Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Left and elections in West Bengal


The Assembly elections in West Bengal have resulted in the defeat of the Left Front government after 34 years in power. This edition of MacroScan examines votes polled to see whether this actually reflects a big decline in popular support for the Left in the State.

BusinessLine, MacroScan, May 17, 2011

This is clearly an important moment in Indian politics. The dust has still not settled in the five States where elections to the State Assemblies were held, but their impact is already reverberating cross the country. Not just the elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry, but even by-election results (as in Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh) may turn out to have national significance for the course of both politics and economic policies at Central and State levels.

The two States where Left Front governments were in power have captured the bulk of media attention.

And within that, the focus has been on West Bengal, not only because of the importance of Left politics in that state for the Left movement in the country as a whole, but because the Left Front government there had managed to win elections for a record seven consecutive elections.

Pyrrhic victory

In Kerala, where incumbent governments have been ejected by voters every five years for nearly four decades, the vote was extremely close and the incumbent Left Democratic Front very nearly made it back to power.

Indeed, the victory of the Opposition may well be seen as pyrrhic because of the likely instability of the future UDF coalition government.

Across the board, it is the Left's loss of State power in West Bengal which is being widely seen as the most devastating and full of portent for the future.

Interestingly, this view seems to be shared by both the opponents and proponents of organised Left parties in the country: that this huge loss shows that the people have decisively rejected the Left Front government, and that the major Left parties (such as the CPI (M) and the CPI will find it impossible to recover from this massive defeat.

In some quarters this is being celebrated; within the Left, there is a sense of desolation and anxiety; in other quarters, more dispassionate observers are concerned about the lack of the moderating power of the Left in preventing a national rightward lurch, particularly in economic policies. Mainstream media responses have contributed to this by talking about “the death of the Left” and similar stereotypical responses. But how much of this is actually justified by the voting patterns that have been revealed in the latest elections?

There is no question that the Left Front government has been handed a resounding defeat, with most Ministers losing their seats and the seat share of the parties involved in the coalition falling to one-third of the former strength in the Assembly.

Extraordinary show

Chart 1 shows the number of Assembly seats held or implicitly garnered by the Left Front in successive elections since its historic seventh victory in 2006. It is clear that there has been a very significant, even dramatic, decline.

But note that the number of seats gained in 2006 represented an extraordinary achievement: 80 per cent of Assembly seats (well over the two-thirds majority) claimed by a government that had already been in power in the State for three decades. This is an achievement unparalleled in independent India, and probably anywhere in the world. It is rare to find a democratically elected government that retains power for a second or third term.

When this happens anywhere else in India, the mainstream media are quick to declare it as a victory for good governance, though they have always been much more grudging of Left victories. That the Left Front government in 2006 was able to retain power to garner a record seventh term and even add to its tally of Assembly seats compared to 2001 indicates that it had an appeal among the electorate that was both unprecedented and remarkable.

Factors at play

Some would argue that the sharp decline in the number of seats thereafter suggests that the government then squandered this advantage.

Certainly the causes for the decline can and will be analysed threadbare inside and outside the various parties that formed the Left Front government. Many factors must have played roles, of which the poor handling of the policy of land acquisition for industrialisation is the one that is most commonly cited.

The proactive coming together of all sorts of disparate and otherwise conflicting political elements at both Centre and State level, with the sole aim of dislodging the Left from its bastion, was also definitely important.

But the combination of complacency and exhaustion that can be created by 34 years of uninterrupted rule should not be underplayed either.

This combination was evident to many external observers. Of course it was then rudely shocked by the experience of the 2009 general elections.

But it may be that the subsequent attempts at political revival among Left supporters were too belated and inadequate to cope with what is only a very natural human desire among the people for political change, even if the nature of that change is unpredictable or problematic.

But does this mean that the people of the State have decisively rejected the politics of the Left?

41% of votes

A detailed look at voting shares provides a more nuanced understanding. Chart 2 indicates that even in this latest Assembly election, when the verdict of the electorate appears to be so decisive against the incumbent government, the Left parties still managed to garner more than 41 per cent of the votes. This is still no mean achievement for a government that has been in power for nearly 35 years.

To put this into perspective, it should be noted that most State governments in India are holding on to power on the basis of much smaller vote shares, generally well below 40 per cent.

This includes the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh (whose position appears much more tenuous after the Kadapa by-election) and the Congress-NCP coalition government in Maharashtra.

This also includes the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar, which is the mainstream media's current favourite and is being portrayed as a model for Mamata Banerjee to follow. It is only because politics in West Bengal (as in Kerala) is much more polarised between two contending groups that the first-past-the-post system does not generate parties that can come to power with relatively small shares of the vote.

It may be more surprising that in terms of the actual number of votes polled, the Left Front has significantly improved upon its performance in the 2009 general elections, and has even come close to the number of votes it managed to get in its record-breaking seventh victory in 2006. Chart 3 shows that in this Assembly election, the Left Front managed to attract nearly 1.1 million additional voters compared to 2009.

