 per cent decisively voted in favour of Left
Front, reinstalling the Left Front to office for a record seventh time.
District after district considered strongholds of the opposition lay on
the wayside giving 235 seats to the Left Front.
The unprecedented nature of the victory of the Left Front was accompanied
by the truly historic character of the magnitude and sweep of the results. The
issues on which differences broke out between the Election Commission and the
Left Front centered around the question of curtailment of people’s
participation and calls for a larger discussion towards the reform of the
pundits in the country have always struggled to explain the truly unique nature
of the verdicts in West Bengal. Their predicament has been their failure to
grasp as to why the voters of West Bengal, particularly the poor have striven to
effect a positive change in their life and livelihood and through their
experience reposed their confidence time and again in the Left Front. Therefore,
the pro-change vote in West Bengal has invariably been pro-incumbency.
is truly remarkable is that not only have they voted in favour of the Left
Front, they have cast their votes in ever increasing numbers. Therefore, while
the voting figure in 1977 was a
mere 55 per cent –– almost the same as that in other parts of the country,
it has grown steadily election after election reaching the record 83 per cent
this time. This is an expression of the heightened political awareness of the
people and their increased stake in the political process in favour of a
political dispensation which has ensured their continued progress.
of the people and a vibrant political discourse is the lifeline of democracy.
Political parties play a significant role in ensuring the involvement of
the people unlike many other democracies. This is a most significant aspect of
elections in West Bengal and it is this aspect that has been continuously sought
to be undermined by the opposition. No serious attempts have been made by them
to understand this growing awareness of the people. Instead frivolous, baseless
charges of electoral malpractices have been sought to be used to explain the
electoral victory of the Left Front.
was, however, significant this time around was that a constitutional body, the
Election Commission of India, appears to have been carried away by such
irresponsible approach of the opposition. However,
hopefully the nature of the results will force a universal exercise to fathom
the implications of these results.
THIS PRO-INCUMBENCY VOTE
CPI(M) has been constantly attempting to underline that the root cause for
anti-incumbency in India – which is primarily an agricultural society where 75
per cent of the people are dependant on agriculture – is the grave crisis in
agriculture which features the present reality. But in West Bengal, agricultural
growth has powered the advancement of the state in the background of the
agrarian reforms, in the recognition of the share croppers rights, significant
expansion in irrigation through mobilisation of truly decentralised system of
planning and development through the panchayat system.
It is a common knowledge that over the last couple of decades the growth
in agriculture in West Bengal has been on an average two
per cent above the national average annually, year after year. In the
last five years, this progress in agriculture has been matched by truly
unprecedented nature of commensurate growth in infrastructure. This has led to
incremental bargaining capacity of the peasantry through expansion in storage,
processing, diversification and market access. This has resulted in overall
expansion in agriculture, as well as, in its value addition. This has implied a
higher level of earnings, consumption and disposable income with the rural
communities. It is this reality which was captured by the Left Front’s central
election slogan ‘Agriculture
our foundation, Industry our future’ during this election. The
magnitude and sweep in favour of the Left Front in rural areas is the natural
the rural areas, a new feature which became increasingly visible was the huge
participation of women, which reflected in the voting pattern. It is being
observed that the 2.5 to 3 lakh self-help groups which were created during the
last three years largely with the initiative of the panchayats
thus have not only sustained but also gathered
rapid momentum. 90 per cent of this group were constituted by women alone
– meaning, about 25 to 30 lakh
rural women were empowered with sustainable supplementary incomes through
coordinated and collective activity. This provided them with a sense of
confidence and purpose. This has
also led to significant social reform gains.
the sway of the Left Front is as strong as ever before can also be understood
from the continued support that the Left Front enjoys in the Scheduled Caste and
Scheduled Tribe reserved constituencies. That this consolidation of the Left is
being sought to be undermined is also clear from the different new slogans that
are projected by the opposition in cahoots with pro-imperialist and other
anti-people reactionary forces. The Maoist insurgency in certain pockets of West
Midnapur, Bankura and Purulia where about 45 of CPI(M) leaders and activists
were killed during the last two years is a point in question. This anti-people
violence has been sought to be exclusively explained in terms of lack of
development in these areas. But
while the state government was attempting to overcome the deficit in
development, the poor in the area realised that the developmental issue was only
a ploy to derail the process of poverty reduction and improving their quality of
life. Hence, the people stood like a rock in defence of the gains that have been
made in the past.
attempts have been made in parts of North Bengal raising the question of the
neglect of the region. This was particularly pronounced in the Coochbehar with
the Kamatapuri movement in the past and the slogan of `greater Coochbehar’ in
the present elections. Though the Left Front has lost two seats in the district
by small margins, the overall position in the North Bengal has improved and
largely the vote share has increased. However, more careful examination of how
the development process is carrying these sections along who are being sought to
be weaned away by these forces of reaction has become necessary.
