The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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M for Marwari: addition to CPM

Calcutta, June 16: When Biman Bose walks for Nawal Joshi, owner of upmarket sweet shop Gangaur, political observers begin to wonder if a revolution is under way.

It may be.

As in China, so in Bengal: the party of the dispossessed ' sarbaharar dal ' has opened its doors to people with possessions.

Some 10-12 Hindi-speaking candidates, mostly from the Marwari community, are contesting the civic elections on Left Front tickets.

Joshi is one of them, contesting against Trinamul’s candidate for mayor, Ajit Panja, in central Calcutta at ward 63, which is traditionally a non-Left seat.

“I am contesting the elections because of Biman Bose and Kiranmoy Nanda,” Joshi said. Bose is a CPM politburo member and Left Front chairman. Nanda heads the West Bengal Socialist Party that has put up Joshi.

In China, the communist party has opened membership to owners of capital.

Here in Bengal, there’s a meeting of minds between Marxists and Marwaris, who have shaken off their fear of godless communists with no respect for private capital.

Alongside innovative campaigning, where billboards carry pictures of common people ' from the cellphone-wielding businessman to the working woman ' singing the Left Front’s virtues, the CPM, in particular, has made it a point this time to reach out beyond traditional areas of support.

The party told its cadre in Salt Lake, reluctant to visit Hindi-speaking households because they are known not to vote for the Left, that they must shed this mindset.

On Monday, Jyoti Basu, accompanied by ministers Subhas Chakraborty and Asim Dasgupta, addressed a meeting called exclusively for Hindi-speaking voters in the township.

The fact that a number of Hindi-speaking candidates people the Left list fits into this pattern.

“We always wanted representation from these segments, but we did not have candidates. They voted for us in the last Lok Sabha elections and the support base is growing,” said Md. Salim, the CPM member of Parliament.

Last Sunday’s rally where Bose walked with local businessmen, aspiring models and former players in Joshi’s ward was an indication of the Left’s repositioning ' from Park Street to Burrabazar.

“The CPM and other Left parties lacked support in this area, but things have changed,” said Dipak Sharma, the businessman candidate at Burrabazar’s ward 22 who is a new face in the CPM.

His BJP opponent Meena Devi Purohit is talking of the Left’s apathy to religion and business.

“No one is bothered about these issues. People want results, which the Left parties have delivered in the past 27 years,” said Sharma.

Writer and social worker Prabha Khaitan links this phenomenon with aspiration among the Marwaris to join the political establishment.

“Stability, acceptance of private capital and lack of alternatives in the political spectrum are the reasons more and more Hindi-speaking people are switching to the Left.”

After 27 years, the Left may be winning over the business community, but aligning its aspiration with the party’s policies could be akin to stepping across a minefield.

“It is a process of integration and it doesn’t happen overnight. First you have to catch them and then you can think of their ideological association with the party,” said Salim.

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