Not only was the Left Front vote in 2011 very close to that in 2006, this increase was almost equal to the extent by which the Left Front had fallen short of the votes of the TMC-Congress combine in 2009.

Reasons for optimism

This helps explain the optimism that was evident among Left party cadres just before the results were declared.

This may partly reflect the disconnect between the parties and the people, as a result of which they did not anticipate the electoral debacle. It can also be partly understood when it is recognised that in fact many more people actually did come out to vote for Left parties than had done so in 2009. The disconnect partly comes from the fact that the party cadre apparently did not anticipate that many more people would turn out to vote for the Opposition.

Overall, there was a significant increase in the number of votes cast overall between 2009 and 2011, of nearly 4.8 million votes according to the Election Commission's preliminary estimates. This was in part because of a 3.7 million increase in size of the electorate, i.e. new young voters, and in part because voter turnout increased sharply.

The difference in this election is really that the Opposition combine of Trinamool and Congress parties managed to swing a much larger share of these new voters to vote for change in government.

New voters

Chart 4 shows that of the additional votes cast, the Left Front managed to get less than a quarter, and that nearly three-quarters accrued to the Opposition combine. It is also worth noting that more than half the new voters were women. Firstly, the number of women on electoral rolls increased somewhat more than men; and secondly, more of them voted than before.

While the male voting percentage increased from 82.3 per cent to 84.4 per cent, the female turnout went up from 80.3 per cent to 84.5 per cent, exceeding male turnout in a State where traditionally voter turnout amongst women voters has been much less than among men.

This is obviously a major aspect that the Left needs to introspect on. Whatever one may think of the result, there can be no denying that this shows that Indian electoral democracy is among the most vibrant in the world.

Obviously none of this changes the basic reality of this particular State Assembly election – that it has involved a major defeat for the Left that may have far-reaching implications.

But it can by no means be taken as showing that there is massive dimunition in Left support among the people of West Bengal.

Certainly it is not just premature but downright wrong to write off the Left as a major political force.

This result too is likely to have a significant bearing on how politics evolves in the State in future.

Election Results: A Long & Arduous Struggle Ahead

By Prakash Karat

THE elections to the West Bengal assembly have resulted in a big defeat for the Left Front. This has come as a major disappointment for the left, democratic and progressive forces in the country who consider West Bengal as a bastion of the Left. After 34 years of Left Front government and the remarkable record of winning seven successive elections since 1977, the CPI(M) led Left Front government has been voted out of office. Some general features of the verdict stand out. The people have decisively opted for change and given a sweeping victory to the TMC combine. There was a total consolidation of all the anti-Left forces ranging from the right to the Maoists on the extreme left. It is also evident that the Left Front could not recover the lost ground in the past two years as much as we expected.


The Party will undertake a comprehensive review of the results to identify the causes which have led to the erosion of support for the Left Front and the political shift that has taken place. Even though the Left Front has garnered an additional eleven lakh votes compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, there is a reduction of 2.2 percentage points in the vote share compared to the Lok Sabha polls. Despite the solid achievements of the three decades of Left rule, the prolonged period in government led to the accumulation of some negative factors. The critical examination of the election trends placing it in the context of the political and organisational work of the Party should help us to chalk out the steps to be taken to rectify the flaws in our approach and remedy the organisational shortcomings.

In Kerala, the LDF lost narrowly falling short by three seats for a majority. The UDF managed to scrape through with a two seat majority. The difference between the UDF and LDF vote share is only 0.89 per cent. This shows that the people were by and large satisfied with the record of the LDF government and there was no anti-incumbency factor at work. The anti-corruption crusade of chief minister V S Achuthanandan also got popular endorsement. Preliminary reports show that a LDF victory was thwarted by the influence wielded by some caste and religious bodies over some sections of the people. A large number of people were not attracted to the Congress alliance given the record of corruption and price-rise under the UPA government at the centre.


The defeat in West Bengal has led to a barrage of propaganda in the corporate media against the CPI(M) and the Left. The results are being portrayed as a catastrophe from which the CPI(M) will not be able to recover. Another line of attack pursued by some commentators is to pronounce the ideology of the Communist Party as an anachronism and the verdict as a culmination of the end of the relevance of socialism and Marxism worldwide.

That these are patently false assertions can be understood by the fact that the fall of the Soviet Union had no material impact on the CPI(M). In fact, in the nineteen nineties, the Party grew and developed stronger, both in West Bengal and Kerala. As far as ideology is concerned, the CPI(M) draws on the theory and practice of Marxism by creatively applying it to Indian conditions. This is not a static position but one which evolves constantly.

The CPI(M) and the Left Front in West Bengal have grown and developed through innumerable struggles and popular movements stretching over four decades. The electoral success of the Left Front is an outcome of the mass base produced by such movements and struggles. The Left Front is not merely an electoral alliance nor has the CPI(M) grown and developed as a powerful mass party only due to its electoral activities.

