People's Democracy

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


No. 19

May 08, 2011




“Left Front Once Again!”


Rajendra Sharma


WITH the fourth phase of polling that took place on May 3, the fate of candidates in 242 out of the total 294 assembly seats is now closed in the electronic voting machines (EVMs). This phase saw more than a crore voters casting their votes for 63 seats in Howrah, Hoogly and East Medinipur districts and in parts of Burdwan district. Earlier, in the third and the biggest phase, votes were polled for 75 seats in Kolkata, North 24 Pargana and South 24 Pargana districts on April 27. This was preceded by polling for 54 seats of North Bengal in the first phase, and for 50 seats of Nadia, Murshidabad and Birbhum districts in the second phase. Now only 52 seats are to go to polls on May 7 and 10, and then one has to wait till May 13 to know what mandate the people of the state give.


Yet it is notable that after the completion of the second phase and just one day before the poll campaigning for the third and biggest phase ended, i.e. on April 24, West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, attended a “Meet the Press” programme at the Kolkata Press Club where he asserted with full confidence that the Left Front would get a comfortable majority in the elections. But how? It may no doubt be said that making such a claim was perfectly natural for a person who has been heading the poll campaign of the Left Front. However, whatever issues and trends have surfaced after more than half of the assembly constituencies have gone to the polls, it does not seem that the chief minister had made any usual electoral claim.


No doubt ‘change’ is the central slogan of the forces that are now aligned against the Left Front. In her poll campaigns, Trinamul supremo Ms Mamata Banerjee has often interpreted this slogan through phrases like “turn upside down,” “overthrow,” etc. Nor can one deny that this slogan has made some impact in a state where the Left Front has uninterruptedly been in power for the last 34 years. Yet it appears that between the first and the third phases of the polling, there has taken place something that has blunted the edge of the slogan raised by the “Jora Congress” --- the Congress pair, as they call it there. This has very much to do with the way the Left Front, in its poll campaign, has brought to the centre-stage the real gist of this slogan. If this countering debate initiated by the Left Front has not been on the defensive in the first three phases --- in fact it has gone on the offensive in this period --- the reason is that the Front has brought to light the real character of this innocent looking slogan. It has thus exposed to the public view the concrete truths of the politics which the Congress pair and their indigenous and outside patrons. At this point, the slogan of ‘change’ becomes just a slogan of reckless politicking.


In this process, the biggest factor has been a juxtaposition of the real political behaviour of the forces that have been raising this moral-looking slogan and the real political behaviour of the Left Front government which this slogan asks to overthrow. Despite all the efforts of the Trinamul supremo and her lieutenants, the Left Front’s poll campaign has effectively established for the common people the proposition that the Trinamul Congress, which is trying out everything to emerge as an alternative, is new or untested force. On the contrary, it is a force which the people have tried in practice and found that it has failed them.


This was a test that took place at two levels. Under the three-tier panchayati raj system, the Trinamul Congress and its allies have been controlling the local management of developmental resources and programmes in 40 to 45 per cent of rural Bengal for the last three odd years and in several urban areas for the last eight months. Now when the people of these areas compare the Trinamul & Company’s performance in these local bodies with that of the Left Front earlier, they find that corruption, nepotism and anti-people measures characterised the ‘change’ that is now being so much tomtomed. The Left Front has been underlining this contrast in its poll campaign.



The second level of judgement involves the UPA-2 government at the centre, of which the Trinamul Congress is the second biggest partner. Though Ms Banerjee and her associates have been doing everything possible to wriggle out of their inevitable predicament, the Left Front’s poll campaign has been able to establish their responsibility as an equal partner of the Congress for all the anti-people and anti-national measures of the UPA-2 regime. These include the incessant and back-breaking rise in the prices of essential commodities, mega scale corruption scams, opening up the doors for foreign capital in pension, insurance, bank, retail trade and other sectors, and procrastination before the US imperialists on several key issues.


Sitaram Yechury points this reality out in his election meetings. He says the difference between the UPA-1 and UPA-2 is not simply that earlier the Congress-led government was dependent on the outside support of the Left while the Trinamul Congress is a part of the government now. It also means the Congress is now free to take all the anti-people steps it wanted to take but was prevented from taking by the Left --- something which eventually shielded the country to a great extent from the fatal impacts of the worldwide economic crisis and recession that started in September 2008. The people cannot help agreeing with Yechury on this point.


The issue does not end with the anti-people measures of the UPA-2 government at the national level or the doings of Ms Mamata Banerjee and her associates in West Bengal; it extends to the conceptions of development and its priorities. Top leaders of the Congress party, an ally of the Trinamul Congress, and in particular the prime minister has been accusing the Left Front of keeping the state of West Bengal --- to their mind --- backward. But, inadvertently of course, this accusation has also served to underline the issues under discussion all the more sharply. This high-pitch propaganda has, on the one hand, brought the Trinamul Congress on par with the Congress party in so far as the policies and priorities of development are concerned. On the other hand, this equation has corroborated the Left Front’s contention that its criticisms are motivated by the ruling class conceptions of development, according to which the GDP growth rate and the number of billionaires is the criteria of development while taking care of the interests of the poor and deprived toiling masses involves unnecessary expenditures which slow down the pace of development. On the contrary, the conception of development that has been motivating the Left Front government of West Bengal is one that views the worth of any development process on the criterion of the interests of working and marginalised masses.


