Left Front faces tremors, but split unlikely

By Liz Mathew, IANS

New Delhi : India’s oldest political alliance, West Bengal’s ruling Left Front, is facing unprecedented trouble, with its smaller partners accusing the dominant Marxists of hegemony and warning they may break away.

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The civil war has been spawned by disagreements over the violence in Nandigram, the scene of clashes over farmland acquisition for industry, and the India-US nuclear agreement over which the Communists have flip flopped many times.

The most disenchanted with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which heads the nine-party Left Front, are the Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). The Communist Party of India (CPI) is also miffed.

The CPI-M is confident the differences can be sorted out but the smaller allies are not so sure.

The Forward Bloc, the third largest party in the West Bengal assembly, has decided to go it alone in next year’s panchayat elections. The RSP is thinking of forming “an alternate Left Front” in the state.

A day after Forward Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas said the Left Front was “on course for a split over CPI-M’s unilateralism” and the Nandigram and Singur issues, its national secretary G. Devarajan said the CPI-M’s volte-face over the India-US nuclear agreement had hurt the image of the Left parties.

“The CPI-M has taken a unilateral stand to give a green signal to the government for the IAEA talks. We are finding it difficult to explain this to the people,” Devarajan told IANS over telephone from Kerala.

He was referring to the CPI-M’s last minute go ahead to the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over India-specific safeguards related to the nuclear deal after insisting first that New Delhi should have no truck with the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog.

Devarajan admitted that without the CPI-M’s help it would not have got 23 seats in the West Bengal assembly but added: “Politics is not all about seats.”

The CPI, Forward Bloc and RSP have vocally distanced themselves from the CPI-M over the violence in Nandigram, where clashes between the Marxists and those opposing land takeover have left around 35 people dead this year.

When all and sundry attacked the CPI-M over Nandigram, none of the smaller groups came to its rescue.

The Left parties, the CPI-M included, bitterly oppose the nuclear deal, alleging it would make India subservient to the US. The RSP and Forward Bloc feel there should be no compromise with the government over the issue.

The CPI-M’s green signal for the IAEA talks – although now the Marxists are saying they will never let the nuclear deal become operational – are making the people say “it is a Left-UPA deal”, Devarajan said.

RSP leader Abani Roy, increasingly uncomfortable with “big brother” CPI-M, said his party would review its membership of the Left Front at a leadership conclave in February. The RSP has 20 legislators in West Bengal.

The CPI, the CPI-M’s parent party but which is now dependent on the latter for survival, is more cautious. “The Left Front will not be broken,” its deputy leader D. Raja asserted to IANS.

But he added: “The Left Front needs to be strengthened and it should be remembered that it is not a single party government. There needs to be corrective measures and work collectively. A split is not the answer.”

The CPI, Forward Bloc and RSP have always had varying complaints against the CPI-M in West Bengal and very often their differences have been blared in the open. This is the first time, however, that they have so vocally attacked the Marxists.

Some of the smaller parties in the Left Front, who prides themselves for their ideological purity, also allege that the CPI-M has drifted away from its “anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist” stance.

The Left Front, in its smaller version, was formed in the 1970s and came to power in West Bengal in June 1977. It has ruled the state uninterrupted since then, winning election after election, generating envy in India and abroad.

CPI-M’s Nilotpal Basu is confident his party is not riding roughshod over its smaller allies.

“Everything is discussed in the Front before a decision is taken,” he said. Referring to ideological criticism, Basu said: “We are in a capitalist system. The state government does not decide what kind of economic policies to follow.”

But Basu admitted: “There are problems (in the Left Front). We hope they will be sorted out through discussions.”

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had recently told IANS here: “The Left Front is not any other coalition. It has been together for so long and we have struggled together. The Left Front is here to stay.”