People's Democracy

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

Vol. XXX

No. 21

May 21, 2006

After The Election Victories Of The Left


Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee being sworn-in as the chief minister of the seventh Left Front government of West Bengal in Kolkata

Prakash Karat


THE historic victory of the Left Front in West Bengal for the seventh successive time and that too with a three-fourth majority and the decisive victory of the Left Democratic Front in Kerala with a two-third majority have brought the role of the CPI(M) and the Left into sharp focus. The results of the assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala have been widely commented upon.


What do these assembly elections results mean and what do they portend for national politics?


Firstly, the formation of the Left-led state governments in these two states will focus attention squarely on the policies which the CPI(M) and the Left advocate. Both Kerala and West Bengal under Left rule have been pioneers in land reforms and have set an example of how to implement land reforms within the limitations of the existing Constitutional set up. Both the states have an excellent record in decentralisation and functioning of the three-tier panchayat system. Under Left rule they have nurtured politics which strengthens secular values and rejects giving space to communal politics. West Bengal for the last nearly three decades, and Kerala off and on, have through its Left-led governments shown that it is possible to struggle for and implement certain alternative policies in the economic and social spheres which are pro-people in a situation dominated by neo-liberal prescriptions.


After experiencing the policies of liberalisation undertaken by successive central governments and most of the state governments, the people of India will look forward eagerly to how the West Bengal and Kerala governments undertake economic policies which are people-oriented, keeping in mind their livelihood and basic needs. The Left Front of West Bengal in its election manifesto has pointed out the difficulties of running a state government when policies being pursued by the central government are “antithetical to the working people of India”. They have also pointed out that the “so-called policy of liberalisation pursued by the union government has decreased the opportunity of State intervention in the amelioration of the problems that the people face”. It is within the constraints of working under an overall neo-liberal dispensation that the Left Front government after substantial progress in agricultural production turned its attention to industrial and infrastructure development. For this it has actively solicited private investment. Unlike other governments, it has protected the rights of the working class. At the same time the Left Front government has been conscious of the need to garner resources to improve education, the health system and the social sector.


The seventh Left Front government is committed to consolidate the success in land reforms and agriculture, keep up the momentum in developing industry, build rural and urban infrastructure, increasing employment opportunities and widen and raise the quality of education and health systems. The success of alternate approaches in West Bengal will strengthen the ongoing struggle against the neo-liberal reforms being pushed through in the last one and half decades.


In Kerala, in a different situation, the state government has the difficult task of tackling the agrarian crisis. Kerala’s agrarian economy which is dominated by cash crops finds itself vulnerable to the vagaries in prices of agricultural commodities which are dictated by factors beyond the control of the state government. The LDF manifesto has promised a big increase in public investment in agriculture in the next five-year plan. It has pledged to ameliorate the plight of the workers in the traditional industries and expand the IT and biotechnology sectors. After the CPI(M) sponsored a comprehensive discussion on Kerala’s path of development, the LDF manifesto contains a blueprint for development suited to the specific conditions of Kerala society with its unique topography and human resources.


For implementing alternative policies in West Bengal and Kerala, the reality of central dominance in centre-state relations and its growing intervention to impose neo-liberal conditions have to be kept in mind. The curtailment of central grants, subsidies and loan benefits have increased the difficulties for the states. Conditionalities have been placed on the states through the Finance Commission and other instruments to make it impossible for any state government to adopt alternative policies. In the coming days more attention has to be paid to these aspects of an unequal centre-state relationship under liberalisation, if the state governments are to fulfill the commitments they have made to the people.


The second aspect of the election verdict is its impact on national politics. The CPI(M) and the Left parties utilised the elections in West Bengal, Kerala and the other states to put forth the Left platform and policies.


The outright rejection of the Congress-UDF misrule in Kerala is also an outcome of the policies favoured by the Congress at the national level and when it runs state governments. The callousness to the agrarian crisis and farmers’ suicides, the crass commercialisation of higher education and the privatisation of basic services have cost the Congress heavily.


The UPA government will do well to heed the people’s verdict. Only a few months ago, the cabinet tried to cut food subsidy. It refuses to universalise the public distribution system and continues to devise measures to curtail the PDS. The growing dependence on import of wheat is a signal of the bankruptcy of its food policy. The Congress is part of the Democratic Progressive Alliance in Tamilnadu headed by the DMK. It would have seen how the people of Tamilnadu enthusiastically welcomed the promise of supply of rice at Rs 2 a kg through the PDS, a promise which has been fulfilled on the day chief minister Karunanidhi was sworn into office.


The failure to adequately provide for a public distribution system, increase expenditure on education, health and social sector goes contrary to the spirit of the Common Minimum Programme.


V S Achutanandan being sworn-in as the chief minister of the LDF government of Kerala


The victory of the Left in West Bengal and Kerala, the endorsement given to the DMK election manifesto and the loss of a majority in Assam for the Congress should make the UPA government and the Congress leadership introspect and draw lessons.


The people are not enamoured of the Manmohan Singh government’s policies designed to cater to international finance capital and pursue reforms which only enrich those who are already affluent. The failure to raise resources by taxing the rich and pleading helplessness when the burdens on the common people increase, is alienating the people.


During the election campaign, the people articulated their concerns about livelihood, employment, need for education, health and basic services. The Left platform found a response as they addressed these concerns.


West Bengal and Kerala have also shown the way on how the BJP and the communal forces can be isolated. The BJP has no representation in the legislatures in both states. Further, in Kerala, the support base of the BJP disintegrated while the citadels of the Muslim League in Malappuram district were breached with the LDF winning 5 out of the 12 seats in the district.


The CPI(M) has been consistently advocating an independent foreign policy and has been the most consistent opponent of the pro-America policies being pursued by the erstwhile BJP-led government and now increasingly by the Manmohan Singh government. The Indo-US strategic alliance will undermine India’s foreign policy and strategic autonomy. The UPA government unmindful of its pledge to pursue an independent foreign policy has rushed headlong into a strategic alliance for which the Americans will extract a heavy price. On the plea of getting through the nuclear cooperation deal, already the UPA government is step by step succumbing to American pressures on a whole range of issues beginning with its stand on Iran, the purchase of arms running into billions of dollars and allying with US strategic interest in Asia.


The CPI(M) had vigorously campaigned against this orientation in the assembly elections. It was pointed out that not only in foreign policy, but US influence in policy making in the domestic sphere is also having an adverse impact on the livelihood of the working people. The opening up of the FDI in retail trade under US pressure was widely cited as one such example which would affect the livelihood of millions of shopkeepers and small traders.


The verdict in favour of the Left should strengthen the resolve of all democratic and patriotic circles in India to resolutely oppose the UPA government’s pro-American policies. The Left will be in the forefront of such struggle to roll back these policies.


The CPI(M) and the Left parties will discuss in the coming days how to take forward the Left platform at the national level. After making an overall assessment of the political situation, the Party and the Left will have to chalk out a course of action whereby they can more effectively intervene in the national situation. Priority has to be given to ensure that the UPA government does not pursue economic policies which do not serve the interests of the common people and widens inequalities. The growing influence of the United States and international finance capital on our domestic policies has to be countered. A significant struggle lies ahead to reverse the pro-US orientation of the UPA government and to strengthen the independence and autonomy of India’s foreign policy and strategic decision-making.