Those who are writing the epitaph of the CPI(M) and the Left Front in West Bengal overlook the fact that even in this defeat the Left Front has polled forty one per cent of the votes. Over one crore ninety five lakh (19.5 million) people have voted and supported the Left Front. This is a substantial mass base which has withstood the attacks on the CPI(M) and the Left in the last two years and who constitute the class base of the working people. The virulent anti-communist and neo-liberal commentators will be proved wrong. The CPI(M) and the Left forces will conduct a patient struggle to win back those sections of the people who have been alienated by taking up their cause and fighting for them.

Another form of attack is to slander the entire record of the Left Front and to demonise the CPI(M) as an authoritarian force which has suppressed the people. Some have gone to the extent of claiming that the earlier victories of the Left Front are due to the repression of anyone who opposed or defied the CPI(M). These critics conveniently forget that in every assembly election since 1977, the anti-Left opposition has got not less than forty per cent of the vote at any time. The CPI(M) and the Left Front had a remarkable record of winning between forty five to fifty per cent of the vote in all previous elections owing to their deep roots among the people and the popular support that they commanded particularly in the rural areas. The vilification of the CPI(M) cadres painting them as despotic and corrupt is a motivated effort to disarm the Party, as it is its dedicated and selfless cadres who are the backbone of the organisation.

An accompanying charge is that the Left Front government in West Bengal was inherently anti-democratic and a totalitarian set up which had stamped out all dissent and imposed a straitjacket on West Bengal society. The Left Front ruled through popular mandate by continuously subjecting itself to the democratic process under the parliamentary democratic system. The CPI(M) and the Left have shown that it is the most consistent force for democracy. Ever since the Communist Party won the elections in 1957 in Kerala and formed the first communist ministry in the country, it has vitalised democracy by bringing the vast masses into the democratic process. It is not accidental that the highest polling rates in the country are registered in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. It is in these three states that land reforms have broken the old landlord structure and expanded democracy. The panchayati institutions were vitalised. It is the agents of the dominant classes and vested interests who seek to tarnish and distort this democratic record of the Left.


The CPI(M) had evolved its own approach to the running of state governments wherever it is able to get the support of the people. The Left-led governments have to be run in such a way as to strengthen the Left and democratic movement and the movement of the working people. The Party programme has spelt out that such governments should carry out a programme of providing relief to the people and to strive, project and implement alternative policies within the existing limitations. The unique record of the Left Front government in West Bengal shows that it had seriously worked towards this goal. The loss of such a Left-led government is a setback but it cannot be seen as a permanent and fundamental loss. The CPI(M) has always stressed the importance or organising the working people through their own class and mass organisations and developing popular movements and struggles and thereby raising the political consciousness of the people. The formation of the Left-led governments is an outcome of this process.

The CPI(M) will, after the critical examination of the election results, orient itself towards taking up the issues of the basic classes and fighting for the interests of the working people. The political platform of the Left which includes the fight against the neo-liberal economic policies, defending the livelihood of the people, defence of national sovereignty and secularism remains as the only alternative political platform for the country as against those of the ruling class parties like the Congress and the BJP.

In West Bengal, in the changed political situation, the CPI(M) will defend the gains achieved by the people over the last three decades under the Left Front rule. Given the class nature of the ruling alliance, there will be efforts to undo the land reforms and undermine the gains achieved by the working people. We will defend the land reforms and the rights of the bargadars and agricultural workers; the workers will be better organised to fight for their rights and all sections of the working people in defence of their livelihood. The legacy of secularism and communal harmony has to be protected and the divisive forces out to disrupt the unity of the people and integrity of the state countered. All this will be accomplished by strengthening the Left unity.


In the aftermath of the elections, the immediate task is to defend the Party, the Left Front and the movement in West Bengal which has already come under attack. Soon after the election results, there have been scores of attacks on offices of the Party and trade unions. Murderous violence has been unleashed against the cadres and supporters of the CPI(M) and the Left Front. Within the first two days, two leaders of the CPI(M) were brutally killed. The Trinamul Congress wants to utilise the election victory to eliminate physically the CPI(M) and the Left in many areas. This has to be resisted and fought back. The democratic sentiments of the people in West Bengal have to be roused against such violence. The entire Party, the Left and democratic forces in the country stand steadfastly with the CPI(M) and the Left Front in West Bengal to rebuff such attacks.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The fall of the red citadel

By Marcus Dam
THE HINDU, KOLKATA, May 14, 2011

The “winds of change,” as described by the Trinamool Congress leadership, the first breath of which was felt in West Bengal three years ago, have finally swept from power the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government, which ruled the State for a historic 34 years. With the announcement of the Assembly election results on Friday, the red citadel has fallen.

The Left Front's much hoped-for turnaround, since it had been stung by the first of a string of reversals that began with the local bodies polls in May 2008, did not materialise. In a poll which in popular discourse was described as a contest between paribartan (change) and pratyabartan (resurgence), it is the former that has prevailed.

Anti-incumbency factor

The anti-incumbency factor was never in doubt in a State where a government had been in power for a generation and more. But that it gained in potency despite the Left Front having suffered body blows in three successive elections in as many years, only to deliver the final knock-out punch this time around, raises the question whether what had so long been perceived by the Left as a negative vote against it has finally morphed into a positive mandate for an alternative dispensation at Writers' Buildings, an endorsement for “change.”

