By Biman Basu
THE Left Front government of Bengal had created history by winning the popular verdict of the people of Bengal for the seventh consecutive term in 2006. But it is found that after the electoral reversal of the Communists and the Left in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the reactionary forces led by the Trinamul Congress (TMC), the main opposition in the Bengal Assembly, have started a nefarious game plan attacking the democratic initiatives of the CPI(M) and the Left front parties. TMC has the patronage of the corporate media barons in its ugly campaign against the Left based on sheer lies and slander in the state as well as in the rest of the country.
Since the Bengal Left Front government is trying to resist the imperialist patronised neo-liberal economic policies through alternative policies in the state, the imperialist-patronised agencies have become super active involving their energy and finances to spearhead the heinous campaign of TMC against the Communists and Left parties. Serious violent activities are perpetrated by the right reactionaries and ‘left’ sectarian so-called ‘Maoists,’ along with TMC in different parts of Bengal. In certain areas, these undemocratic activities are unleashed by the Indian National Congress (INC). Now it seems that the TMC and the INC want to move jointly together.
AN OUTCOME OF STRUGGLES
It is known to all that the LF government came to office through long and protracted struggles of the toiling people through an arduous journey in the 1950s, the 1960s and part of the 1970s. The journey of struggle was unleashed by the people under the stewardship of Communists, and the Left and the democratic parties in the state. Those years were not the days of happiness and comfort. They were marked by bitterness, oppression on the people, and assaults on the democratic masses and their democratic rights.
My intention is not to narrate the history of the last three-and-a-half-decades. I want to mention the beginning of the 1970s when Bengal witnessed subversion of Indian democracy in our state. The people of Bengal were confronted from all corners with the imperialist-patronised reactionary cliques and by right-wing, left sectarian political forces to make the common people’s lives miserable. As a result, 20,000 thousand families had to face eviction from home-and-hearth, 80,000 people had to move around different parts of Bengal under threat from fake cases lodged by the Congress party, and more than 1400 men and women of CPI(M), Left parties and sympathisers were martyred. During this period, 350 trade union offices were forcibly closed by the reactionaries; students’ union elections were not allowed to be held; 927 teachers of different tiers of education were forcibly driven out of the institutions they served. The situation in the then Bengal was just like a ‘semi-fascist terror,’ and an undeclared emergency.
Although Bengal faced an undeclared emergency in the first half of the 1970s, the entire country experienced the declared emergency in the mid-1970s. During these days, the democratic people of Bengal and the Communists learnt new methods of maintaining contact with the struggling people and mobilise them in a quite different manner. When the right opportunity and scope for the choosing of their representatives came, the people utilised that scope by electing the representative of their own choice. After the first Left Front government was constituted, the chief minister, Jyoti Basu, declared that the Left Front government would work for the interest of the masses of the people and move forward towards election of the local self-government, which will maintain close linkages with the people.
The achievements of the Left Front government also cannot be narrated in complete length in the present essay. To focus upon only the highlights, the first major work was to form the three-tier Panchayati system in rural Bengal. Second responsibility was to revive the moribund municipalities in urban Bengal. It took some time to amend the Municipal Act, but after the formation of the Panchayati system, the major task undertaken was to implement land reforms. It may be noted that 54 per cent of the farmers of the country, who have benefited from distribution of surplus and benami land, belong to Bengal. The total agricultural land distributed in Bengal is the highest in any state of the country. It was 11.28 lakh acres upto February 2010. This figure constitutes 22 per cent of the total land redistributed in the whole of the country. By now, 30.12 lakh farmers have benefited in the state, over 73 per cent of them belonging to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and religious minorities. With a view to empowering women, 6.15 lakh joint pattas and 1.62 lakh individual pattas have been distributed. This apart, through the recording of sharecroppers (‘operation barga’), which forms an important component of land reforms, 15.13 lakh farmers have benefited. Implementing the recently passed tribal forest rights act, the state government has started allotting land for the tribals to the tune of 1549.65 acres in the tribal-dominated districts, with total pattas distributed amounting to 26,061. Over one lakh claims are under enquiry and are in the process for distribution of more land parcel amongst members of the tribal community. Scrutiny is being held up due to Maoist violence and terror in tribal dominated areas like Jangalmahal.
Further, the state government has introduced a scheme of purchasing land from willing farmers at a price, which may be 25 per cent higher than the market price, and distribute the same free of cost to landless agricultural labourers. These land reform measures have been supported by the spread of irrigation, use of improved seeds, a mix of chemical, organic, and bio-fertilisers as well as setting of seed villages and bio-villages. Using improved seeds and balanced use of fertilisers in the line of an alternative technology, Bengal has now reached first position in the production of rice, second position in potato, first position in all vegetables together, and also in a comparatively better position in the production of major fruits. In the year 2009-10, the overall rate of growth of agricultural production has been 4.2 per cent in Bengal, which is much higher than the rate of growth of agriculture for the country as a whole (-0.2 per cent). As a result, the purchasing capacity of rural Bengal families has gone up. About Rs 27,000 crore of industrial goods are being sold out in rural Bengal per annum, which has pushed up the internal market for industrial goods.
