A challenge for the Indian left

By Balraj Puri,

Election to the fifteenth Lok Sabha is a landmark in the politics of India in more than one sense. Each of its aspects are being discussed or will be discussed by political analysts. In particular, contribution of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s personality and policies of his government, Rahul Gandhi’s role, specially in the UP, weaknesses of the main opposition, the BJP, and confusion in the third and fourth fronts are being held responsible for the spectacular victory of the Congress.

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What I have missed in the entire debate is the real causes of the debacle of the left which could win only 24 seats against 61 in 2004. CPM, which is the core of the left could get only 16 seats against 43 last time. Its much trumpeted ambition of installing a non-Congress and non-BJP government at the centre was thus dashed to the ground. Against this the UPA has got an absolute majority in Lok Sabha.

Out of the two bastions of the left namely Kerala and West Bengal, the former is used to periodic changes in loyalty of the voters from the Left Democratic Front to the Congress led United Democratic Front. But West Bengal has been a citadel of the leftists for over three decades and a show piece of Communism in India. In this State, CongressTrimamool Congress alliance with 25 seats has trounced the CPM which got only 9 seats while its ally CPI got another 6. The collapse of this left citadel is a puzzle for political pundits and disappointment for all those who wanted a secular progressive opposition as a pressure group for pro-poor policies of the central government, at least to balance the monopoly of the opposition by the right.

West Bengal was supposed to be a test case for the economic policies of the leftists. But since the initial momentum of radical land reforms exhausted, the deprivation index of rural poor is as bad as in lackward states of the UP, Orissa and Bihar. The latest trend shows that West Bengal is gradually replacing these states in exporting manpower to the states like Haryana and Punjab for manual work.

There is another angel to view the West Bengal debacle. Sentiment of Bengal patriotism had always influenced the political behaviour of Bengalis. Jyoti Basu, above all, symbolized Bengali assertion against the central authority. The new leadership in the state has been unable to give adequate ex-pression to that sentiment.

The same people at one time hailed Subash Chander Bose as their hero. He was, of course, no less popular in the rest of the country as he led movement of militant nationalism. But he was not owned by the national movement led by Gandhi. Moreover West Bengal is the only State where the party he founded, namely Forward Block, has remained active and is alive today. It is a part of the CPM led coalition government. The Communist were most vociferous in condemning Bose as an agent of fascism.

In between Shyama Prasad Mukerjee, founder president of Bhartiya Jana Sangh became the most popular leader of West Bengal. His death in a Kashmir jail in 1953 was far more deeply mourned and protest against it was much stronger in the state than elsewhere./

It was certainly the genius of Jyoti Basu and his comrades that they could finally make Marxsim as a symbol and ex-pression of Bengali patriotism. Though it represented mainstream of Bengali called Bhaderlok, it did not make adequate allowance for diversities within the State.

Traditionally Bengali patriotism had two divergent streams. One represented by Bankinm Chander Chatterjee who in his work like Anand Math, which gave us national song Bande Matram, had a pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim bias. The other stream was represented by cosmopolitan personalities like Tagore and M N Roy.

Even under Marxist regime, the Muslims nursed a feeling of neglect. It got an opportunity to registeer its protest in Nandigram last year. Its Muslim majority, represented by Jamiat-e-Ulema, clashed with armed CPM cadres, whom they accused of committing excesses against beal Muslims. Mamta Bannerjee intervened to support them

Soon thereafter, they staged strong protest when dead body of a Muslim technocrat Rizwan ul Rehman, who had fallen in love with the daughter of a Hindu industrialist, was found near a Railway track. The same mood got an ex-pression in demonstrations for externment of in Taslima Nasrin, a Bangledeshi writer accused in her country for sacrilege writing.

Further ammunition was provided to the agitated Muslims by the report of the Sachar Committee which highlighted the fact that Muslim representation in various fields was among the lowest in West Bengal. Dalits, Advisies and ethnic minorities, who had also a feeling of being marginalized, too, got an opportunity to join the opposition ranks.

Rural Bengal was another fortress of the leftists which was so regimented that it looked impregnable. Most of the ration dealers were party workers. They mediated in family disputes and took up problems at higher levels. The leftists had a sort of clientist relations with rural people. The voice of suffocated people also got an ex-pression as the opposition made headaway.

The leftist leaders might do an introspection and review their ideological, political and strategic policies. They must not only make a deeper study of ground realities but also grow with the changing global and national situation.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the Communist parties in Europe converted themselves into social democratic parties. Ironically by the same time democratic socialist movement in India had collapsed. The communist had the opportunity of filling the gap.

Nehru was very keen to see socialists to grow as an opposition party in India. He had invited Jayaprakash Narayan to be his deputy Prime Minister and the socialist party to join in the coalition government, so that it gained experience and strength. But JP rejected the offer and later started a movement for a partyless system. The socialists, who were strongest opposition party in Nehru era, disappeared from he political scene of India. Its reasons cannot be discussed here.

Now it is the responsibility of the Communists to build a broad based leftist alliance which could play the role of a secular progressive opposition which is so vital for the success of democracy and represent interest of the down trodden and aspirations of all ethnic and regional diversities of the country. It could supplement the efforts of the Congress party in tackling the problems of the country.