True, it was the toughest election fought in the State in recent history. Not only was a Left Front, bruised by the electoral defeats suffered over the past three years, facing the combined might of the Trinamool and the Congress, though not for the first time, the CPI(M) in particular was up against enemies within — ones who saw the party as a route to self-aggrandisement.

The “rectification” process that has been initiated within the party is an on-going exercise that cannot afford any time schedules — and certainly not the just concluded Assembly elections.

And then there was the debate over acquisition of farmland for industry which undoubtedly became a potent issue only to redefine political priorities. There might have been “lessons learnt” from the developments at Nandigram and Singur but by then the Trinamool had extracted the maximum mileage out of them.

That the Left Front had to cope with a Trinamool leadership that made it a matter of policy not to “co-operate” with it in attempts to arrive at any sort of consensus — whether on land acquisition, to restore peace in an area troubled by violence and on matters of development — could not have made things any smoother for it, particularly when it came to governance.

Ironically, these various stances adopted by the Trinamool, governed by party chief Mamata Banerjee's fine-tuned one-point agenda of ousting the Left Front, might have added to her popularity and enhanced her acceptance by the people. For, it was her, rather than the party nominee in the fray, whom they voted for, every other leader of the Trinamool admits.

What should be particularly worrying for the Left as it goes about “taking corrective measures and making sustained efforts to regain the confidence of the people” is that it has suffered defeats at the hands of the Trinamool in places where it stood its ground even in the worst of times earlier. But then, it has never been as bad as now. Little remains of the Left bastions, wherever they were.

All this notwithstanding, the Left Front has been prompt in responding to the disastrous and “unexpected” outcome by assuring the incoming government that it would play its role “as a responsible and constructive Opposition.” As one senior leader of the CPI(M) succinctly put it, “ … most of the people wanted to see history being created. To see a new government is half the truth; the other half is to see a new Opposition.”

Mandate against 34-year-old Left rule: Ganashakti editorial

Kolkata, May 14 (PTI): Accepting the poll verdict, CPI(M) today said that there was no denying that the mandate was clearly against the 34-year-old Left Front rule in West Bengal."There was high expectation among left Front workers to see the eighth Left Front government coming into being, but it was not fulfilled,"

CPI(M) mouthpiece ''Ganashakti'' said in its editorial column."The Left Front has accepted the verdict and decided to play the role of a responsible opposition group in accordance with democratic traditions," it said.According to the daily, the Front would analyse the poll reverses and try to identify the lapses of the Left Front."It is the responsibility to win back confidence of the people by correcting the lapses and reach the doorsteps of the people."

Alleging that after 34 years, "a semi-fascist power aligned with extreme anti-people policies" had come to power in the state, the CPI(M) daily said "there is apprehension about move to curb the rights of the working class."

The editorial professed fear that the achievements in the Left Front rule in last 34 years might be undone under the new regime."People''s interest is not safe in the hands of the new regime, particularly land reforms, democratic panchayat system, development in agriculture, unity and integrity and communal amity." PTI PB PC

CPI (M) accepts West Bengal verdict

May 13, 2011 New Delhi

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) accepted the West Bengal verdict, saying the people had opted for a change after 34 years of Left rule.

“After the Left Front being in office for a record 34 years continuously, the people have opted for a change. The TMC-led combine has been the beneficiary of this change,” the party's Polit Bureau said in a statement.

It said, “During the more than three decades, the Left Front government recorded solid achievements — land reforms, a democratised panchayat system, progress in agriculture, assurance of democratic rights for the working people, for unity, integrity and communal harmony in the State, which are historic gains of the people of West Bengal and an enduring legacy.”

Conveying its greetings to the lakhs of people who have supported and voted for the CPI(M) and the Left Front in the most adverse circumstances and against heavy odds, the Polit Bureau said both the CPI(M) and the Left would stand by the interests of the people and struggle for the cause of the working people.

The Polit Bureau cautioned that there should be no repetition of the violence that took place against the CPI(M) and the Left Front cadres and offices in the aftermath of the Lok Sabha polls in 2009. It appealed to the people to work for peace and tranquillity.

On Kerala, it said the results showed that the people have, by and large, endorsed the past five year record of the Left Democratic Front government. The slender margin of victory for the United Democratic Front showed that there was no anti-incumbency trend, the Polit Bureau said adding that however, some caste and religious forces had worked to influence the elections.

As for the role of the Left, it said that while the results of West Bengal and Kerala would be a disappointment for the Left and democratic forces in the country, this would, by no means, make the Left policies and programmes irrelevant for the country.

“The CPI(M) and Left forces will not only continue to work for the people in West Bengal and Kerala but will vigorously pursue the struggle against the neo-liberal economic policies, defend the livelihood and interests of the working people and combat communalism and defend secularism in the country,'' the statement said.

TMC-Cong alliance storms Left bastion

Kolkata, May 13, 2011

The Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance on Friday swept the West Bengal Assembly polls with more than a two-thirds majority, ending 34 years of Left Front rule.

