Calcutta, May 30: In defeat, political parties tend to look back at their fundamentals. In its days in the wilderness, the Congress pined for Indira Gandhi. The BJP wants to go back to Hindutva whenever it is out in the cold.
In their hour of loss and confusion, many in the CPM in Bengal are wondering if Anil Biswas could have solved the partys problems.
But what were the CPMs fundamentals that Biswas represented? Who was Biswas?
Long before he became the secretary of the Bengal CPM in 1998, Biswas was the man who shaped the party.
There were others like Saroj Mukherjee and Sailen Dasgupta who became secretaries of the state party before Biswas. It was no secret, though, that Biswas was the man who ran the party show, while the old guard were mere fronts.
Biswas gave the CPM the stamp of his own personality and his idea of party building.
The centrepiece of that idea was patronage raj and promotion of mediocrity. Like his mentor, Promode Dasgupta, Biswas was anti-educated class.
Party insiders would recall a story that illustrates Biswass view of men and things. In the 1980s, Biswas, who was convener of the Left Fronts education cell, was asked if the CPM would consider bringing back some noted academics to Bengal to improve standards of higher education.
How about Amartya Sen, he was asked. This was long before Sen got the Nobel and became so well-known.
Weve our Nirupam Sen, retorted Biswas. The story could sound apocryphal, but in Biswass Bengal it was true.
So, education was the field that he chose to reshape first to suit his strategy. In the name of democratising education he let loose his patronage raj, packing schools, colleges and universities with men and women who made it a march of the mediocre brigade.
And he led this charge inside the party. Machinations, manipulation and intrigue became the bywords for organisation. He packed party committees with his own men.
Could such a man have saved the CPM from its present predicament? Or, is the predicament of his making?
He could, say those who either supported his style or benefited from it.
Former CPM MP and party central committee member Hannan Mollah said: I dont know whether police would have opened fire in Nandigram had Anilda been around. Moreover, there was a pressing need for Left Front unity before the parliamentary polls and Anilda could have succeeded in doing that. So, his presence was required.
Critics of Biswass style of functioning point to the Nandigram firing, and the Rizwanur Rahman case, but to draw a very different conclusion. The two events show how the police messed things up. The system had been so manipulated, they say, that whenever such challenges arise, it invariably fails to tackle them. Instead of solving a problem, the malfunctioning system adds to it.
But how would Biswas have countered Mamatas land movement that helped her raise a storm across Bengal and eat into the CPMs rural and minority vote bank?
Well, that would have certainly been beyond Anildas reach, Mollah says.
If organisation was Biswass forte according to such CPM leaders, there are others in the party who argue that his presence wouldnt have mattered much as he had converted a mass-based party into one revolving around cliques and nepotism.
As for the government, his methods resulted in a total breakdown of the administrations ability to deliver. All institutions were bent to serve the party and its cadres, panchayats being the best example.
By packing the faithful in the CPM and in the government, police, health and education sectors, Anil had replaced merit with mediocrity and competence with loyalty that became bywords for the party organisation. He used his interpersonal skills to settle differences between leaders and thereby earned their loyalty, a senior CPM state secretariat member said.
Having loyal men in the party is communist culture and Biswas cannot be blamed for that, argued expelled CPM leader Samir Putatunda, now a leader of the Party for Democratic Socialism.
Why blame Anilda for getting berths for his own men in the party and the government? But such moves do affect the party organisation as theres always the possibility of merit being overruled by mediocrity, said Putatunda.
One can recall university vice-chancellors or pro-vice chancellors contesting as CPM candidates for Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha elections. Men made it to senior positions in the world of academia by helping Biswas compile documents of the communist party.
Sons and daughters of top CPM leaders found entry into a reputed College Street address, supposedly because of their proficiency. Pliant bureaucrats got plum posts in the government, including chief secretaries, home secretaries and police commissioners.
All this, a Calcutta University professor said, was Anil Biswass making.