Left side (lined): CPI(M) at crossroads in Bengal

Left side (lined): CPI(M) at crossroads in Bengal

Politics
Reading Time: 12 minutes

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], the principal constituent of the Left Front in West Bengal, is currently facing an unprecedented political crisis. Although the CPI(M)’s political crisis began after it lost power in the state in 2011, it has turned into an existential crisis since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and 2021 assembly elections. But instead of reviving itself politically, the CPI(M) is indulging in the same wrong practices that have been deepening the crisis.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) under the supervision of the Calcutta High Court have been investigating coal and cow smuggling and school teacher recruitment corruption for the last 19 months. The CPI(M) has used these investigations as weapons to get out of its political crisis and beyond. It has limited its political movement in the state within the ambit of these investigations. But these investigation-dependent activities of the CPI(M) have not alleviated the party’s political crisis, but have exacerbated it. Election results point in that direction.

The Left Front did not do well in the last panchayat elections or the recent Dhupguri assembly by-elections. The CPI(M)-led Left Front has been vocal about the misrule of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal, but the election results show that voters in the state have not accepted the Left but as the TMC’s principal opponent. Instead, they chose the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in that place. As a result, the Left in alliance with the Congress remains in the back row, unable to move forward.

Political analysts feel that the crisis of the Left in West Bengal, where it ruled uninterruptedly for 34 years, is perilous in the current situation. However, according to the state leadership of the Left Front’s major constituent, their current political line— according to which they oppose both the BJP and the TMC by equating them, with less opposition to the BJP and more to the TMC— is the accurate one. However, no comment was made by the party as to why this accuracy failed to increase their votes in subsequent elections.

However, while the CPI(M) has been engrossed in this anti-corruption crusade, it doesn’t pay attention to the possible opportunities to build mass movements of the workers and farmers in West Bengal. As a result, the TMC has succeeded in maintaining its influence among the working class and the farmers. On the other hand, the BJP has benefited from the anti-corruption movement, etc, carried out by the CPI(M). Hence, CPI(M) has become more politically marginalised in West Bengal and as a result, the Left Front has also suffered as a whole.

Where is the CPI(M)’s fault?

(1) Isolation from the class base

While the CPI(M) has been vocal about coal and cow smuggling or school teacher recruitment scams, it has not devised any plan to woo the working class of West Bengal. As a result, the CPI(M) has no connection with the marginal working people who constantly migrate to other states in search of a livelihood. The party has alienated itself from the workers, farmers and common toiling people who are reeling under the economic crisis.

Because of this, a large section of migrant labourers from West Bengal have to struggle on their own against various forms of exploitation, workplace harassment, etc, as they no longer have the support of the Left. Organisations affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the fountainhead of the Hindutva fascist movement and the parental body of the BJP, have managed to woo the Bengali Hindu migrant labourers, working in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi-NCR regions, into their folds using Islamophobic propaganda. 

A large section of these migrant workers, mostly from lower-caste Hindus, become the lethal force of the fascist forces in West Bengal. After they move back to West Bengal, a large section of these migrant labourers function as the pawns of the RSS. They participate in various fascist programmes as the footsoldiers. The vicious cycle continues unabated because the Left in general, and the CPI(M) in particular, has no plan to contain it or curb the influence of the saffron camp.

But if the CPI(M) and other left parties could have tried to stop the migration of labour by intensifying the agitation for their livelihood in West Bengal, then the events would have flowed in another direction. But they either failed or remained unwilling to do that. Nowhere did they raise the demand for increasing the income of the rural poor, improving agriculture, developing irrigation and fixing the minimum support price (MSP) for crops.

By ignoring all these, the Left Front has cut off itself from the classes based on whose support the communists and the Left forces could have regained their lost ground in West Bengal. As a result, the influence of right-wing TMC and the Hindutva fascist BJP has increased to the extreme over these classes.

Hence, the question that arises from the CPI(M)-led Left’s attitude in West Bengal is – Who does the Left represent? Is it the political representative of the workers, farmers and other toiled people, or does it represent the middle class?

