People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 26, 2007
60 Years Of Our Independence And The Left: Some Thoughts -- II
WEST Bengal was made a happy-hunting ground for the forces of authoritarianism and ultra-left reactionaries. The state was thrown into anarchy and white terror. Thousands of our supporters and members were arrested and around 1100 of our members and supporters murdered. Yet no action was taken against the culprits. The Emergency was imposed in 1975 although in West Bengal it had been virtually clamped down from 1971 itself. From 1972 to 1976, West Bengal continued to face what we described as semi-fascist terror. After the declaration of Emergency by Indira Gandhi, the repression became much more severe. All liberties were obliterated, including the right to life. I, along with large number of our Party members and supporters, had been imprisoned without trial on several occasions. Many were arrested on various trumped up charges in order to stifle movements of the workers, peasants, and middle classes for their legitimate demands and for democratic rights. We, however, never surrendered to the enemies of the people. We reposed faith in the people. When the emergency was lifted in 1977, the people gave a befitting reply to the autocratic rulers at the centre and many states including West Bengal.
History has proved time and again that people cannot be subdued by terror for long. The democratic movement waged against the terror campaign – braving the brutal authoritarianism – contributed to the fresh consolidation of the Left unity. The anger of the people against Emergency was reflected in the ballot boxes in the 1977 elections. In the parliamentary elections held in March, the Congress was routed in most parts of the country, including in West Bengal. In the assembly elections held in June, the Left Front swept to power with a two-thirds majority in the assembly. However, in 1980 we witnessed how those who subverted democracy returned to power at the centre because of lack of proper political and ideological consciousness of the people. We, the Left and democratic forces, failed to give the leadership in most parts of India that was needed to bolster democracy.
But in 1977, the Left Front won a massive popular mandate and formed the government in West Bengal. I remember when upon the Left Front’s assumption of office, a huge crowd gathered to greet us in front of the Writers’ Buildings. I told them that we would not run the administration only from the Writers’ Buildings. We shall take the help of the people in implementing our programme. We would stand by the workers, employees, peasants, teachers and with all sections of the common people. In West Bengal, we laid emphasis on a radical land reforms programme and more than 13 lakh acres of land have been distributed among the poor and landless people. In our state, about 84 per cent of agricultural land is in possession of the poor and marginalised peasants. This programme is still continuing and the present, seventh Left Front government has also distributed land among the poor people, even though some problems remain because of court cases. We also laid emphasis on agricultural development, on decentralisation of power through the three-tier panchayat system and municipalities, on ensuring one-third reservations for women in the panchayati raj system, and on grant of voting right to 18 year-olds in municipal and panchayat bodies. At present, more than 50 per cent of the state’s plan outlay is spent through rural and urban local self governments. Agricultural production has increased significantly. In fact, West Bengal has achieved the highest growth rate in agriculture among the states. The state stands first in fisheries and social forestry. It has also prioritised the micro and small-scale industries. The interests of the poor people, agricultural labourers and sharecroppers are well protected in the state.
The change in the correlation of class forces in favour of the working people through implementation of land reforms and setting up of panchayats helped the state in achieving commendable growth in rural economy. This is obvious from the fact that a whopping Rs 20,000 crore market per year has been created now in rural Bengal for industrial goods with an annual growth rate of 8 per cent –– the best in the country. According to Planning Commission data, the proportion of population below poverty line in West Bengal has come down from 53 per cent in 1977 to a record low –– around 20 per cent. Whereas job opportunities are increasing steadily, unemployment still remains a serious problem. We have made education free up to class 12 during the first Left Front government. Right now the annual growth rate of the State Domestic Product (SDP) of the state has also reached 8.2 per cent.
The combined effect of remarkable advances in agriculture and allied sectors, a growing internal market along with increasing purchasing power of the people, the locational advantage of the state, availability of skilled workers, scientists and technologists, sharp improvement in power situation, social stability and positive attitude of the state government –– all this has resulted in West Bengal witnessing a turnaround in the sphere of industry in the recent times.
