The Left has to introspect and rethink after this huge loss in West Bengal - Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
Newsclick Production, May 16th, 2011
This was not merely an electoral loss but a major defeat of a bastion, says Paranjoy Guha Thakurta about the Left Front's loss in West Bengal. He argues that there has to be a rethink in the Left's political outlook and organisation following this loss.
Srinivasan Ramani (SR) Hello and welcome to Newsclick . In what must be a defining moment in West Bengal political history, the long standing left government was finally voted out of power after 34 long years, the Mamata Banerjee led Trinamul Congress defeated the Left Front comprehensively and Mamta's long cherished ambition of becoming Chief Minister has finally come alive. We have with us Paranjoy Guha Thakurta Senior Political Analyst and we shall discuss election results with him.
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (PGT): Srini, you said this is a defining moment in the history of West Bengal it's a defining moment in the history of left politics in india and the world and the reason for that is west Bengal is the only state in India and the only part of the world where you had a communist party led left coalition which has been the elected to power no less than seven times in a row over a thirty four year period. Now that red fort has crumbled and the left bastion is the thing of the past and the defeat of the left I should say decimation of the left has been truly spectacular.
SR: Let's debate whether it is decimation or not but the defeat itself was something that was quite expected. Right because after the Singur Nandigram incidents, Left Fronts seems to have lost in various forms of elections in West Bengal be the Panchayat elections in 2007, the Loksabha elections in 2009 the municipal elections in 2010 again so this was kind of expected. it was already in the backfoot as it entered the preperations for the assembly elections.
PGT: You are right. The writing on the wall was apparent but let's just step back for a moment. what happened in 2006 with the Left Front got 235 out of 294 states in the state assembly to send surprised a large number of people including the left. The left together got more than half, they have almost fifty one percent of the votes and this was in a sense the beginning of the end which few people didn't anticipate. t's almost as if beginning of the end of the Mughal empire started with Aurangzeb when the Geographical size of the Mughal empire was its biggest why what happened because Singur happened, Nandigram happened and as you rightly pointed out in 2008 the Left Front lost more than half of the Panchayat Elections it had contested. In 2009, the Lok Sabha elections the number of MPs belonging to the left came crashing down from thirty five to fifteen the number of MPs belonging to Trinamul Congress it was just one only Mamata Banerjee had went up to one to 19 and that trend got reinforced in 2010 in the municipal elections but the point to note, is that if you extrapolate the Lok Sabha elections results on to the state assembly then left still got a third roughly 99 out of 234 seats the left was leading. But what happened on 13 of May 2011, was the left got became even more. it got further weakened and the number of seats of the left front has slipped below the quarter mark . The CPI(M) the Communist Party of India (Marxist) the leader of the left front is now the third largest party in the state assembly after the Congress. The congress has 42 members but the CPM has 40 and very very significantly at least five stalwarts of the left have suffered humiliating defeats at the hand of the political opponents starting with Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya followed by Nirupam Sen industries minister, Urban Development Minister, Gautam Deb, the stalwart of the left in North Bengal, Ashok Bhattacharya not to mention finance minister Ashim Dasgupta. It's interesting that these stalwarts have all suffered humiliating defeat and what is even more significant is the left candidates who have won notably Abdul Razzak Mollah, he was land and land reform minister and he was clear opposed to the manner in which farmland fertile farmland was acquired four industry in Singur and Nandigram but he was marginalized he was marginalized by Nirupam Sen, by Budhadeb Bhattacharya but the people have reposed faith in him. So the left front candidates who won have despite the anti left-wave despite that green Tsunami which has swept the state because of their personal credibility.
SR: The sub text is that land acquisition and industrialisation policy that is being the major reason for the left's fall in fortunes but there's also this argument that the united opposition which was absent in 2006 and the long-standing anti-incumbency factor is it a combination of all three factor.
PGT: You are right it's not one factor, when wave takes place when what people describe as a wave becomes a Tsunami when that mild breeze becomes a cyclone it's on account of a combination of factors and importantly it is undoubtedly the reason is the manner in which fertile farmland was sought to be acquired for industrial projects that surely very very important. The fact that here was Tata Motors company saying that they are going to produce world's cheapest car and after that factory to produce that car is 80 percent complete Tatas pack up and leave but more than that I think it's not just this factors alone. Anti-incumbency sentiments why were they conspicuous by the absence because the left front has done good work because it has given land to to the landless, rights to the tiller but the agriculture productivity in Bengal after doubling for almost two decades, stagnated . But, new jobs could not be created in industry that's one part of the story but I think the left cadres got arrogant. There were corrupt elements, there were criminal elements and despite the fact that two out of three sitting MLAs were not given tickets in 2011 it was not adequate to stem or to check that wave that huge anti left wave Let's go beyond the Arithmetic let's look at the fact and this is something that that cannot deny that there was strong anti left mood sweeping across all sections of that state in Eastern India, cutting across classes cutting across regions and that is why the left needs to truly introspect It came to power 1977 through the ballot and it's been thrown out also by the ballot. The high voting percentage remember everybody was wondering what did this all mean. Now it's clear it's clear as clear can be. The large numbers of people came out to vote many perhaps for the first time including those between the ages of 18 and 22 and it can be confidently asserted today that most of them voted against the left.
