Although the national leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) aspires to a return to power in Kerala and West Bengal in the ensuing assembly elections, the poll stars do not appear to be so favourably inclined towards the party. For the first time since 1957, when the undivided Communist Party of India made its first tryst with the democratic form of governance after having realized the futility of revolution as a means of capturing political power in Indian climes, the current political winds provide a whiff of a likely change in the power equations in both Kerala and West Bengal. This is barring a period of six years, from 1960 to 1966, when the Marxists happened to be in a political wilderness.
The cyclical change of power after each five-year term in Kerala makes it fairly clear that after the Left Democratic Front rule, from 2006 to 2011, it is now the turn of the Congress-led United Democratic Front to assume office in May. The signs of a new dispensation taking over the reins of power are visible in West Bengal too. With this, the Marxists’ power will remain confined to the remotest corner of the Northeast, in Tripura, for the second term in a row. No doubt, the developments will have an adverse impact on the political clout of the party at the national level as well.
The political prosperity of the CPI(M) for decades, in spite of the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and in eastern Europe in 1989 and thereafter, perhaps underscores the need for an in-depth research by political analysts. Of particular interest will be the unique record of 34 years of uninterrupted rule of the party in West Bengal. This stint helped enhance both the strength and the stature of the Marxists in Indian politics, much to the surprise of many political pundits. The ‘political miracle’ was possible on account of the towering leadership of the party patriarch, Jyoti Basu, the systematic politicization of the State apparatus, the presence of too weak an Opposition to measure up to the party in power, the filling up of voters’ lists with names of people from across the border, and the pandering to the designs of the CPI(M)-led Left Front by New Delhi since the emergence of coalition politics at the Centre and a split in the anti-Left votes for lack of a unified Opposition.
The decision of the Indian communists to take part in the Kerala electoral politics in 1957 was a well-calibrated experiment to try and subvert the democratic system from within as a prelude to establishing the party’s rule along its ideological lines. Another decision that the CPI(M) took after its split in 1964 was to align with the Left and other like-minded parties (anti-Congress) to form the first United Front government in West Bengal in 1967. The strategy was to control the levers of power with the help of others when it was not feasible to do so on one’s own, and simultaneously, to work towards usurping power on one’s own at an opportune moment.
A seasoned leadership cast in the Stalinist mould ruled West Bengal. It used violence and repression as instruments of the party’s policy to force the people into the party’s folds and into obeying its dictates. The coercion, intimidation, social boycott, and liquidation in selective cases were considered to be in order to help make the party an unquestioned centre of power and authority. This was also necessary to build a strong political base for fighting elections and to manipulate the administrative and electoral mechanisms available in a democratic setup. The mandate, once obtained, was treated like a carte blanche to stay in power at all costs, twisting the system to serve a well-demarcated goal. In the process, the State was weakened from within; the efficacy of well-established democratic institutions was deliberately undermined. The latter either actively connived or acquiesced in the selfish, narrow, and partisan designs of the party in power.
Power corrupts and unchallenged party power for long years corrupts absolutely. Power made the party-led governance insensitive, intolerant, inert, and inefficient. It is a frailty of human nature that the vision becomes myopic and the mind becomes programmed to listen to what is music to the ears when one has been at the summit of power for long. One then tends to lose the capacity or the capability to see far down the road and to take remedial measures to perform and deliver.
History teaches us that genuine grievances that drive revolutionary change are seldom addressed by revolutionaries. Therefore, it was for Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamul Congress to intervene and articulate the grievances and skillfully exploit the hurricane of unrest to galvanize the people for a change in the order. What has helped her is the role played silently by the social media, including the internet, in the aftermath of Nandigram and other such incidents. The print/ electronic media and information technology helped trickle in truths from the avalanche of distorted ‘truths’ that were churned out ad nauseam by the well-oiled, aggressive propaganda machine of the Marxists. Being informed of the seamier side of governance, people started feeling the need to retreat from counting on the State and the government and to switch their support in favour of those considered more reliable than the administration in power.
Faced with the challenges of a shift in the balance of power, the communists were not able to stem the tide of the loss of popular support — which was intensified by an open debate on a welter of conflicting views on the non-performance of the government. The media-hype led to an enlargement of the area of shared awareness, compelling the State to account for anomalies between its views of events and the public perception of them. As a result, social media got empowered, exposing the clever ploy of the Marxists to lay the blame at the doors of others as excuse for their failure. The fact that the failures became a recurring feature despite the party being sufficiently long at the helm of affairs made the ploy all the more abrasive and a major cause of alienation.
People have come to realize that the enemies of the state are poverty, disease, corruption, inequity, insecurity, unemployment and so on. These are all internal foes and can be fought only through a smart public policy in a bipartisan manner. The age-old charge that the Congress or the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre has always schemed to make things difficult for CPI(M)-led governments in the states has fallen flat in the eyes of the people at large. People have now started looking into the mirror and confronting the reality that many of the serious and supposedly intractable problems in the state are on account of the anti-people policies of the party that has remained in power for far too long.
People have become tired of empty words and meaningless promises. They are disillusioned with politics in general. At the same time, they appear to have recognized that they own a share of responsibility for the unhappy situation. If such is the inner feeling of the people, this could be the start of a rewriting of history by shedding, once and for all, the culture of preservation of the status quo and a paralyzing fear of change, and opting for the rebuilding of trust, self-belief, and confidence to work in collaboration for a better tomorrow in Bengal, transcending all political differences.
The election 2011 provides a golden opportunity for communicative freedom to combine with participative freedom in order to administer change. In this context, the tradition of alternating power between the LDF and the UDF in the bipolar politics of Kerala has been a remarkable phenomenon. This is also possible in Bengal. It will help check the serious lapses of the administration if it favours only a few representing the party. The assembly elections also provide a historic opportunity to lose the fear of change and to make stronger the resolve to embark on a quest to replace the culture of militant partisan rule with a culture of peace, order, growth, development and bipartisan politics.
For the Marxists, the long years of uninterrupted rule provide a rich treasure of follies, blunders and success to introspect, and a chance to do all that is necessary to bridge the disconnect that has been allowed to grow in an endeavour to establish the party oligarchy. It is time that the party comes to terms with the reality and tries to set its sights on how to lead the Opposition in a constructive manner. What must endure is the lesson that pro-people policies provide better returns than pro-party policies. This is the truth that the parties in power and those in Opposition must treat as being at the core of governance.