(2) Middle class centricity

From the late 1990s onwards, the CPI(M) distanced itself from the working class of West Bengal and gradually started appeasing the middle class. Within a few years, the party’s organisation among the working class faltered and it became a middle-class-oriented ‘babu party’. 

At the same time, the CPI(M) also distanced itself from the state’s marginalised communities—Dalits, tribals and minority communities—towards whom it never had an affinity. It restricted itself to paying lip service to the cause of social justice, that too occasionally. The party focused more on weaning away the urban middle class, mostly the upper-caste Hindus, whose interests collided with the working class and the farmers of the state.

Just as the CPI(M) became middle-class-centric during Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s tenure as chief minister, especially during 2006-11, its class alienation, its apathy towards militant workers’ movements and the forcible expropriation of agricultural land helped the Mamata Bandopadhyay-led TMC to step in to fill the vacuum. Since then, she began to steer the labour-farmer politics of the state towards the right.

However, after the CPI(M) was ousted from power in 2011, many thought its leadership would retrospect its mistakes, undo the class alienation and reinvigorate the party by clinging to its roots. But that hope turned to nothing because the CPI(M) leadership could not accept, firstly, that they were not in power, and secondly, because of this denial, they didn’t give up their arrogance.

Although the nature of the middle class is always to lean towards the ruling party, for its own interests, the CPI(M) confines itself to middle-class-friendly political movements like anti-corruption agitations, thereby generating public opinion in favour of the BJP. History has proven time and again that while anti-corruption movements affect the sentiments of the middle class, fascist forces always grab the fruits yielded by such movements.

Throughout the world—and in India as well—far-rights have come to power with the promises of corruption-free and transparent administration, and the CPI(M) has shunned the working class to pave the way for the middle-class politics that helped the ultra-right. The party has not regained consciousness despite repeated election defeats and it still reiterates old rotten agendas like opening a Tata Nano factory in Singur, a brand that the Tatas disbanded years ago!

(3) Confusion in identifying enemies and allies

The CPI(M) has benefited Bandopadhyay and the BJP by equating an unorganised, lumpen force like the TMC with a well-organised fascist force like the RSS-BJP in the state. By solely targeting the TMC in West Bengal, the party has played second fiddle to the BJP. In between, this has reduced the number of legislators of the entire Left Front, including the CPI(M), to zero in the Parliament and the state’s legislative assembly.

The elimination of the Left in parliamentary politics means that there is no one inside the legislature to fight for the workers and farmers. As a result, the working class of West Bengal are suffering extremely. The BJP government has been able to implement a succession of anti-labour and pro-corporate policies unimpeded in the Parliament because the Left forces are negligible there.

Rather than revisiting its class matrix to fix its problems, the CPI(M) has bound itself in the interests of thousands of middle-class government job aspirants, who will work for the ruling party without any consideration once they get a job. For the sake of a few thousand jobseekers, the CPI(M) has discarded the millions of workers and farmers of West Bengal whose fate is now controlled by the TMC.

The TMC has been protesting across West Bengal demanding the dues of the state, especially the pending wages of the workers involved in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), which offers 100 days of employment to the rural people. They even went to New Delhi to stage a protest, where they were attacked by the police. However, the CPI(M) undermines the demands of these poor people borrowing the parlance of the BJP.

Rather than mobilising the workers for a protracted struggle for their pending wages and organising an agitation in the national capital, the CPI(M) leadership mocked the TMC for taking along the rural workers to the capital. The CPI(M) even didn’t protest Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s brutal police action against those demanding their due wages for the MNREGA work under TMC’s member of the Parliament Abhishek Banerjee. Rather, the CPI(M) mocked the protest and the agony of the unpaid workforce, which again isolated it from the class that it should represent.

As a result of the Left’s apathy towards the MNREGA workers, the TMC could easily allege that the CPI(M) is hand-in-glove with the BJP. When the rural poor, the unpaid workers of the MNREGA projects, find the TMC agitating for their demands, taking their representatives to the capital and enduring police repression, while the CPI(M) is marching to the ED office in West Bengal to demand the arrest of TMC leaders instead of standing by them, then they start feeling hostile towards the Left as a whole.