In the sphere of large and medium scale industries over the period between 1991 and December 2009, more than 2000 units with materialised investment of about Rs 50,000 crore has started production. In the current year, the materialised investment in the large and medium sectors has once again nearly doubled to cross Rs 7000 crore compared to the previous year. In the field of small scale and cottage industries, the achievements of the Bengal Left Front government have been excellent: Bengal’s position over many years was at the very front in the country. In the cooperative sector, the performance of the state government is noteworthy. The cooperatives have received the spadework and they are active in different nooks and corners of the state. There are even cooperatives of the tribal people, which are known as Large Size Multipurpose Societies (LAMPS), and about 151 LAMPS are working at the present moment in the state, among the tribal population. These LAMPS also organised 9000 self-help groups. The state Left Front government. out of its own procurement of rice for internal production involving the state agencies, FCI, cooperatives, and self-help groups, could distribute rice at Rs 2 per kg for all the BPL families of Bengal, incurring an additional subsidy cost. About 12 lakh self-help groups with a membership of more than one crore are playing a remarkable role in the field of generation of employment. More than 90 per cent of the members are women.
The state Left Front government has been providing financial assistance to the workers of closed factories and closed tea gardens. A Provident Fund scheme for the workers has been introduced which is the first of its kind in the country. The total number of beneficiaries will cross 30 lakh in the current year. There is scheme for agri-workers’ benefiting 8 lakh workers. In addition to this, the welfare schemes for construction workers, bidi workers, and for transport workers have been undertaken. The total figure of beneficiaries may cross 60 lakh in the current year. Another important scheme of providing old age pension, disability pension, widow pension, as well as pension for artisans, handloom weavers, farmers and fishermen has been introduced which has already benefited 4 lakh people. In addition to this, the pension scheme has already been introduced to cover all the SC and ST groups in the state.
HEALTH & EDUCATION
In the sphere of public health, the state has a wide coverage, right from state hospitals to health centres, and sub-health centres in rural Bengal. About 73 per cent of the Bengal population are getting service from all these centres. Serious emphasis is given to preventive health care and decentralisation of curative health care, which has lowered the death rate to 6.2 per thousand in Bengal, which is the lowest in the country. In the sphere of education, major achievement is the large-scale financial allocation and wide increase in availing of the scope in all the realms of education, right from the primary level to that of the higher education. At present, initiative is taken to increase the participation in vocational and technical education from school upwards with incentives given.
CONSTRAINTS OF STATE GOVT
Since the Left Front government was formed in 1977 in Bengal, it is trying to implement a pro-people programme in the state. However, the state government is to function within the framework of federal polity of the Indian Constitution where the government of India is to discharge its constitutional obligation in providing finances for the states. Unfortunately, on many occasions, the central government's share to the state reached very late - sometimes even forcing non-utilisation of the said funds. For example, the state government has recently asked for the due share under constitutional obligation for Rs 1400 crore, which has not yet been released. The state government demanded funds for Aila cyclone victims and their rehabilitation, reconstruction, and repair of mud dams and construction of concrete dams in the Sunderbans area. A small quantum of fund was released, which is far, far less than what is needed and demanded. Our state is now passing through drought-like situation, and already 11 districts are declared as drought-afflicted districts. To combat drought, a minimum amount of Rs 1713 crore is required urgently and where the state government allotted Rs 613 crore, as per constitutional obligation the central government has to release Rs 1100 crore. Discussions favouring the release of the funds have yet to start. It is found that the Trinamul Congress (TMC), as a constituent of the UPA-II government, is creating obstacles in the release of the due share to the people of Bengal in all possible manners. The TMC is doing everything possible to conceal its anti-people, anti-democratic and anti-development attitude from the people of Bengal.
Further, the TMC since 2007 in particular, started a nefarious game plan forming a rainbow alliance combining right wing forces with the left sectarian so-called ‘Maoists’ to beat back CPI(M) and the Left as well as the Left Front government. These ugly forces concentrated their attacks on the democratic rights of the people and democracy itself to create anarchy, lawlessness, and terror-stricken situations. Since the Lok Sabha elections, these anti-democratic forces killed 279 CPI(M) and Left workers and leaders. These martyrs are mostly poor agricultural workers, daily wage earners, and many of them are from the tribal community. Democratic people of Bengal, under the leadership of the CPI(M) and the Left Front are continuing a serious campaign-movement against the anti-democratic violent activities of TMC and 'Maoist' joint forces, and Congress. Since the people of Bengal are fighting against the exploitative system, campaigning against the strategic relationship with the US, which may jeopardise the sovereignty of India, and fighting for the workers’-peasants’ interests and for the interest of the democratic people, the reactionary forces of all hues are bent upon attacking the Communists and Left forces for their own class interests.
We are all aware of the democratic movement of the Bengal people but we should realise also that the movement is a part-and-parcel of the larger democratic movement of the country as well. With the assistance of UPA-II government, TMC as a part of the central government, takes the advantage of all anti-democratic forces and continues their slanderous campaign against the achievements of the Bengal Left Front government. At this juncture, workers-peasants, employees, students-youth, women, teachers, and other sections of the society all over the country are to take a bold stand in exposing the lies-slanders of the Bengal opposition and firmly express their solidarity with the people of Bengal since the Left Front government of Bengal stands for democracy and development.