The CPM in choppy waters
11 February, 2008
When the CPM found itself in 2004 in a position to dictate terms to the ruling alliance at the Centre, it must have presumed that its prospects will get even better. But the opposite has happened. Although the Marxists can claim credit for their success in bullying the Manmohan Singh government into toeing their line on economic and foreign policies, as they have boasted in the party’s political resolution, much of it would sound unreal to those who have kept a tab on the CPM’s, and the Left Front’s, travails.
Yet, as the political resolution says, it is undeniable that the Marxists have been able to stall economic reforms by preventing any forward movement on insurance, banking and pension fund, disinvestment, FDI in the retail sector and, above all, the nuclear deal. Since the list is impressive, it would have been logical to expect the comrades to build on their success in having fought the so-called neo-liberal tendencies and the government’s alleged surrender to “imperialist” machinations.
But even internal assessments are said to have warned the comrades about a fall in Lok Sabha seats. Why this gloomy forecast at atime of seeming success? The CPM’s weakest point is none other than its supposedly impregnable bastion of West Bengal. The root cause of the party’s decline can be traced to this very invulnerability, for herein lay the seeds of its hubristic mistakes in Singur and Nandigram.
Having lorded over the state for three decades, the CPM had come to believe that it could brush aside any obstacle. This overweening confidence was boosted by its success in the 2006 Assembly poll, in which it decimated the opposition where in so far as seats won were concerned, but not in the matter of voting percentages. The mandate convinced Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya that he could push through his industrialisation programme without caring for the resistance put up by Mamata Banerjee, who, to be fair, has always blindly opposed whatever the Marxists had done or proposed to do. But why the tide of public opinion should have turned against the Marxists after 30 years of “dictatorial” rule is not something which
Bhattacharya could have anticipated. However, there were significant pointers. First, the chief minister had limited support in his own party about his pro-capitalist ventures and virtually none at all among his Left Front partners, such as the CPI, the RSP and the Forward Bloc. Secondly, even after the chief minister was able to convince a reasonably large number of his party men of the necessity of his new initiatives, he did not care to take the trouble of trying to persuade the partners also.
What is worse, his Stalinist instincts apparently told him that having secured the approval of his own party, he could bulldoze his way through the other obstacles. But, for once, these characteristic tactics of Big Brother could no longer work because the CPM was overturning its own ideology by courting the private sector, the long designated class enemy. What Deng Xiaoping could do in a regimented state could not be done in a free-wheeling society, where socialists of various hues have long had a field day.
The CPM’s heresies gave the little brothers the opportunity to get their own back for all the humiliations which they had suffered since 1977. As long as they were being browbeaten over Marxist ploys — control of trade unions, appointment of fellow travellers in various positions, etc — they had make do with whatever concessions the CPM gave them. But Big Brother’s deviation from dogma gave them the opportunity to unfurl the red flag in an attempt to hold on to their little pockets of support. Ideology was something which these parties thought they could conveniently exploit.
But even this may not be full explanation. What seems to have also happened is that the smaller parties had begun to sense the loss of the CPM’s earlier standing among both the ordinary people and the intelligentsia. As much was evident from the outbreak of what was known as the ration riots over the diversion of foodgrain from ration shops to the open market by unscrupulous traders acting in collusion with the Marxist apparatchiki.
Then came the Rizwanur Rahman episode, where a young Muslim technocrat from a lower middle class family committed “suicide” following the intervention of the top brass of the police over his marriage to the daughter of a wealthy Hindu businessman. It became starkly evident from this tragedy how the professionalism of the police had been eroded by political interference.And these links became all the more apparent when the chief minister refused to remove the police commissioner of Kolkata until the patriarch of the party, Jyoti Basu, called for it. It was the Rizwanur affair which made the Left intelligentsia take to the streets in an unprecedented gesture of protest against a Leftist government. But it was over Nandigram that their fury knew no bounds, for it was a clear case of a Gujarat-style pogrom with the police being asked to look away while the armed cadre violently “recaptured” Nandigram by evicting the opponents of the CPM, who had earlier evicted CPM sympathisers. Hence, Bhattacharya’s tart observation that the Trinamool Congress, the Maoists, the Socialist Unity Centre and others in Nandigram had been paid back in their own coin. While the Left intellectuals may have been genuinely horrified by the CPM’s eye-for-an-eye tactics, they should have remembered that these were the very same methods which the commissars had used to root out the support bases of Trinamool Congress and others in areas like Keshpur, Chhoto Angaria and elsewhere. But since these clashes were portrayed as ones between the haves and the have-nots, the intellectuals kept mum.
THE FINAL straw for the latter was the unseemly haste with which the Marxists bundled out Taslima Nasreen from Kolkata when a little known Muslim group started a mini-riot. Unlike Nandigram, where the police were silent spectators of lawlessness, the state government’s concern for law and order in Kolkata was so great that it called out the Army. But even as peace was restored, it was evident that the Bengali Marxists’ preference for capitalism went hand in hand with submission to Muslim fundamentalism — just as “development” in Gujarat incorporates Hindu fanaticism.
It isn’t any surprise that Prakash Karat’s stint as general secretary has seen the party slide from the heights of 2004 to the present when, apart from its travails in West Bengal, the factionalism among his comrades in Kerala led to the highly unusual step of both the chief minister, VS Achuthanandan, and party chief, Pinarayi Vijayan, being ousted from the Politburo. They were reinstated following the flak which the party received on the Nandigram issue presumably to present a united face to the outside world. Nandigram also persuaded the CPM to drop its earlier insistence that the Centre should not approach the IAEA on the nuclear deal.
It is these acts of expediency on ideology — in favour of neo-liberalism in West Bengal but against it at the Centre — as well as on tactics, as over the nuclear deal, which may have emboldened parties like the Forward Bloc, which has now decided to contest the panchayat polls in West Bengal and the Assembly elections in Tripura on its own, underlining a rupture which bodes ill for the Left Front. After all, the difference in voting percentages was minuscule in West Bengal in 2006, when the Left’s vote share was 50.2 percent while its opponents secured 49.7 percent. Of the latter figure, the Trinamool Congress and the Congress together won 41.2 percent. Since the CPM’s voting percentage is 36.9, it is obvious that the vote share of the Congress-minded section of the population is higher even in the context of “scientific rigging”.
In fact, this has been the case in virtually all the elections where the Congress, or the Congress and the Trinamool Congress together, have been ahead of the CPM. Hence, the importance of Left unity. Even if the Forward Bloc does not walk out, the Left Front will still be in trouble because, first, many of its Leftist sympathisers are unlikely to vote for it and, secondly, if the Congress and the Trinamool Congress decide to fight the elections together. The CPM may be still seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, but it is growing dimmer.