West Bengal Left Front Govt:
A Historic Anniversary
THE Left Front government in West Bengal enters its 30th year of existence on June 21, 2006. This is a historic day which comes in the background of an equally historic election victory which has led to the formation of the seventh Left Front government.
The three decades of the Left Front government is of enormous significance in the annals of the communist movement in the country. It has also acquired international significance. It is necessary to recall the past history in order to understand the long and arduous political struggle that has gone into the creation of a stable Left political formation and a stable Left Front government in West Bengal.
THE PRE-1977 PERIOD
The Communist Party first formed a government in 1957 in Kerala after winning the assembly elections. This government, headed by E M S Namboodiripad, was ousted in 21 months. Article 356 of the constitution was used for the first time by the then Nehru government to dismiss an elected state government.
After the fourth general elections in 1967, when the Congress lost in nine states, the United Front governments were formed in West Bengal and Kerala for the first time. These were coalition governments in which the CPI(M) was the largest party. But these governments were not allowed to remain in office for long. The first United Front government of West Bengal was dismissed after nine months. The Left parties fought back this conspiracy and central intervention to destabilise the United Front government and, in 1969, once again the United Front was re-elected with a big majority. This government also fell after 13 months, in 1970. In Kerala, the United Front government lasted for 31 months and fell apart in 1969. These governments were formed at the crest of sustained struggles.
The Left Front of West Bengal is a product of decades of class struggle and popular movements. The 1950s and 1960s witnessed the rising struggles of a working class, peasantry and other sections of the working people in West Bengal. It was not possible for the ruling classes to tolerate the existence of governments in which the Left had a leading role. The Congress governments at the centre were hostile to the existence of communist-led state governments. Given the all-India political situation in the 1950s and 1960s, in view of the correlation of forces and the hostility to communists amongst the whole ruling class political spectrum, it was not possible to sustain these governments beyond short spells.
It was only in 1977, after the end of internal emergency and the increased democratic consciousness of the people after the anti-authoritarian struggle, that it became possible for the Left-led governments to remain in office for a full term. This was also because of the fact that the CPI(M) increased its strength and became the dominant political force in states like West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. Even after this, attacks continued as witnessed in the rigging undertaken and terror unleashed in Tripura during the 1988 assembly elections. But the innate strength of the CPI(M) and the Left overcame this onslaught too.
It was in this conjuncture that the Left Front government, headed by Jyoti Basu, began its work three decades ago. Looking back, we can see how the Left Front government worked within the constraints of the existing constitutional and socio-economic system, implemented land reforms, decentralised powers, instituted the democratic panchayati raj system, accomplished growth in agricultural production, protected democratic rights, ensured communal harmony and nurtured secular values.
The two most important changes brought about by the Left Front government in its early years in the countryside were the implementation of land reforms and the reorganisation of the panchayats as democratic institutions of the local government. These two --- identified as the policy of walking on two legs --- were closely interrelated. The government acquired over 11 lakh acres of land and distributed the same among 25 lakh landless and small peasant households and, under its Operation Barga, 14 lakh sharecroppers were registered, bringing 11 lakh acres of land under the control of the bargadars. About 55 per cent of the beneficiaries of land distribution and 42 per cent bargadars came from the dalits and adivasis.
Alongside, the Left Front 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.
As the CPI(M) Programme envisages, land reforms have led to increased agricultural production. By the end of the seventh plan period, food production increased by 29.89 per cent in the state as against the all-India average of 13.42 per cent. 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 29 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.
Industrial development languished due to these iniquitous centre-state relations and due to an inadequate appreciation in the earlier years of the fact that the Left Front government is in for a long stint in office. 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 withdrawal from welfare and social sector responsibilities have also had a serious impact on the state.
It is in such a situation that the fifth Left Front government adopted an industrial policy in 1994. Taking into account the new situation, the Central Committee of the CPI(M) adopted a resolution on the “Role of the West Bengal Left Front Government: In the Context of the New Economic Policies” in December 1994. Subsequently, the West Bengal state conference of the party, in 2002, adopted a resolution on “The Left Front Government and Our Tasks.” It is on the basis of this approach that the Left Front government has sought to meet its commitments to the people and has been working for the development of the state in a milieu where the central government is vigorously pushing for free market policies and privatisation. The Left Front government has taken initiatives to invite private investment, so that the state can have a strong industrial base and acquire high technology. While promoting private investment, the government is committed to defend the rights of the working class and their trade union rights. At the same time, the Left Front government is committed to people-oriented development where the poorer sections are provided the wherewithal to overcome poverty. Education, health and social welfare facilities have to be provided even though the resources of the state are limited. The state government, while attracting private investment, will not retreat from its commitment to provide basic services for the people.
This is the perspective of the CPI(M) for the Left Front government spelled out in the Political Resolution of its 18th congress: “Faced with the neo-liberal policies of the centre, the Left-led governments have to struggle hard to pursue policies which ensure pro-people and balanced development. While promoting private investment, the Left Front governments defend the public sector in key areas, protect and, if possible, expand public expenditure in the social sector and project alternative policies to protect the poorer sections who are the worst affected by the policies pursued by the central government.”
PEOPLE APPRECIATE POLICY FRAMEWORK
The recent assembly elections show that the people have appreciated the policy framework that the CPI(M) and the Left Front has set out for the development of the state. The performance of the sixth Left Front government, under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, has sought to build on the past achievements and chart out a path of development which can avoid the pitfalls of the neo-liberal prescriptions of the centre while, at the same time, realistically utilising the existing resources of the state and private investment.
Throughout these three decades, West Bengal under the Left Front rule has shown the country that it is possible to avoid the harmful politics of communalism and casteism which divide the people and disrupt the working class movement. The fact that the BJP and other communal forces have failed to make headway in the state testifies to the anti-communal atmosphere prevailing in West Bengal. All through the vicissitudes of the offensive of the communal forces, particularly in the 1990s, West Bengal stood as a bastion of communal harmony and adherence to the secular principle. This, in a state which has a Muslim population of 26 per cent, is a shining example for the rest of the country. This has been possible because the peasantry, the workers and all other sections of the working people, irrespective of religion, have been united along class lines and developed a political consciousness which rises above sectarian identities and loyalties.
The seventh Left Front government is conscious of the need to provide for the all-round development of the Muslim minority, so that they can more fully be part of the common endeavour of all sections of the working people for a better life.
The Left Front government is the political manifestation of the fact that West Bengal is the bastion of the Left and democratic forces in the country. It is the existence and the record of the Left Front government in the past three decades which has provided the ballast for the Left movement in the country. When the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the imperialist offensive commenced in 1991, the Left Front government was able to withstand the hostile ideological environment, both internationally and domestically. It has also been able to avoid the worst aspects of the anti-people, neo-liberal policies and steer a course whereby its pro-people commitments are not abandoned. This was possible because of the strong mass base of the CPI(M) and the Left. We recall the tremendous sacrifices by the CPI(M) and Left cadres over the three decades. Thousands of them laid down their lives in the class struggle and in defence of democracy.
As the Left Front government enters its 30th year of existence, it has the good wishes and support of all progressive and democratic-minded people in the country.
From People's Democracy, June 25, 2006