This contrast and clash of the worldview of the Left and that of its opponents has served to a big extent to mobilise the Left oriented people of the state in favour of the Left Front. This got reflected in an appeal recently issued by a large number of intellectuals and artists, urging the people of the state to ensure the victory of the Left Front in the elections. This has happened for the first time in many years. The open canvassing by Dr Ashok Mitra and Somnath Chatterjee in favour of the Left needs to be viewed in this very light. However, this identification of the demarcation line between two class worldviews is not confined to some intellectuals or Left oriented individuals. The priorities decided by the Left Front for the eighth Left Front government in the coming days have also made the common people recall this distinction.


One of the major trends characterising the UPA-2 regime has been the uncontrolled rise in the prices of essential commodities in particular, making the life of the common people increasingly miserable. In sharp contrast to it, and ignoring the highly defective categorisation of APL and BPL, the West Bengal Left Front talks of providing rice at Rs 2 per kg to every family with an income of less than 10,000 a month. This underscores the difference between the two worldviews all the more sharply. As for the Trinamul efforts to belittle this assurance by saying that it is just an election gimmick, the chief minister made all such efforts infructuous by just one stroke. In his meetings, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has been making a plain and simple statement, saying that the state is producing surplus rice and that his calculation is that the state government can easily bear the cost of providing rice to every needy family at Rs 2 per kg. He has also assured that the scheme can be expanded at a later stage to incorporate in its ambit items like pulses, edible oil and sugar etc. The Left Front’s poll campaigners further point out that, in contrast to their viewpoint, the central government controlled by the Congress pair is making all-out efforts to dismantle the public distribution system itself. They have already weakened it to a great extent.


Another issue that highlights the contrast of the two worldviews is of industrialisation in order to create job opportunities for the youth. While the Trinamul Congress has been using the Singur and Nandigram issues to beat the Left Front with, now it is desperately trying to make the industrialists believe that it is not against their interests. In fact, the Trinamul chief and her capitalist backers are making all-out efforts to make the people believe that a Trinamul led dispensation would promote industries and encourage the big capitalists in every possible way. In this regard, the Trinamul Congress has gone much ahead of the UPA 2 government, promising the industrialists every possible concession and facility. This has caused serious apprehensions among the workers of the state. This Trinamul somersault on the issue of industrialisation has made the youth suspicious about the credibility of its promise of providing them jobs. In contrast, the Left Front’s credibility has gone up and its assurance of creating ten lakh new job opportunities through an expansion of manufacturing, information technology and other sectors has been received in a positive way.


The Left Front’s record of performance in the interests of the poor and marginalised, toiling mass, plus its assurances to provide more social security to unorganised workers and to take vigorous measures to better the life of the tribal and minority people, has brightened the Front’s image as an entity that stands with the deprived. In this regard, measures like the provision of provident fund for the unorganised sector workers, of social security for the transport workers and other such schemes sector-wise, and the provision of 10 per cent reservation for the backward Muslims along with its extension to cover in its ambit about a quarter to two lakh Muslims have been constantly in the centre of the poll debate. It is evident that the Congress pair’s slogan of ‘change’ has not been able to relegate these issues to the background.


Along with an exposure of the real class character of Trinamul Congress, the issue of peace and security in the state has also come to the fore. The spate of violence unleashed against the Left by the Trinamul Congress and its junior partner, the Congress, following the 2009 Lok Sabha polls; the Trinamul’s hobnobbing with the Gorkha Janmukti Parishad (GJP) that has been creating problems in the hilly areas of West Bengal on the demand of a separate hill state; its collusion with the Maoists in the Jangal Mahal area; and its moves to vitiate the atmosphere in educational institutions with the help of the hired outside elements --- all these has reminded the people of the bloody days of the 1970s. All the sections who earn their living by daily toil in petty jobs, women and the people belonging to the linguistic and religious minorities have become apprehensive whether the Trinamul brand ‘change’ would usher into a return of violence in the state. After all, in its 34 years stint in power, the Left Front has provided them complete safety, also ensuring that “women could return home alone in the night, without any fear whatsoever.”


These are the circumstances in which the Congress pair are trying to mould the public opinion in their favour and are spending money like anything for this purpose. This demonstration of money power is unprecedented in the history of West Bengal. Equally unprecedented are the well substantiated accusations that have been labelled against the Trinamul Congress that it has been using black money during the elections. Because of this flow of black money, and also because of the corporate houses’ own political agenda, the mainstream media have become the vehicles of one-sided disinformation campaign in West Bengal, though it has lessened the media’s own credibility, its capacity to influence the public opinion and its reliability as a barometer of public opinion in the state. It won’t be therefore surprising if the people of West Bengal deliver a shock to Ms Mamata Banerjee whom the media have been projecting as the winner since the very day the state assembly elections were announced. After all, the people have given them a similar shock in 2001as well.