The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting
The Left Front, particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist), must be feeling very pleased with itself after the panchayat elections, not only because of the results but also because of the fact that they were held at all. The preceding weeks of violence and death did not augur well for the elections, and raised basic questions about the validity of the democratic process itself. But then the elections did take place, and, the violence and the charges of rigging not- withstanding, were by and large conducted in a manner that was generally acceptable.
But patting themselves on the back and going back to the usual routine is not a very practical thing to do. The Left Front knows what went on before, during and after the elections; it knows what sort of people it has in its parties — the “cadre” as they are called — and the CPI(M), at any rate knows that it is facing some kind of internal crisis. Its leadership has aged, and there are no charismatic leaders in sight. The younger ones do not have bases among the people, and their ability to lead the kind of party that has been fashioned is questionable, to say the least.
In West Bengal, where the CPI(M) is the most powerful, the party has produced persons accused of murder and rape; which puts it on a par with parties in other parts of the country. It must happen for the same reasons; power making local goondas think they can get away with anything, because they are the bosses. The sort of thinking that must have made Raja Bhaiyya the power he was in Uttar Pradesh and, for all we know, will continue to make him one as soon as he is able to get out of jail.
Outside West Bengal, the CPI(M) hardly exists; and its tragedy is that it need not have been relegated to being a regional party like the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had it not been as short-sighted as it was a decade ago. Nor, as we said, is there anyone who has anything like national stature among the present leaders. No one like Jyoti Basu or, in his time, E.M.S. Namboodiripad. But even within the state where it is the major power, it must look carefully at what it has achieved and, more important, where it is going.
The reason is the fact that the Trinamool Congress was so decisively knocked out as a major party in the panchayat elections. It is now so demoralized that it is now seeking to consolidate its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The fact is that it will get closer to the BJP, and that must give the left parties food for thought.
That for the last 25 years the left parties have kept their hold on the sentiments of the people of the state is not just because of the land reforms they undertook (although this, too, is a matter that could well be debated) but also because of their cadre. A good deal of the violence in the districts some years ago was because the cadre shifted from the left parties, notably the CPI(M), to the Trinamool Congress; but that apart, the bulk of the cadre stayed. They must now ask themselves why. For the sake of being on the side that has political power, yes. But then, to be, for years and years, just party-workers — surely that is cause enough to breed discontent, resentment and disillusion.
And yet they have stayed. So the leaders need to look beyond the mere pleasure of being on the winning side to what else keeps them with their parties. They may well find that it is a sort of total commitment to a set of beliefs, not very different from the kind of devotion that the religious have for their beliefs, their gods. The icons are different, of course; but they generate the same kind of fervour and the conviction that they, as party-workers, will be enriched in some vague way by working for the ideals set before them by their leaders in the name of these icons. To equate this with the loyalty Trinamool Congress workers have for their didi is to make a very major mistake. Which is why they, the leaders of the left parties in West Bengal, need to look to their parties carefully, and to what they are really up against. The Trinamool Congress will inevitably be driven into the arms of the BJP by their recent debacle in the panchayat elections. And the only credible counter to what has built up the left parties in the state has been, not the BJP, but what the BJP is seeking to induce. (We may disregard the Congress for the time being, in spite of its fairly creditable showing in the elections; it is too enmeshed in its dynastic bases beneath which is an incipient feudalism that will keep it from becoming the formidable force it once was. )
And what is the BJP, and the various organizations collectively called the sangh parivar, seeking to induce' Nothing less than that the kind of devotion and commitment the left cadre have — except they are using what is already within all Indians, including those in West Bengal. Religion, intense devotion. It is only a question of making that devotion surface, and making it appear to be manifest in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and eventually the BJP. Amusing' It may look like that to the short-sighted, but it is not, not in the least. Much work has been done for years in villages and in small towns. And much more will be done as the years pass, as the aged left leadership finally bows out and the new leadership seeks to establish some kind of contact with the people. Hence the trishul; and hence the attempts to foment communal hatred.
This time, religious devotion will not be induced as it once was, several hundred years ago, through bhakti and love; it will come through hatred and violence. There will be yatras as in other states, and community will be set against community, community and caste. We may think that caste is not a major factor in the politics of the state today; but it is inevitably going to be, tomorrow. The scheduled castes and tribes, taken together, are roughly about 30 per cent of the population; add to them the other backward classes which will be identified and exhorted to realize how they are different from and exploited by the “upper castes” and the recipe for a confrontation of a very ugly kind will have been prepared.
It is already being prepared in other states; and a number of states have now developed power groups which are based on community lines, as in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere, all ripe to be inflamed in the manner which the sangh parivar wants them to be. It may take longer to happen in West Bengal, but there is no reason to suppose that it will not; that state is, as is all too clear now, no different from other states in the country.
That is why the left has no reason to be complacent, or speak with derision about Praveen Togadia and his trishul campaign. It isn’t as silly as it sounds or looks; there is a power behind it, not yet realized perhaps, but if and when it is, it could drive the Left Front out of its comfortable sinecure.