Even as results were pouring in, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee tendered his resignation to Governor M. K. Narayanan at the Raj Bhavan in the afternoon.

Accepting his resignation and, inter alia, all the other members of his Council of Ministers, the Governor requested the Chief Minister and his colleagues to continue to discharge their duties till alternative arrangements are made.

Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee called on the Governor in the evening and staked her claim to form the next government.

All set to be the State's first woman Chief Minister, Ms. Banerjee described the landslide for the alliance as a “victory for democracy, a victory for the people, a victory for maa, mati, manush [her party slogan that translated reads: mother, soil, people]” She promised “good governance, good administration, not autocracy…The people are the winners…”

Among those who fell before the Trinamool-Congress juggernaut were Mr. Bhattacharjee and 25 Ministers, including Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta, Industries and Power Minister Nirupam Sen, Housing Minister Gautam Deb and Minister for Sundarban Affairs Kanti Ganguly. In all, 34 Ministers, including the Chief Minister, were in the fray.

The Trinamool secured a majority on its own, bagging 184 of the total 294 seats. A decision on whether or not the Congress, which won 42 seats, will join the new government will be taken soon. Ms. Banerjee has, however, welcomed it and another ally, the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) to join her in the next government. The SUCI has won one seat.

Pointing out that Ms. Banerjee had achieved what the Congress could not in the past years, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that “the mandate was clearly in favour” of her. “In Bengal, a frail woman, within 13 years [since the Trinamool Congress was formed], could dismantle a strong CPI(M) party by reducing them not to a three-digit but a double-digit figure,” he said, adding that his party had, in its own, “humble way helped her achieve the success.”

The Left Front's tally was reduced to 62, with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), its major constituent having to content itself with 40 seats. The position of other parties in the Left Front are: the CPI (2), AIFB (11), RSP (7), SP (1) and the Democratic Socialist Party (1).

The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha won three seats and Independents two.

“This result was unexpected,” Mr. Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose, chairman of the Left Front Committee, said in a statement adding that “the Left Front promised to play the role of a responsible and constructive Opposition.”

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Common Masses are with Left Front : Biman Basu

By N S Arjun from Kolkata
May 4, 2011

The common masses of West Bengal are realising, through their own experience, that in order to ensure the development of the state and maintain the rights and successes they have achieved so far, there is a need to install the eighth Left Front government in office. Consequently, they are vigorously participating in the political battle in favour of the Left Front, stated CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and chairman of Left Front Biman Basu on May 4.

In an interview to People's Democracy at Party state committee office, Muzaffar Ahmed Bhavan in Kolkata, Basu expressed confidence that the Left Front will emerge victorious in the present state assembly elections.

Below we give excerpts of the interview:

(Q) With four phases of polls completed in the present election to Bengal assembly, what is your assessment of the electoral situation?

BIMAN BASU: After completion of four phases of polls covering 242 constituencies, judging the mood of the electorate, it is evident that the Left Front will emerge victorious to form the eighth Left Front government in the state. The conspiratorial move of the combined opposition, particularly the lies, slander and concocted stories of the Trinamool Congress, have been exposed before the Bengal electorate by the Left Front. During the 2009 parliamentary polls, Trinamool Congress had mounted a slanderous campaign against the Left Front government by propagating that it would snatch away the lands of Muslim minorities.

Since then the Left Front activists have launched a systematic and intensive campaign to expose this and such other lies spread among the people. It was pointed out that 73 per cent of the land distributed by the LF government went to most poorest sections and among it 18 per cent was distributed among landless peasants of Muslim community, 37 per cent to the SCs and 18 per cent to the STs. So, it was emphatically stated that the Left Front has no intention of taking land away from the poor. In such manner, the common people of the state have realised through their own experience that there is a need to install eighth Left Front government to maintain their rights and successes and in order to ensure the development of the state. That is why they are participating vigorously in this political battle in favour of the Left Front.

(Q) There has been a good and spontaneous response to the present Left Front election campaign in both urban and rural areas. What has the Party and Left Front done post 2009 Lok Sabha polls to rejuvenate the confidence of its activists and supporters that is so evident now?

BIMAN BASU: We always say that election is a political battle. Since Singur and Nandigram episodes, the opposition has started an ugly campaign against the Left parties, particularly against the CPI(M). During Lok Sabha polls they unleashed a religious and casteist campaign in selected areas that created an impact on the people. The outcome of this vile propaganda of the opposition was the creation of great confusion in the minds of the electorate and our losses in that election reflected this.

A section of Left parties activists, including of CPI(M), were disheartened and frustrated. We undertook a serious review of the election results and chalked out a broad campaign to correct the situation. We began a movement against the anti-people policies of the Congress-TMC led UPA-II government at the centre. We also organised a big mobilisation in Kolkata on August 31, 2009 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the great Food movement of 1959. That was the first turnaround and marked the beginning of fighting back the onslaught of national and international reactionaries against us.