Despite a rich tradition of trade, commerce and industry, West Bengal’s industrial progress suffered considerably in the 1970s and 1980s due to central government’s licensing policy and discriminatory freight equalisation scheme for coal, iron and steel. The deliberate delay for years together in granting clearances to Haldia Petrochemicals Project and Bakreswar Thermal Project is a glaring proof of this discrimination. The Left Front government strongly protested against such deterrents for the industrial growth in the state. Despite carrying out an intense struggle against this discrimination and denial by the centre, the Left Front government could not prevent the downward swing of industries in Bengal.
The central government ultimately made certain policy changes. Licensing system and freight equalisation were done away with due to internal and external pressure. India also accepted globalisation and World Bank policies. The Left has been at the forefront and in fact leading the mass struggle against the surrender of the Indian government to the Fund-Bank dictated anti-people economic and trade policies and its compromise of the principle of self-reliant development.
The Left Front government in West Bengal had to reorient its industrialisation programme in the backdrop of the new developments. In the interest of the people, the state government took certain planned steps to take advantage of the withdrawal of the freight equalisation policy by the centre and the delicensing of industries. In 1994, our new industrial policy document was placed in the assembly. It charts out the policy of the Left Front government to promote an alternative approach for industrialisation with encouragement to new technology and investments that could help the state’s economy through growth along with employment generation.
The basic objective of the state government is to enhance employment generation and higher income for the common people. The sincere implementation of the policy has already started to yield desired results. West Bengal has firmly established itself in the country’s industrial scene. The policy of the Left Front government stands on the conviction that all that the state and its people have achieved on the agrarian front would be at peril if a balanced growth of secondary and tertiary sector through industrialisation fails to take off now. Only that can help release the growing burden of the work force dependent on agriculture and can ensure a more sustainable growth of the primary sector by adding much-necessary value to it and thereby enhancing income and employment — direct and indirect.
I have been a member of the West Bengal assembly since the 1952 first general elections. My trade union and other political activities continued apace. I served as a leader of the opposition for many years as well as a deputy chief minister twice in 1967 and 1969-70. I became the chief minister in 1977 and headed the Left Front government for more than 23 years. For the seventh consecutive time, the Left Front was voted to power with two-thirds majority in 2006. This is a record in parliamentary democracy.
The Left Front government is today 30 years old. This is no mean achievement in view of the limited powers of the states, discriminatory attitude of central governments most of the time and constant effort from some corners, including a section of the media, to denigrate our party and the government based on falsehoods or half-truths. But it is not record-breaking length of the tenure alone; it is the programme and performance of the Left Front government that shapes the depth and purport of these 30 years – a unique saga of development and struggle. It is the experience of the whole country that it is due to our policy that we have been receiving popular support steadily in every election. What they call anti-incumbency factor does not work here. The conscious people of West Bengal have created history and set an example worthy to emulate.
Before being in power, the people of Bengal have seen us as a responsible and constructive opposition. We never created a problem over the developmental programmes for our state or whenever the interest of our people was at stake.
I would also like to mention the experiences of Kerala where the first communist-led government came into existence in 1957. It was dismissed in 1959 by prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru even though we had a majority in the assembly. In 1964, under the union government’s orders, all our central committee members attending the central committee meeting in Trichy, Tamilnadu, were arrested except myself and EMS and detained without trial. Throughout the state, large scale arrests were made and our Party was maligned and slandered by the central government. This was a desperate move to prevent us from winning the 1965 assembly election in Kerala. Even under such conditions, our Party got the largest numbers of MLAs elected, including some from prison, and emerged as the single largest party in the assembly. This was certainly a significant contribution of the people of Kerala to democracy. But as no government could be formed, the assembly was dissolved and president’s rule imposed. In 1967, again election was held and the United Front government was formed defeating the Congress party.
