The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CPM prefers toilers to teachers

Calcutta, Nov. 6: CPM state secretary Anil Biswas has said fewer teachers would be fielded for the panchayat polls. If his small announcement is examined in its fine print, the ruling communists will seem to be planning a momentous change in the power totem pole in rural Bengal, where the sixth panchayat election is due for next May.

Though the party enjoys a near monopolistic hold on the panchayat system, the CPM leadership has decided to shuffle the blocks underpinning the pole.

For the first time since 1978 — when the first panchayat polls were held — the CPM has embarked on re-engineering the power blocks in rural Bengal. It is evident from its decision to field more agricultural labourers and marginal farmers and lessen the representation of teachers, who virtually run the three-tier panchayat system.

The CPM has depended mostly on teachers, primary schoolteachers in particular, to manage the panchayats. After 24 years, the party is thinking of effecting a major change as it feels that the over-dependence on teachers has given birth to a new class and the peasants and agricultural labourers — for whom the panchayat raj was planned — have been pushed to the background.

As party officials indicated on Wednesday, the teachers who symbolise the “rural haves” by virtue of their access to power levers will gradually be downsized in favour of traditional “have-nots” like peasants and agricultural labourers.

The CPM, it seems, realises that teachers as a lobby are quite organised and the party has become, sort of, a captive. “You see, knowledge gives you confidence and exposure. And teachers, by virtue of their control on power levers in the administration, have now become ‘haves’,” said a party official.

On the other hand, the party is aware that alienating teachers from panchayats may not go down well with the rural community. It is trying to create an impression that the party intends to bring the teachers back to schools, where they belong, away from direct politics.

“Education is one of the few sectors to which we are attaching tremendous importance. We don’t want teachers to remain out of the arena of schools. That’s why we are planning to release them from the job of running the panchayats,” a senior CPM leader said.

By reducing the presence of teachers in the panchayat system, the CPM is also trying to strike a balance in the rural administration. The party, which believes that only class struggle can bring social reform, is not ready to allow a section of the society (read teachers) to enjoy power for an indefinite period.

“Our motto is to involve people from all sections of society in running the government and the local self-governments. We now want to bring up the peasants and agricultural labourers and allow them to run the panchayats,” he said.

Political observers, however, think otherwise. They feel the CPM has antagonised teachers by initiating measures to discipline them on various counts. A section of party leaders, too, feel that fielding teachers may go against them. The CPM, that attaches huge importance to the panchayat elections, is not ready to take the risk of weakening its poll prospects by depending solely on teachers.

It remains to be seen how the CPM fields candidates to fill the bulk of the 58,447 seats in gram panchayats, panchayat samities and zilla parishads, overseeing the fate of five crore people spread across 60,000 villages.

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