We knew the 2011 assembly election is to be fought in a difficult situation and therefore decided that the campaign shall not be conducted in a monologue fashion. We decided to have a dialogue system of campaign and carried out an intensive one approaching all households. We sought to know the questions in their mind and answered them convincingly. With this methodology, we could achieve success in overcoming the confused state of affairs post Lok Sabha polls.

(Q) Trinamool Congress has indulged in attacks on CPI(M) activists and supporters in few areas during the fourth phase of election on May 3. The remaining two phases of polls on May 7 and May 10 are to take place in jangal mahal area. How do you see this violence in the present context?

BIMAN BASU: It is a fact that the first three phases of election, barring a few incidents in Bijpur constituency in North 24 Paraganas where union minister's son is contesting, went off peacefully. But, the fourth phase on May 3 witnessed some irregular practices which are bad for free and fair polls. Actually, we had apprehensions that the TMC-backed hoodlums may create problems in certain areas of East Midnapore, Howrah and Hoogly. We informed the Election Commission well ahead of the polling. But, unfortunately EC could not make fool-proof arrangements and as a result in certain areas the Left activists, including election agents, were manhandled. In Khetugram of Burdwan district our candidate was attacked.

Given the incidents during the fourth phase of polls, we feel that the EC must adopt stringent measures to deal with the last two phases of polls in jangal mahal area. In jangal mahal area, the TMC and so called Maoists, along with their outfit PCPA are moving unitedly. Since last parliamentary election of 2009, around 400 CPI(M) and Left parties leaders and activists were killed by these forces. The 'Maoists' leaders want to see Mamata Banarjee as chief minister. She has repeatedly stated that there are no 'Maoists' in jangal mahal in order to protect them. Therefore, the assembly election in these areas is a serious test before Indian democracy.

(Q) Your thoughts on the corporate media's totally biased coverage during these polls.

BIMAN BASU: Actually in the present election, the Left Front is fighting against the ugly opposition led by TMC and a section of corporate media. In fact, right from the beginning of election campaign, sections of corporate media began creating an impression that the TMC-Congress combine will win this election while at the same time continuing slanderous campaign against LF government and Left parties, particularly the CPI(M). The huge advertisement campaign launched by TMC in all electronic media and radio channels is an indication of the black money they are spending in these polls. The indiscriminate use of helicopter, which is highly costly these days, is another indication. The corporate media never raised any questions on this huge expenditure. The Election Commission has to look into the issue of the role of black money being used by TMC in the present election.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

West Bengal on way to forming eighth Left Front government: Buddhadeb

By Special Correspondent

THE HINDU, May 5, 2011 01:31 IST

The people of West Bengal are well on their way to forming the eighth Left Front government in the State, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said here on Wednesday.

Four phases of the on-going Assembly polls in the State have been held in which victory for the Left Front is certain. That victory for the Left Front is “inevitable” has been made clear in the polling held so far, he said in a press release.

The final two phases of the elections in the State are due on May 7 and 10.

It is in this situation that propaganda is being carried out in various ways to break the morale of Left workers. The setting up of an “imaginary Trinamool Congress ministry” is being publicised to influence a section of the electorate in the next two phases of the polls, the Chief Minister observed.

Such attempts were made by those opposed to the Left in the past too, but they proved futile. “It is our firm belief that this time around also, the people of West Bengal will break through this web of lies and ensure victory for the Left Front which is inevitable,” Mr. Bhattacharjee added.

His press release came on a day when a Bengali daily printed a lead story saying that a “confident” Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress chief, has even considered a list of probable Ministers of the next government with herself as Chief Minister.

There is also mention in the news report of not just who is to be the next Speaker of the State Assembly and Chairman of the Vidhan Parishad once it is set up, but also of who is take over as the next Railway Minister. It even mentions Ms. Banerjee's choice of the venue and date for the swearing in of her Ministry.

Asked by a local Bengali television channel whether she thinks that the Trinamool Congress may have got the required number of seats to form a government, now that polling in four phases was over, Ms. Banerjee said that given the spontaneity evident during polling, it was her belief that the people had hope and faith in her party.

Though she was prepared to accept the democratic verdict of the people and that there had been elections in the past where her party had lost, Ms. Banerjee said that any decision on who would be in her Ministry, in the event of the Trinamool Congress coming to power this time around, would be decided only “after the elections are over.” “Our party is very disciplined”, she added.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Buddhadeb asks people to defeat Trinamool if they want peace

By Special Correspondent

THE HINDU, April 30, 2011 13:41 IST

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Saturday exhorted the people of Purba Medinipur to defeat the Trinamool Congress in the ensuing elections if they want peace. This district, which includes the Nandigram constituency, goes to the polls on May 3 in the fourth phase of Assembly Elections in West Bengal.

Addressing an election rally at Khejuri near Nandigram, Mr. Bhattacharjee said: “Get ready to resist any attempt to foment trouble on election-day. Wherever there is Trinamool Congress, there is unrest – if you want peace, defeat them,” he exhorted the gathering, warning that the Trinamool only brings about bloodshed.