The Left has made significant progress also in the small north east state of Tripura and has been able to unite the Bengalis and the tribals. This is indeed a great achievement. After the influx of Bengalis, the tribals became a minority in the state. Yet, the CPI(M) was able to bring about unity between the tribals and Bengalis.
We have learnt from experience about democracy as it was practiced and adjusted our policies as the reality unfolded itself in the Indian polity. Right at the beginning of independence, we were doubtful whether the Left forces and parties would have the freedom to form governments in the states, let alone in the centre. But after the formation of the first communist-led government in Kerala in 1957, we incorporated in our Party programme the possibility of formation of state governments by the Left parties along with other democratic parties. But we did not think of such governments at the centre. Later, situations arose when we did support non-Congress governments at the centre from outside, three times. The United Front government, which we supported, received the support of the Congress for sometime when the danger of the BJP arose. However, the Congress irresponsibly withdrew support giving advantage to the BJP.
In 1996, after the general elections the United Front leaders requested the CPI(M) to join the central government and proposed me to head the government as the prime minister. The central committee of the Party sat twice and decided on majority basis not to join the government at the centre. The subsequent Party congress too endorsed the CC decision. However, taking the reality into consideration, in the updated Party programme we have now resolved: “to educate the mass of the people on the need for replacing the present bourgeois-landlord State and government headed by the big bourgeoisie even while utilising opportunities for forming such governments in the states or the centre, depending on the concrete situation, and thus strengthen the mass movement”.
This decision is a tactical question which has to be taken into account as it can be helpful for our country and people.
We have also reiterated in the programme that our ultimate goal is people’s democracy, leading on to socialism –– a classless and non-exploitative society. To reach that goal it is necessary to change the correlation of class forces by taking advantage of opportunities under the Constitution and parliamentary democracy. We call upon the people to be eternally vigilant to preserve the democratic rights guaranteed in our Constitution and its basic features, which include secularism.
We will strive to achieve the goal of establishment of people’s democracy and socialist transformation through peaceful means. However, history has shown time and again that the ruling classes, representing the interests of the privileged minority, never relinquish their power voluntarily and seek to defy the will of the people.
I believe that it is the people who create history and we have firm faith in them. They may make mistakes at times but ultimately they will take the correct path in the fight against exploitation of all natures and in the continued ideological confrontation with communal, fundamentalist, obscurantist, undemocratic and pro-imperialist forces. I believe the people will also resist corruption and criminalisation of politics.
I reiterate that we do believe that our Constitution, despite its limitations, is a document which can be utilised for the advance of our people. But it does need changes keeping in view the experience and demands of the people. It is a matter of satisfaction that the democratic system, however imperfect, has survived.
It is of utmost importance that parliamentary and democratic institutions are defended in the interest of the people against such threats and must also be skillfully utilised in combination with extra-parliamentary activities. We have to try to raise the consciousness of the people so that they understand through their own experience the necessity of bringing about fundamental change and advance towards the establishment of people’s democracy and socialism –– a non-exploitative and classless society. After 67 years in politics I feel satisfied that the Indian people have acted time and again to counter reaction and to assert democratic processes.
SUPPORT TO THE UPA GOVT
The CPI(M) is playing an important role in national politics. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the Party won a record number of seats. After fighting anti-people policies of the Congress party and the Congress governments for 45 years we have, along with other Left parties, extended outside support to the Congress-led UPA government at the centre in order to keep the communal forces out of power. After the popular verdict rejecting the BJP alliance, it was necessary to see that the BJP did not get any chance to make a comeback. Given the class character of the Congress and its commitment to pursue economic policies of liberalisation, the Party was not for joining a government but we decided to support the Congress-led government from outside so that the required numbers for a majority are ensured. The Party’s central task was to isolate and defeat the BJP so that the BJP-led government could be dislodged from the centre. The Party and Left forces played an important role in mobilising the people against the BJP-led government’s policies. It is the continuous campaign and struggle against the communal platform of the BJP, its pro-imperialist and anti-people economic policies, its unprecedented corruption scandals and its attacks on democratic rights that helped to create the environment for isolating the BJP and its alliance. The struggles of the working class and other sections of the working people waged by the trade unions and mass organisations also contributed to this effort. The Party formulated an electoral tactical line which called for the defeat of the BJP and its allies, the formation of an alternative secular government at the centre and for strengthening the representation of the Party and the Left in parliament.