On the one hand, when the Union government is not paying West Bengal its dues—especially the MNREGA wages—the deprived poor people are unable to find those carrying the crimson banner by their side; while on the other hand, they are finding the right-wing TMC organising agitations and march to the governor’s house to raise their demands. As a result, a large section of West Bengal’s rural poor would naturally feel an affinity towards the TMC rather than the CPI(M). This is further weakening the Left in West Bengal and strengthening the right.

The CPI(M) isn’t even able to consolidate the anti-TMC votes in the state despite the hullabaloo over the recruitment and other scams in which TMC leaders are allegedly involved. The poor people, who oppose the TMC, are choosing the BJP, rather than the CPI(M), as their saviour. One of the reasons behind this is that the saffron camp has enough muscle to resist the attacks of the TMC in the villages. The CPI(M) has completely failed to stop the TMC goons through any proactive resistance movement. As a result, the CPI(M) failed to emerge as the principal opponent of Bandopadhyay as well. The BJP has smartly filled this void. Displacing the Left, Hindutva is now the principal opposition in the state assembly.

The results of the 2021 assembly elections also exhibited an anti-BJP polarisation in West Bengal that has benefited the TMC. There is a strong anti-BJP public sentiment in West Bengal due to its sheer communal character and its hostility towards Bengali identity. The CPI(M) has failed to seize this opportunity to prove its anti-fascist credentials. 

Rather, through constant pitching of the allegation that the BJP and the TMC are equals, the CPI(M) has undermined the threat posed by Hindutva fascism. Equating a loosely organised TMC with an extremely centralised and disciplined RSS, which controls the world’s largest private militia, the CPI(M) has been committing a political blunder for which there won’t be any redemption. It has used the tonality of the BJP to attack the TMC, which raised questions about its sincerity in fighting the Hindutva fascist menace. 

What is the CPI(M) supposed to do?

TMC in West Bengal isn’t sustaining its political hegemony using merely brute force and rigging elections, as the Left accuses. Bandopadhyay’s government has been sustained using various populist schemes, through social engineering to spread influence among various castes and tribes, and by consolidating the Muslim support base of the TMC by projecting the threat posed to the community by the BJP.

To defeat the TMC in the elections, the CPI(M) and the Left Front need to agitate for more public welfare schemes, demand an increase in their benefits and expansion of their coverage, demand an increase in the amount of various allowances and, at the same time, strengthen the rural economy to prevent migration of the working people to other states. There is a need to build public opinion for developing the rural infrastructure and the Left must demand MSP for all crops to enhance the income of the rural populace and generate rural demand for consumer goods.

Along with these, the movement that the TMC is doing for its interests against the Union government’s discriminatory attitude towards West Bengal, the Left should have organised the movement on the streets of New Delhi on their initiative and strengthened their base among the working people and farmers of West Bengal through it. It needs to convince the rural poor that the Left is fighting for them and not against them to ensure better electoral prospects.

Apart from demanding the opening of the closed factories in the state using viable business models and win-win formulae for workers and the owners, the Left must also focus on demanding full-time employment for workers in existing factories, reservation for the “son of the soil” in the state—even in the private sector—and free government-sponsored technical training for those sections of the working population that will lose their jobs to artificial intelligence and other technological developments.

Rather than rhetoric-mongering, the Left must take steps that can help generate income for the poor and provide them with something worth a struggle. The Left must take the initiative to lead the unorganised workers and the gig workers and carry out massive movements to raise their demands for fair wages and better working conditions. Without that, these working people would have no reason to rally behind the Left.

