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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 20, May 9, 2015

Bengal Local Poll Results Don’t Bode Well for the Bjp, Left

Saturday 9 May 2015, by Praful Bidwai


The Trinamul Congress has pulled off a massive victory in West Bengal’s municipal elections by winning 71 of 92 civic bodies (up from 38 won in 2010). Its Kolkata win was even more crushing: 114 of 144 wards (95 in 2010). The entire Opposition accuses the TMC of rigging the elections—a charge that carries some credibility given the scale of the TMC’s victory, huge winning margins of some candidates (for example, 15,000-30,000 votes), and the party’s known reliance on muscle-power.

The TMC was probably anxious to show that scandals like Saradha haven’t seriously hurt its image; it’s set to win the 2016 Assembly elections. But even without rigging, the TMC would probably have won, albeit with thinner margins. This is a comment more on its opponents’ lack of appeal than on its own (limited) attraction to voters.

The elections’ biggest loser is clearly the BJP. Defeated in all the municipal boards, it won a minuscule four per cent of the State’s 2090 wards, and suffered a huge setback in Kolkata. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won a 17-per cent overall vote-share and two seats—the same as the CPM with its 23-per cent vote. It emerged as the Number Two party in Kolkata, winning in 26 wards with a 25-per cent vote-share. Now it has won just seven wards with an estimated 15-per cent share. Its appeal, always limited in Bengal, has faded as the Modi “novelty factor” has worn out. It’s unlikely to become the second largest party in 2016.

The Left has regained its Number Two status, and leads the BJP by a good 10 percentage-points in Kolkata. But the Left is also the elections’ second-greatest loser. Its tally of Kolkata wards has declined from 32 (2010) to 15. In the 91 civic bodies elsewhere, its score has fallen from 15 to five. The Left’s State-level vote-share has declined from 29.6 to an estimated 27 per cent, way behind the TMC’s 42 per cent.

The CPM has taken great consolation in winning the Siliguri Corporation, the second biggest municipality after Kolkata. But the victory there of Asok Bhattacharya, a former Minister and “development-friendly” neoliberal in the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee mould, is hardly a victory of the Left as an ideological-political force. It certainly doesn’t put the Left into revival mode.

In fact, it’s hard to see how the West Bengal Left, in particular the CPM, can revive itself given its dogged refusal to confront the causes of its 2011 rout after 34 uninterrupted years in power. Put simply, the Left lost because it wasn’t radical enough. Its land reform didn’t transfer titles to tenants. It didn’t organise landless workers. The CPM deradicalised trade unions. It pioneered panchayati raj, but turned it into a patronage-system. It degraded educati-onal institutions and allowed social-develop-ment indices to plummet. Its bhadralok leadership failed to combat caste, gender and anti-Muslim discrimination. It often practised violence against its political opponents.

In the 1990s, the CPM began inviting Big Business and predatory multinationals like Wal-Mart to develop the “productive forces”. It forcibly acquired land. The Singur-Nandigram fiascos weren’t causes but effects/symptoms of a deeper malaise: pursuit of neoliberalism.

The CPM’s State leadership denies all this and pays mere lip-service to organising mass struggles, which it hasn’t done despite the loss of 40,000 members. Nationally, the CPM must introspect honestly into the multiple crises besetting it: ideological, strategic, programmatic and organisational. The new party General Secretary, Sitaram Yechury, has been closely aligned with the Bengal leadership. He’d do well to distance himself from it if he wants to revive the Bengal party.

The author, a senior journalist, is a noted columnist and social science researcher.

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