Leftists everywhere are known to be slow learners. But the so-called central leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are among the slowest ones. They seem to be perennially debating what is to be done and ending up doing the same old things that have lost all relevance in a changing social and political scenario. That perhaps explains why these leaders continue to be such unfailing champions of the politics of bandhs. They are so out of touch with reality that they cannot grasp the popular sentiment against this brand of politics. Leading this group is Prakash Karat, the general-secretary of the CPI(M), who wants his writ to run in all party units and its frontal organizations. Such is his loyalty to discarded ideas and practices that he cannot bring himself to accept that people everywhere have rejected the political culture that tries to thrive on strikes and bandhs. Nor can he accept the fact that the CPI(M)’s reputation as the original party of bandhs has been one of the primary reasons for the erosion in its popularity in West Bengal.
The irony is that Mr Karat and his comrades in New Delhi have landed the CPI(M) in Bengal in a spot. The one leader in Bengal who must be particularly upset about the leftist trade unions’ two-day bandh call is none other than Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Although he presided over the end of the Left’s 34-year reign in the state, he remains both the public face and chief inspiration of the party. And industrialization of Bengal has remained his principal political campaign, whether in the government or in the Opposition. Mr Karat’s politics of bandh stands for everything that Mr Bhattacharjee’s politics of industrialization must spurn. It is largely owing to Mr Bhattacharjee’s initiative that the CPI(M) in Bengal is now trying to wriggle out of a two-day bandh. Even if he has won his way against Mr Karat, it remains a partial success for Mr Bhattacharjee. The party’s dilemma with the bandh call shows that it still has enough leaders who are condemned to old ways. Whether the bandh succeeds or fails should be of little consequence for Bengal and its people. What matters for the state is whether Mr Bhattacharjee can do more to reform his party enough. An unreformed CPI(M) is the last thing that Bengal needs, despite Mamata Banerjee’s poor show in government. Mr Bhattacharjee must lead the revolt against the mandarins in New Delhi.