on the question of pro-incumbency, there have been some attempts to undermine
the scale of victory of the Left Front by citing that while only 0.8 per cent
increase has been registered by the Left Front in the vote share, the number of
seats gained has been disproportionately large. This is conventional
psephological argument. The quality of pro-incumbency vote, that too after 29
years of office, is many times more than in a conventional situation. Without a
far greater political support, vote share increase cannot take place. And so far
as the division of opposition vote is concerned, it is also a result of the
principle political battle that the Left Front has waged. It cannot be concluded
hypothetically through a theoretical arithmetic exercise that had the opposition
been together without any acceptable political argument, the opposition votes
would have naturally galvanised. Even in constituencies where the opposition
camps have actually been able to forge grassroot level informal `mahajot’, this has not happened.
major new feature of the election results in 2006 has been the sweep of the Left
Front in the industrial belt and city/town areas. In the wake of independence
West Bengal was a comparatively industrially developed State but several factors
coupled with the central neglect had brought the industrial reality of the State
in a state of decline. The obviation of the need for a general industrial
licence in 1991 created a condition for attracting private investment for
setting up of industries in the state. The 1994 industrial policy of the state
underlined this. There has been a sustained effort to turn around the
traditional industries like jute, tea, engineering, cotton textiles through the
struggle against the central government to revive some of them. The policy
emphasises the need for infusion of private capital to ensure the turnaround.
The last five years have been a period of the most aggressive advocacy of this
approach. And obviously, this has produced positive results. The iron and steel
industry has turned around with IISCO being taken over by the SAIL and Rs 8500
crore modernisation plan going forward. Apart from this new private investments
in the iron and steel sector have highlighted the process of industrial revival
in the Durgapur, Burdwan industrial belt.
tea industry which suffered a major setback with the collapse of the
international tea market, highly concentrated in the erstwhile Soviet Union, is
showing signs of slowly coming out of crisis with new packages worked out at the
initiative of the state government. Similar efforts are also on in reviving the
jute industry. Together with this, the attempts at building a new petrochemical
industry in and around the new industrial hub in Haldia is also paving the way
for new investments. New areas of information technology and bio technology
industries have also shown momentum in the state after a delayed start.
unprecedented growth in agriculture has been followed up with specific
initiative in the development of agro-based processing industry and increased
activities in exporting the agro products.
has been accompanied with great pace generated in the infrastructure in road,
power, ports and construction sectors. Therefore, with employment as a focus of
all these, an atmosphere of hope and confidence could be instilled which
resulted in the youth playing a major role in the present victory. The seats in
the industrial belt in Asansol, Durgapur in Burdwan, Barrackpore belt in North
24 Parganas, Howrah, Hoogly and new industrial hob of Haldia have all been won
by Left Front candidates.
Kolkata-centric industrial activity has been substituted by the government
attempts to relocate industrial activity in a more widely dispersed locations
around district towns and therefore, most of the district towns have returned
Left Front government this time. Popular
support has been enhanced in cities like Kolkata, Siliguri, Durgapur, Burdwan,
Bankura, Midnapore, Krishnanagar, Purulia and so on.
in those district towns where the Left Front has not been traditionally
dominant, there has been substantial gains in the vote share, notably in Malda.
The impact of this positive change in the urban hubs extended to areas around
that hub which raises prospects of new industrial development like that in
major reason for this turnaround is a sense of both confidence and hope. The
younger sections of the voters, whose participation was very significant in the
Left Front’s election campaign, played a major role in the final electoral
outcome. In the rural areas, there has been a significant increase in the number
of people employed in non-agricultural informal sector. The significant
expansion of systematic trade union activity in the informal sector also
contributed to major gains in certain areas like Murshidabad and East Midnapur.
story of the West Bengal election will be incomplete without taking into account
the massive organisational effort of the CPI(M) and the Left Front which saw the
mobilisation of truly millions of grassroots-level activists. It will, however
not be possible to authoritatively comment on this fact unless the state
committee or the central committee of the CPI(M) completes its comprehensive
review of elections. But at the same time one cannot but mention the great
contribution made by Comrade Anil Biswas in the organisational preparations for
the elections. His specific directions for the organisational steps had an
inspirational effect and which was prominently used by the CPI(M) during the
entire campaign. Even in death, Comrade Anil Biswas, stood as an organisational
architect for this resounding victory of the Left Front.
is no doubt that the stunning electoral performance of the Left Front is without
any parallel anywhere in the world in such open multi-party elections.
Each time on, the election in West Bengal pose new challenges. And, it is
by consolidating the poor that the Left has to advance. The Left Front
government has identified that, of the 38,000 villages in the state, 4,612
continue to suffer chronic and abject poverty. The priority now is to overcome
has been tremendous advancement in the social sector.
Literacy, primary education and healthcare have been addressed in a very
massive way. However, the challenge now is to improve the quality of this
basic social sector services. This
is where the poor needs the new government the most.
is a major concern that informs the public opinion in West Bengal.
Great strides in agriculture have successfully addressed this question in
the rural areas. But continued
consolidation of this sector with new reforms to ensure value addition through
diversification, rural industrialisation, technology assimilation and ensuring
greater market access to agri-products and their value addition is an urgent
requirement. Based on the industrial policy, there are strong turnaround
impulses in the industrial sector. For redressing the question of employment,
this objective has to be aggressively pursued. West Bengal stands on the
threshold of establishing that it is through this alternative approach to
enhance the quality of life of the poor that the Left invokes a vision for the