People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 21

May 21, 2006


 An Unparalleled Experience In Multi Party Elections



Nilotpal Basu


A 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.


The 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.  


But 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 Election Commission.




Election 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.


What 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. 


Participation 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.


What 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.




The 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 outcome.


In 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. 


That 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. 


Similar 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. 


Finally, 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. 




A 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.


The 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.


The 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.


This 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.


The 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.


Even 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 Haldia. 


The 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. 




The 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.     




There 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 this poverty. 


There 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. 


Employment 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 entire country.