SR: Having said that the preliminary figures point out that the left got 41 percent of the vote now this is the substantial chunk of votes that any coalition can get. If you compare it with other ruling coalitions, other ruling party's in different states. 41 percent is a substantial number. Do you think that's the number that left can work on and possibly use to recover in after sitting in opposition.
PGT: Well Left should be grateful for the small mercies. it should be grateful that they had forty percent of the electorate of West Bengal voted for them. You are aware that in India we follow a system which is the first past the post the winner takes all. But if you look at the drop in the vote share between 2006 and 2011 there was nine percent close to ten percent nine percent drop in the vote share. Now that's a significant swing against the Left Front. That explains why the left front has been reduced to less than a of the fourth of the state assembly and why the CPIM has become that third largest party . The CPI(M) on its own used to have a majority but today it's in number three position
SR: Let's shift focus on the opposition parties, the Trinamul Congress . Now Trinamul rode a wave which had conflicting political force in it. So you had at one level the tacit support from Maoist. some where debating but there were statements from the press which said Kishanji, the Maoist protagonist in the area kept on saying that the ideal Chief Minister for Bengal is Ms. Mamata Banerjee and then you had SUCI which another left of the left force in from West Bengal. Then you had another completely ideologically opposed Amit Mitra former Ex FICCI Chairman. Secretary General. So what kind of political direction do you think the Trinamul going to give when it is going to be power?
PGT: Time alone will tell what kind of direction or what kind of ideology the Trinamul Congress will give as far as economic policies and industries policies are concerned. But, let's also understand two or three things . The left said the reason why they left we lost in 2009 was because the General Secretary of the the Communist Party of India Marxist, Mr. Prakash Karat wanted to cobble together an amorphous third front Mayawati, Jayalalithaa, Chandrababu Naidu and so on and so forth and the people didn't want that in particular Muslims of West Bengal remember the Muslims comprises of twenty seven percent of the population of West Bengal. Their proportion has gone up from 24 percent and 2001 to 27 percent 2011 They clearly wanted to keep BJP or BJP led NDA kind of government out and these are all looking at reasons why the left didn't do well. The fact is the left didn't do well because the people were unhappy with the left, they were unhappy with the arrogance of the left, the manner in which the so-called cadres of the CPI(M) sort to into the lives of everybody, every human being the manner in which appointments were made to educational institutions of government appointment, the manner in which the benefits on government of India programs were not evenly given to all sections of the population but only to those sections of the population which owe political allegiance toward the ruling coalition all of it went against left and remember there were lot of sections of people who were traditionally voters of the left, they voted against left. So the point that is very important to vote one of the reasons why they saw this kind of the Tsunami against the left was because even the traditional supporters of the left in West Bengal voted against the left. They may not have voted for Ms. Mamata Banerjee they may not have voted for the Trinamul Congress or the congress but they cast their vote against the left because they believe as long as the left was in power in writers building the CPI(M) and the other left parties wouldn't be able to clench themselves wouldn't be able to rid the party of corrupt elements, the venal elements, the criminal elements . So even those who were traditionally left oriented who have supported the left I would say even for six times or seven times in the past.
SR: So can one conclude this is not vote against leftist ideology per se?
PGT: I do believe today even the Trinamul Congress or the elements within the Trinamul Congress espouse a leftist ideology. You are correct when you say everybody is united against the left front, from the extreme left to the extreme right. But, when the leftist cadre, the CPM cadre started seeing in what was happening in this grand conspiracy from American imperialism to left wing Maoism all coming together to defeat the left what they ignored was their weakness. All of this. I accept, yes there was a conspiracy against the left. But, that couldn't give me why the left would have been defeated unless the left was weak. And this is my introspection is very very important you know. I was listening to some left leaders, the communist party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta, he says, it was arrogance of power. The left leaders were no longer they were talking at people they were not listening to people, talking to them.So all these factors came together to result. Does this mean the leftist finished as a political force in West Bengal? The answer is no the struggle ahead is long is arduous in the seventies in the eighties and in the nineties In West Bengal, the left played a great role a brilliant role in providing basic needs of the people whether it be land , whether it be food, to some extent education, healthcare but not as much as they could have done. But most importantly this is a new India it is not enough to be able to provide the needs of the people you also have to take care of their aspirations. I think, the left has to reinvent itself. The left will have to look ahead. In this country whether it's socialism or communism or leftist ideology, still has a lot of relevance. One out of four persons in this country is abysmally poor. A third of the geographical area of this country which bio diverse parts of India which has the most valuable natural resources also inhabited by the poorest of the poor . Why has the left not being able to expand its base in these areas why it has been confined to three out of the twenty-eight states Tripura, West Bengal and Kerala. As for the left become weaker the time alone came tell. At the national level after 2009, we have to wait for 2014 for next round of general elections till then the number of MPs in Loksabha is unlikely to change Time alone can tell, how if the left will be able to rejuvenate and learn from the mistakes it committed over the next few years .