Wednesday, June 25, 2008
DEFEND LEFT FRONT GOVERNMENT OF WEST BENGAL
By Prakash Karat
From People's Democracy, 24.06.2007
June 21, 2007 marks a historic anniversary. This date marks the completion of thirty years in office of the Left Front government of West Bengal. This is a record not only in India but the world. There is no precedent for this remarkable record of a Left formation having won seven successive elections to a state legislature and that too with not less than a two-thirds majority each time. In fact, in the last elections held in May 2006, the Left Front won a three-fourths majority and polled 50.18 per cent of the vote.
It is this sustained popular base and electoral support that has surprised and perplexed many. After the first successive victories, the propaganda began that these are the result of a unique form of “scientific rigging” refusing to recognise the substance of the policies pursued by the Left Front government. The opponents and the rightwing took recourse to the charge of “scientific rigging” by the CPI(M) to account for their failure to democratically defeat the Left Front.
The May 2006 assembly elections saw the stringent supervision and at times unwarranted intervention of the Election Commission. This put paid to the propaganda of rigging. After having praised the free and fair polls organised by the Election Commission, the ruling class parties and the big bourgeois owned media were in for a shock. The Left Front increased its votes and seats compared to the previous election.
There is another way of trying to deal with this phenomenon of durable Left Front rule. That is to cite certain peculiarities of West Bengal and to argue that the CPI(M) has become a natural party of Bengal. This is also an attempt to deny the real significance of the political base of the CPI(M) and Left Front rule in the state.
PRODUCT OF CLASS STRUGGLES
What accounts for the strength of the CPI(M) and the political base of the Left in West Bengal? Firstly, the base of the Party and the Left has been built through decades of class struggle. In the rural areas, the struggle for land against jotedars, the rights of the bargadars and the struggle of the agricultural workers were the basis for the CPI(M)’s development. In the cities and towns, the organisation of the workers, employees and the other sections of the working people has been the instrument for political mobilisation. The CPI(M) conducted a long and arduous political struggle for the creation of a united Left Front which formed the basis for a stable Left Front government. For doing so, it drew upon the experience of the first communist government of 1957-59 in Kerala and set out a tactical direction in its Party programme adopted in 1964 about how the Party should utilise the opportunities to enter state governments where it is a leading force.
The Left Front government elected in 1977 was preceded by the United Front government of West Bengal in 1967 and 1969. These governments were formed in the background of the rising struggles of the working class, peasantry and the rural poor. Given the all India political situation in the 1960s and the hostility to the communists among the whole ruling class political spectrum, it was not possible to sustain these governments beyond short spells. However, these governments helped in advancing the struggles of the working class and the peasantry and strengthening the political base of the CPI(M) and the Left. The CPI(M) had to undergo six years of semi-fascist terror in which it lost 1100 of its cadres and activists.
Looking back it can be seen how the Left Front governments worked within the constraints of the existing constitutional and socio-economic system to implement land reforms, decentralise powers, institute the panchayat raj system, accomplish growth in agricultural production, protect democratic rights, ensure communal harmony and nurture secular values. It is these set of policies and measures implemented by the Left Front government backed by a powerful democratic movement and the political mobilisation of the masses that made the Left Front government distinctive. The people could see and experience the difference between a Left-led government and the state governments run by the bourgeois parties.
The CPI (M) programme advocates the abolition of landlordism and the implementation of land reforms as the basis for accomplishing the democratic revolution. Every Left-led government in India whether it be in Kerala, West Bengal or Tripura have striven to accomplish land reforms in a limited way within the constraints of the Constitution and the legal set up. The Left Front government of West Bengal has been in the forefront of implementation of such land reforms. The government acquired over 11 lakh acres of land and distributed the same among 25 lakh landless and small peasant households. Under Operation Barga, 14 lakh sharecroppers were registered bringing another 11 lakh acres of land under the control of the bargadars.
Alongside, the Left Front governments revitalised the three-tier panchayati raj system. A big majority of the elected representatives in the panchayati raj system came from the small and marginal peasants, adivasis and dalits. More than one-third of the seats are occupied by women. This democratic system was institutionalised 17 years before the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments became enforceable in all the states. It is the land reform programme and the institutionalisation of the panchayati raj system which provided the backbone for the rural base of the CPI (M) and the Left Front.
The 30 years of the Left Front government can be more or less equally divided into two phases. In the first phase – 1977 to 1991 – the Left Front government was working under a regime where State regulation of the economy under a capitalist path of development existed. The role of the central government and the nature of centre-state relations were different in this period. The centre had licensing powers for industry and allocated resources for public investment and development. During this period, West Bengal suffered from discrimination. The successive central governments would discourage industries being set-up in West Bengal and utilised the licensing power to the detriment of the state. The centre also wielded its financial powers in a manner to deprive the state of public investment. In this period, the Left Front had to wage continuous struggles to oppose discrimination.