The CPI(M) and the Left parties broadly endorsed the Common Minimum Programme which was adopted by the UPA for its government. Though it does not change the basic thrust of the policies of liberalisation, the CMP contains certain measures which, if implemented, can help protect the secular fabric, provide relief to the people in areas like agriculture and employment generation, and meet some needs in education and health. The CMP also provides correctives to the blatantly pro-American foreign policy of the previous government. It advocates an independent foreign policy.
The popular verdict in the elections and people’s aspirations for a better deal has had some impact. We have also expressed our differences in certain areas with the Congress-led UPA government. The Party will support any step taken by the UPA government to implement the pro-people measures in the CMP. However, we do not hesitate to oppose in clear terms any steps which are against the people’s interests, or are a departure from the CMP and which are a continuation of the same type of policies as the previous government’s, be it in economic sphere or foreign policy. For instance, we have expressed our inability to accept the Indo-USA nuclear deal, which compromises country’s independent foreign policy and self-reliance.
The intervention of the Party in all political and policy matters has visibly increased. The consistent role of the Party in defence of national sovereignty, opposition to neo-liberal policies and championing of the interests of the people have earned it greater support among different sections of the people. The Party has ceaselessly countered the communal forces and it is in the forefront in opposing US imperialist pressures and in defence of an independent foreign policy. This has earned it wide recognition among the intelligentsia and amongst those who normally do not support the Left.
I call upon the Congress party to make self-criticism about its policies in the political, economic and social spheres. As a party, the Congress is a secular party, but they are not working substantially to strengthen the anti-communal forces by mobilising the masses. They even compromised with both Hindu and Muslim communal outfits. The Ayodhya issue and Shah Bano case are instances in point. One can remember the failure of the Congress government led by P V Narasimah Rao to take timely action to prevent the saffron brigade from demolishing Babri Masjid. We warned him not to keep faith in the BJP/RSS. But he relied on them. Ultimately, the saffron brigade could demolish the Babri Masjid. The traumatic incident has lowered our prestige all over the world.
THE TASK OF EXPANSION
It is unfortunate that the Left and democratic forces all over India have been unequal to the task despite their attempts to counter reaction. But efforts are on to present a viable alternative. It is heartening to see massive struggles of various sections of the people breaking out. These have to be given proper direction and a correct political perspective, which we have already decided in the 18th Congress of the Party.
Now we need to run a campaign countrywide to popularise what we have done in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerela in this long period. People across the country have to know what type of alternative programmes we have implemented in these states. We have also to raise the question: Why couldn’t other states do what we have done within such severe constitutional limitations and the unfavourable socio-political structure
We are very strong in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. States like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are also strong organizationally. To concentrate efforts for further expansion the party has identified some priority states – Assam, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Organizational measures have been taken so that stronger states can help the neighbouring states in their efforts for expansion.
To strengthen the party organization we have to strengthen our mass organizations too. The membership of our mass organizations have increased manifold during the recent period. But most important is our expansion in the `priority states’. Without strengthening our mass organiszations, we can’t build up a strong party all over the country. It is crucial to expand the party and the mass organizations to new areas and new sections among the people. More and more people today look upto the party with expectation. The party has to be strengthened as an all-India force if a third alternative is to emerge and the way opened to build the Left and democratic front. We are trying with all sincerity to make a breakthrough.
I believe that within the present bourgeois-landlord structure, we have to take whatever little opportunity is available in this system. Our aim is to build up a classless, non-exploitative society, and we have to continue our fight for achieving this goal, though I don’t know how long it will take. As a communist I am always hopeful for a better tomorrow. The dreams of our valiant freedom fighters, their heroic sacrifices will definitely be fulfilled.