Reassuring the gathering that none would be able to defeat the Left Front, he said that the Opposition was trying to break the people's morale by projecting themselves as the winners. “They are trying to dampen your spirits. Don't be disheartened. None can defeat the Left Front,” he said.

Nandigram agitation

Referring to the period of unrest during the Nandigram agitation, Mr. Bhattacharjee said that the State government had wanted this place to become another Haldia (the industrial hub in the same district). Haldia, he said was just another village till it was transformed by the Left Front government. It is now providing jobs to thousands of youths, he said.

‘No mistake made'

“We made no mistake in choosing Nandigram (for setting up industries). But the rumour-mongering Opposition set Nandigram ablaze. We built roads, they dug them up. We laid bridges, they set them afire. They created trouble by ushering in the Maoists here,” he said. “Many people of this area had to flee their homes due to the terror unleashed by the Trinamool,” said the Chief Minister.

Pointing out that the panchayat here, now being governed by the Trinamool Congress, was riddled with corruption, Mr. Bhattacharjee said that this could not continue and it was time for people to stand up for their rights.

“What do they want to change?”

Ridiculing the Opposition's clamour for change, he quizzed: “What do they want to change — do they want to take land back from the marginal farmers to whom we gave land rights through land reforms?”

He said that the Eight Left Front government will take this process forward. Commending the local girls for being well-educated, he said that the Eight Left Front government was keen to set up more colleges so as to empower the local youth.

A media bubble called Mamata?

Every other day we have Mamata eulogies camouflaged as news. She is the mainstream media’s candidate and she is also the industry’s favourite as the next chief minister. R UMA MAHESHWARI, traces the blatant projection of Mamata Banerjee by a motivated media

THE HOOT, Posted Friday, Apr 22 16:04:36, 2011

The Left Front in West Bengal could not have had it this bad in 34 years of its rule – in terms of the full-fledged, adverse media campaign against it (mainstream English and regional language media, almost all of it). Some of the print media has taken this to almost bizarre limits. For instance, one English paper (Telegraph, which has appointed itself the election manager of Mamata Banerjee / Trinamool) carried nearly banner sized front page headlines on a “tsunami” called Mamata while describing the speed with which she walks, covering more kilometers on foot than Buddhadeb Bhattacharya does in his jeep; and what she eats in order to walk that much – and her entire day’s diet is mentioned. Mamata seems more like a media candidate than that of a party. The mainstream media here seems to have put her up as the Chief Minister candidate; or the industry lobby working through the media. One candidate occupies front page banner-size headlines, and several pages within one single newspaper, including its city supplement pages.

In any other state, such ‘news’ would have been sent to the election commission as a petition on charges of a total media sell-out. It did not happen here for whatever reason. And there are inane, almost nonsensical and definitely apolitical (in tone and critical engagement) columns by obviously apolitical, urbane socialites (especially two of them, one Mr Ruchir Joshi, and another by name of Suhel Seth) who describe the Trinamool padayatras as first-person accounts (carefully mentioning how they take time out to actually get to the streets of Kolkata with the candidates, or without them, and the sense of how they are actually getting out on the streets, is important). Their accounts are focused on the inane - how a certain candidate waves his / her hands; takes sweets, flowers, etc from the crowd, how a certain candidate has given up on his board-room suits (he is an industrialist-turned politician) for a simple white dhoti kurta attire and is equally comfortable in tradition and modernity - in the board room and on the streets.

Every other day we have Mamata eulogies camouflaged as news – “she walks, he (Buddhadeb) wades on wheels.” (April 10th, 2011, Telegraph). This print media also supplements the newspaper business with ‘art’ exhibitions; and gives huge coverage to an art exhibition by one particular artiste named Shuvoprasanno who uses his brush to critique the Left showing their left arms amputated in one of his paintings. Then there is huge celebratory coverage for Mamata’s art exhibition and each of her paintings is reported to have been sold for more than a lakh. Her exhibition, meanwhile, is attended by certain well-known names in the artist fraternity. This whole affair is fairly interesting, more than elections in my home state AP ever has been – of course, in AP, many contemporary artistes prefer to stay away from politics, for most part. The point is not about what a certain artiste is painting, but the time of his exhibition and his proximity to Mamata. One would not be surprised if there was some other motive behind Telegraph’s ‘scoop’ on an exhibition of ‘fake’ Tagore paintings – the matter is being investigated now.

The electoral discourse in West Bengal is shallow today, and there is no constructive, critically engaging opposition. The opposition is only for the Communist ideology, or ‘vamvad’, as a single-point, negative agenda, which is troubling. And it speaks for the failure of the Left Front as much as it does for failure of the sense with which media needs to distance itself from political power play. Mamata’s ma, mati manush propaganda, seems to be an eyewash for the real change that she aims to bring in, or will be forced to bring in, with Congress at her neck once it comes to power. But there is no serious discussion happening on this.

