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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 48

A Left Front in the Service of the Bourgeoisie

Sunday 16 November 2008, by Kripa Shankar

Chandrachoodan (Mainstream, August 16, 2008) has argued for the formation of a Third Alternative in which the Left parties will form the fulcrum to be able to implement the Left programme. Chandrachoodan is the General Secretary of the Revolutionary Socialist Party which is a partner in the Left Front Government in West Bengal where the Front is ruling the State uninterruptedly for the last three decades. The Left Front during this period has failed to project any new model of development and hence Chandrachoodan’s argument for a Third Alternative has little appeal. Had the Left Front Government in West Bengal taken any step in projecting a new model it would have changed the political scenario for in that case the democratic forces would have rallied behind this Front. Currently a sense of cynicism is prevailing among the people that no party or coalition of parties is going to deliver the goods. In this situation the Rightist paties are trying to fill the vacuum by dividing the people on the divisive slogans of caste, religion and community. They are gaining precisely because the Left parties, which ought to be in the forefront for mobilising the people, are running governments in some States, and till recently were supporting a government at the Centre whose main agenda is to facilitate the entry of foreign capital in the interest of the imperialist countries. The Left parties are getting discredited as they have become part of the Establishment and are serving the vested interests. Their recent withdrawal of support to the Central Government has made their position still more ridiculous. Why, in the first instance, did they support a government whose alliance with imperialist powers and international finance is no sercret?

But the Left parties will be judged more by what they are doing in the States where they are the ruling parties, more so in West Bengal where they are ruling uninterruptedly for the last thirty years. No doubt through ‘Operation Barga’ a large number of tenant farmers were provided security. Thirty per cent of cultivators in West Bengal are tenant cultivators out of which 17 lakh bargadars have been recorded and given security of tenure. Support from this section along with the vote of minorities provides an almost invicible electoral support to the Left Front Government which cannot be displaced by any other political formation. But this should not breed complacency as its failures are glaring and cannot be ignored. A few may be noted.

The 73rd Constitutional Amendment has empowered States to devolve funds and power to local bodies and village Panchayats to undertake all developmental activities at the local level so that they could function as “institutions of self-government”. It was hoped that the Left Front Government would faithfully implement it as it is guided by Lenin’s famous dictum of “all power to the Soviets”. This measure would have meant a break from the past insofar as people would take the command of preparing and implementing the plans at the local level in their own hands. It would have unleashed the vast potential of the people for reconstruction of the country. Simultaneously it would have also made the colonial bureaucracy redundant to a large extent and it is quite evident that this bureaucracy is acting as a drag. But it is this bureaucracy which is the de facto ruler and the political leadership plays only second fiddle to it. Any democratic transformation process would weaken the bureaucracy as well as the power of the political class. Hence we find that there is a close nexus between the two and West Bengal is no exception. If the Left Front Government is not prepared to implement the constitutional directive in the spirit in which it has been enacted, it shows that the bureaucracy has almost taken it over precisely because the leadership of the Left Front and the bureaucracy have the same class orgin. It is a parasitic upper middle class which has its genesis in the colonial structure and consequently has a vested interest in preserving the same Establishment. In that sense the difference between various mainstream political parties and formations, be they Right, Centre or so-called Left, is tenous. The only difference is the manner in which they woo the vote-bank.

IT is of interest to note that the West Bengal Government is as much interested in maintaining the colonial administrative structure (whose distinctive feature is the iron hand of the police) as any other Rightist party. The current expenditure on police by the Left Front Government in West Bengal at Rs 1500 crores is one-and-a-half times higher than the combined revenue and capital expenditure on agriculture, soil and water conservation, animal husbandry, dairy development, fisheries, forestry, plantation, agricultural reseach and education, cooperation, warehousing, storage and crop insuacne put together. (Vide State Finances: A Study of Budgets 2007-08, Reserve Bank of India) Its expenditure on irrigation is only 60 per cent of what is spent on police. The expenditure on industries is less than 50 per cent of the police budget. The expenditure on the Budget head known as ‘rural development’ is slightly higher than the expenditure on police but the bulk of it goes to establishment expenses and the money that is given to legislators in the name of developing their constituencies. Capital expenditure on this head is almost nil (Rs 5 lakhs). How would Com Chandrachoodan characterise such a state?

If agricultural production has risen, it is not due to public investment but because of household investment. After meeting salary, pension and interest on borrowings very little is left to make capital investment. Annual interest payment of Rs 12,000 crores takes away half of the revenue receipts. West Bengal happens to be the highest indebted State in the country in terms of per capita indebtedness. Even in absolute terms only UP has higher indebtedness. The State has chosen the soft option of borrowing instead of raising its revenue resources. The per captia State tax revenue is one of the lowest in West Bengal. The per capita Plan expenditure is also one of the lowest, higher than only Bihar, Orissa and UP. It cannot but impact on public investment and the overall growth of the State. The share of West Bengal in industrial production used to be round 10 per cent in 1980-81; now it has come down to five per cent of the all-India industrial production. It has almost the highest unemployment rate.

In the rural areas, as shown by the National Sample Survey, the proportion of landless households in West Bengal increased from 39.6 per cent in 1987-88 to 41.6 per cent in 1993-94 and further to 49.8 per cent in 1999-2000. (Quoted in West Bengal Human Development Report, 2004, p. 39) Land concentration is equally conspicuous in West Bengal where, according to the NSS 48th Round, land held by the top one per cent is equal to the land held by bottom 60 per cent of the rural households. The per day per capita consumer expenditure fo the bottom 10 per cent of the population is Rs 8 only andfor the entire rural population it is Rs 15 while for the entire population it is Rs 20. For the country as a whole the same is Rs 23.

Industrial development is essential for the State but it seems the Left Front Government has no policy in this regard except to create facilities under Special Economic Zones by unjust land acquisition to woo national and international capitalists who will not be required to pay any tax and get many other concessions under excise and customs duties. The Union Government has admitted that the annual loss of revenue from the existing SEZs will be roughly Rs 25,000 crores. It is a quirk of history that Marxists in West Bengal and national and international capital are in league with each other to follow a policy of unabated exploitation of the resources of the State to enrich the latter.

If the performance of the Left Front Government in West Bengal is any indication, how would the proposed Left Front Government either at the Centre or in other States as envisaged by Chandrachoodan be different from any other ruling party or a coalition of such parties? If the Left in the country has lost its lustre it is precisely because the Left Front Government in West Bengal, instead of initiating a process of democratic reorganisation of the society, has ended up serving the vested interests and the bourgeoisie

The author is a Honorary Fellow, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.

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