Due to this iniquitous centre-state relations and due to an inadequate appreciation in the earlier years, that the Left Front government is in for a long stint in office, industrial development languished. In fact, West Bengal which was the front-ranking industrial state at the time of independence slipped behind and in 1985, it was only contributing 8 per cent of the total industrial output in the country.
The second phase in which the Left Front government is now working began in 1992 and continues upto now. This is the phase of liberalisation and the deregulation of the State control and intervention in the economy. It is also marked by the push for neo-liberal policies and the drastic cutbacks on State investments. The centre’s withdrawals from welfare and social sector responsibilities have also had a serious impact on the state.
THRUST FOR INDUSTRIALISATION
After the significant success achieved in increasing agricultural production in the state based on the policy of “walking on two legs”, land reforms and panchayat raj institutions, it was necessary to give priority for industrialisation in the next phase of development. The fifth Left Front government adopted an industrial policy in 1994. While maintaining and upgrading the existing public sector enterprises in the state, particularly big centrally run PSUs, the Left Front government began to take the initiative to attract private investment so that the state could have a strong industrial base and acquire high technology. While promoting private investment, the government is committed to defending the interests of the working class and their trade union rights. The state government has supported small-scale industries as a matter of policy. The number of small-scale industries working in the state increased from 19.1 lakh in 1994-95 to 27.7 lakh in 2000-01. West Bengal already ranks first amongst all states in respect to both number of working units and employment generation in the small-scale sector. The Rs 10,000 crore modernisation of the IISCO factory under the auspices of the SAIL, the Tata motors plant in Singur and the new steel plants proposed to be set up are part of this drive for industrialisation.
With agriculture as the basis, building industry is the perspective. In this process there has to be some conversion of agricultural land since fallow land accounts for only one per cent of the total land area of the state in contrast to 17 per cent at the all India level. The CPI(M) and the Left Front are clear that industrialisation will not and should not undermine the gains made by the peasantry through land reforms and achievement of food security.
ATTACKS ON LF GOVERNMENT
Based on the land acquisition in Singur for the automobile plant and the proposed chemical hub at Nandigram, a big campaign was unleashed against the CPI(M) and the Left Front government. The CPI (M) is being accused of reversing its stand and going against the interests of the peasantry. The attack which has mainly come from a “Left” position condemns the CPI(M) and the Left Front government for betraying the interests of the peasantry and taking over land to hand over to the big capitalists. The setting up of a major automobile plant in Singur will provide a fillip to industrialisation. The compensation package for the landowners and the bargadars, the creation of new jobs and linkages in industries will provide lasting benefits to the people in that area.
In Nandigram, the picture has become clear on what has been happening there in the past few months. The violent struggle launched by a motley combination of the Trinamul-Jamaat-SUCI-Maoists has nothing to do with land. The state government had categorically declared that no land acquisition is going to take place for a chemical hub in Nandigram. It is a political struggle to oust the CPI(M) and finish off the Left’s presence in the area. The reality of class struggle in rural Bengal where the forces of reaction seek time and again to push back the Left and democratic forces is being seen in a microcosm in Nandigram just as it was seen in the Garbeta-Keshpur belt eight years ago. The CPI(M) and the Left Front will meet this challenge too and come out successful.
DEFEND LF GOVERNMENT
The concerted attack on the Left Front government using Singur and Nandigram is aimed at weakening and isolating the CPI(M) and the Left not only in West Bengal but all over the country. It is the existence of the Left Front government for the past three decades which has provided the ballast for the Left movement in the country. If the country has withstood the onslaught of communalism in the last two decades, a major contribution has been due to the existence of the Left Front government of West Bengal which has a sterling record in defence of secularism. West Bengal witnessed the horrors of partition. Communal forces both Hindu and Muslim were active at the time of independence. But the dominance of the Left and the existence of a government staunchly committed to preserving communal harmony saw the state of eighty million people being free of communal violence for three decades. This has been a beacon for all the anti-communal and secular forces.
If divisive caste politics has not entered West Bengal, it is due to the class-consciousness developed by the Left Front and its government.
If the struggle for a federal system and the rights of states vis a vis an over-centralised system exists today, it is also because of the endeavours of the Left Front government. Finally, in the struggle against the neo-liberal policies and for pro-people measures, it is the strength of the Left in West Bengal that gives the weight to the all India struggle. In every movement in the interests of the working people, in every general strike and all India protests, it is the democratic movement in West Bengal that has lent its strength to the all India movement.
The Left Front government as it enters its fourth decade in office requires the support and solidarity of all democratic and progressive forces in the country. The three decades of Left Front rule is an outstanding testimony to the vital role of the Left and its indispensable relevance for building an alternative to bourgeois-landlord rule. Defending the Left Front government is imperative for all those who cherish democratic values and wish to see a Left and democratic alternative in the country.