This opposition to the Left and Left Front might have been significant, had there been a discourse on poverty and distress itself, with some fine research and substantiation; it would have been better still to have just people on the streets, or in villages give their opinions or even if there was a critique of seeming double-standards if it were about the gradually mushrooming shopping mall culture in Kolkata under the Left Front rule. But none of this is present in the media hate campaign not just against the Left Front, but Communist ideology itself. Of course the same papers once in a while do give space to op-eds by Left intellectuals, to probably give a semblance of being neutral, but in truth neutral they certainly are not, and it cannot be missed on whose side they have pitched themselves.

In terms of issues, only Nandigram figures occasionally, as an event, and not a process, but in Kolkata, the talk has been persistently about “change” which actually is not a change for the poor or the marginalised but for the middle classes who are looking at certain kinds of industry and benefits from fundamentalist market-ism that has swept across states such as AP, Gujarat and Bangalore. They are looking at certain kinds of job markets which, even in order to maintain a chimera of ideology (if it is seen in that sense) the Left Front rule cannot provide for them. Hence the backing for Mamata and gang comes from the section of the wealthy and urban middle classes, and the ma, maati, manush slogan here does not seem to mean the poor, marginalised of the state, because they do not figure even in candidates’ speeches (one has heard a few in Kolkata) which concentrate on Left-bashing alone.

There is not yet a blueprint for the nature of development and change promised – is it in terms of moratorium on land acquisition from farmers for industries and real estate? It does not seem so. Is it about agricultural reforms – to bring back food crops in place of commercial cropping? It does not seem so. In what way would distress migration be curbed? One does not hear about it. Most speeches of the Trinamool candidates refer to West Bengal being the most backward (even behind Bihar) in education and industry. The media added to this with the census figures stating that the state had produced fewer children in the last few years than other states. The mainstream English media linked this too to 34 years of misrule which led to migration of ‘fertile’ population from West Bengal to other states, and lack of opportunities which prevented people from having children.

Left Front in West Bengal is probably seeking reasons for such a massive sweep in favour of Mamata and her party. Is it merely her ‘street politics’ that has managed to sway almost the entire media in her favour? Was Nandigram her only and best weapon to emerge Jayalalithaa-like? If people on both the Left and other sides are reading it this way, they are perhaps mistaken. Today the poll battle is not merely, as I see it, about Mamata and the Left, per se, but a fight between different forms of economic and ideological developments. It is a concerted effort made by a section of media, supported by a certain class, against Communism. If the Left Front loses West Bengal this time, which is looking unlikely as initial reports from the ground suggest, it will take it several years to make a comeback. If it does lose we shall witness an economic change based on principles of unequal competition in an unequal global market and Kolkata will be the Hyderabad of West Bengal, developed to the liking of an increasing mass of urban upper or upwardly mobile middle class.

But it does not seem like the Left Front is going to lose in a major way as it is being predicted in most media. And it is possible that Mamata could just be a bubble built up by the media. In fact, it now seems like the bubble will burst after all.

Buddhadeb's road show attracts huge crowds

By Ananya Dutta

THE HINDU, April 27, 2011 02:43 IST

Painted faces, balloons, umbrellas, large cut-outs of the party symbol being waved along with the party flag — everything about the procession that started at the gates of the Botanical Gardens in Howrah district on Tuesday was red. Even the showers of flowers — hibiscuses, roses and balsams — that shrouded the windscreen of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's car as soon as it entered the venue were crimson.

The roar of the crowds shouting out their “Laal Salam” to Comrade Buddhadeb Bhattcharjee drowned out the announcements being made over the loudspeakers. They had been waiting for hours in the sun anticipating his arrival. The numbers were so overwhelming that the open-hooded jeep that Mr. Bhattacharjee mounted was held back for a while before the procession could take off.

The jeep crawled its way through the procession that meandered its way through Shibpur, Howrah Uttar, Howrah Madhya and Howrah Dakshin constituencies for well over three hours till it reached its destination at Salkia. The district, along with Hooghly, Purba Medinipur and parts of Bardhaman will be going to the polls on May 3.

Supporters bearing flags and all forms of Communist Party of India (Marxist) insignia walked alongside — some of them inches away from Mr. Bhattacharjee's vehicle. Outstretched arms reached out to him even as he tried to shake hands with as many as he could, waving out to the rest. Some had painted their faces, others had plastered them with stickers of the CPI (M) symbol; some proudly flaunted tee-shirts given by the party, others had hunted through their wardrobe for shirts, saris or kurtas — anything red they could find.

Red caps and hats, scarves and bandanas, flags and banners — a red sea followed the black jeep Mr. Bhattacharjee was riding, flanked by the local candidates of the Left Front. Strains of “We shall overcome!” and other Bengali favourites of the Left movement followed the jeep everywhere it went.

Local residents managed a bird's eye view from the terraces and balconies of their homes even as they debated whether they had ever seen such a large procession go by in these parts. Children, student and youth activists and even the physically challenged had made their way to the procession. Francis Haldar, a 55-year-old supporter paralysed from the waist down, has attended several Left Front rallies, including mammoth rallies organised at the Brigade parade ground in Kolkata. “But this time is particularly special because the Chief Minster has come to my neighbourhood,” said Mr. Haldar, a resident of Shibpur.