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The ‘failures’ of the Left

- Criticism & suggestions for beleaguered organisation
Partha Chatterjee and (below) Sobhanlal Datta Gupta at the discussion. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Calcutta, July 27: Political theorist Partha Chatterjee today linked the Left’s decline to the combine’s failure to understand the changes in India’s political and economic background and its refusal to accept the need to revamp the organisation.

“From 1991 onwards, after the economic liberalisation took place, there was gradual slackening of government control. The Left parties failed to understand the changes that were taking place and subsequently did not modify their policies and programmes….. The party started relying on numbers rather than its ideological force. The moment it was voted out of power, the party crumbled,” Chatterjee said at Mahabodhi Society during a discussion titled “In Search of a Left Alternative” organised by Left Collective, a body of Left thinkers.

Chatterjee, a Presidency alumnus who divides his time between Columbia University and the Centre for Social Sciences, Calcutta, also rolled out suggestions for the Left parties.

Citing the example of contract farming, Chatterjee said the Left could play a role in protecting the interest of small farmers.

“Contract farming is a reality and it has to be accepted. The Left should see what it can do to protect the interest of the small farmers instead of blindly opposing it,” he said.

The Left has often been accused of protesting the neo-liberal economic policies of the Centre, without offering an alternative path for economic growth.

According to Chatterjee, the Left had also failed to realise the changes in the “informal sector”.

“Dependence on agriculture is reducing. The regional parties understood the changes in agriculture and used it to develop their support base. The number of industrial workers is not growing because the model is of jobless growth. The Left did not try to understand this,” he said.

Traditionally, agricultural labourers and factory workers have been the backbone of Left’s support base.

The Left’s refusal to accept identity politics as a reality cost it its place in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Chatterjee said.

Chatterjee’s comments come at a time the Left is going through one of its worst phases in Bengal. The combine won only two seats in the Lok Sabha polls and has been hit by a barrage of defections by party cadres unhappy with the organisation’s failure to protect them from alleged Trinamul onslaught.

Sobhanlal Datta Gupta, a former Surendra Nath Banerjee professor of political science at Calcutta University and currently a guest lecturer in the same department, said the Left leadership was suffering from a “mental block”.

“There is a mental block in the Left leadership. If Marxism turns into a faith, it is a problem. Flexibility of thought is required…. After the fall of the Soviet Union, European communist parties learnt their lessons. But the Indian communists are still clinging on to the old methods and refuse to admit their mistakes,” he said.

“The Left parties have to think of new ideas. If they build a Chinese wall around themselves and say what we are doing is correct, it is not going to work,” he added.