In all kinds of agitations against the Modi government, whether it is against the hike in the prices of food and essential commodities or the hike in fuel prices, the Left must be at the fore. To counter the communal politics they have to repeatedly bring up the class question, the question of livelihood and make constant efforts to free the poor people from the influence of RSS and BJP. They must learn from the experience of the farmers of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, who defied the BJP’s communal politics to rally against the anti-farmer laws of the Modi government and forced the latter to retreat from its obstinate position. Similar movements can break the backbone of the communal ecosystem that’s breeding and nurturing hatred in West Bengal.

Across the state, Bandopadhyay’s government, in connivance with the Modi government, is updating the National Population Register (NPR) in various ways to prepare the National Register of Citizens (NRC). As a result, millions of Bengali Hindu refugees living in West Bengal, most of whom belong to the Namasudra-Matua community, will be disenfranchised. The BJP has duped them by dangling the bait of citizenship before them and the TMC has assured them that nothing untoward will happen. 

However, the entire state machinery wants to disenfranchise them and turn a large number of poor people into cheap, rightless workers for the big corporations. This is a conspiracy that the Left has remained mum on for years and reiterated the wrong assessments done by the right-wing liberals on the issue, who have turned the issue of the citizenship matrix into that of a Hindu-Muslim binary.

The Left Front should also come forward in campaigning and demanding unconditional citizenship for all of those victims of partition who are living in West Bengal. A large part of these refugees are the BJP’s vote bank, so if the Left can present the facts to them and make them aware of their imminent danger, it is bound to break the vote bank of the saffron camp. This will help the CPI(M) and the Left and not the TMC.

Will the CPI(M) take the initiative to turn around?

In the current scenario, when the CPI(M) is not involved in any kind of anti-BJP movement in West Bengal and is only attacking the TMC, probably considering the 2024 Lok Sabha elections as assembly elections, it is natural to question the political ambitions of this party. It’s the TMC that’s yielding the benefits of the CPI(M)-led Left Front’s anti-TMC tirade, because the ruling party can portray itself as the sole force combating the BJP in the state.

Recently, the Modi government raided the offices of the CPI(M)-aligned Newsclick portal in New Delhi using anti-China xenophobia. The portal’s editor Prabir Purkayastha and its HR chief Amit Chakraborty were booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) [UAPA] Act. Purkayastha is reportedly associated with the CPI(M) and is the first activist-journalist associated with the party who has been booked under the UAPA, which, ironically, the Left Front government in West Bengal used for the first time against its political rivals in 2009-10.

Around 46 journalists, employees of the portal and even freelancers who wrote for the portal were raided and questioned by the Delhi Police on Tuesday, October 3rd. The Delhi Police even raided CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury’s official residence to reportedly question a party member’s son working for the portal. Yet, after all these, the West Bengal CPI(M) refused to wake up and smell the coffee. It underestimated the threat posed by the Modi government and refused to take to the streets.

While the Left roared against the BJP in different parts of the country, against unleashing the CBI and the ED to gag the Opposition, the West Bengal CPI(M) rallied to the ED’s office demanding strict action against the TMC. Such infantile actions, where the CPI(M) sought help from the ED, which has become notorious as a partisan agency working on behalf of the Modi government, actually strengthened the hands of the BJP.

By not taking any steps against the BJP, the CPI(M) allowed the TMC to hijack the show and organise protest rallies and stage-in protests near the governor’s official residence. The CPI(M) lost the opportunity to stand up as a fierce opponent of the BJP, which would be a key factor in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

These developments indicate that the CPI(M) in West Bengal is not only unable but also unwilling to project the Left as the principal challenger to the BJP. As a result, the question of how the CPI(M) will regain the lost ground of the Left Front in West Bengal is again emerging in a big way. It’s alleged that the parochial political stand of the CPI(M) is also hurting the prospects of other constituents of the Left Front.

It is not that the CPI(M) leadership doesn’t understand that their parochial politics in West Bengal is causing lasting damage to the Left movement and that if fascist forces like the BJP are not stopped, there will be no chance for mainstream Left politics in the country in the future. But even after these, when a Left party like the CPI(M) gives a free pass to the largest fascist force in the country for the sake of local politics in West Bengal, it is natural to question its political goals.

An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker

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