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Why the Red Fort crumbled in West Bengal

Monday May 16, 2011 07:56:51 PM, M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

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There is no Shakespearean tragedy in the rout of the Left in West Bengal. In a democracy, political parties win and lose electoral battles. In Kerala, which gave the world the first elected Communist government in 1957, there are no heartbreaks when the Marxists are periodically voted out. Each time they are sure of returning to power - and they do. In fact, it was West Bengal's voters who defied history by not voting out the Left in the six elections after June 1977 when the Communists entered the Writers Building for the first time.

The many analyses on the Left's loss of Bengal range from the serious to the comical. Whatever leaders of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) may have said in public until May 13, the fact is sections of the Left had known that disaster was set to strike.

It is ridiculous to say that the Left was voted out because it did nothing during the three decades of power. If this is true, then Bengal's voters must be pulled up for giving a sweeping win to the Left as recently as five years ago!

There are many reasons why the Left Front was decimated.

Firstly, voter disenchantment was bound to set in after 34 long years of rule. Every election showed a huge voter population was voting against the Left. Its appeal was going down even when Jyoti Basu was at the helm. His own individual winning margin was sliding. That's when Basu gave the baton to Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in 2000. The general feeling that the CPI-M seemed ready to reform gave the new boss - and the Left - a huge mandate, crushing Mamata.

But when the bulk of voters realised that it was business as usual in the CPI-M barring Bhattacharya's reformist zeal vis-à-vis industry (which won him praise from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh), the mood again swung against the Left. This logically meant that if the CPI-M and its allies would not change from within, the only way was to vote them out.

While the Left notched up many successes during the 34 years it ruled West Bengal, there were also many drawbacks. One was the CPI-M's habit of inserting itself into every aspect of life. There were no major corruption scandals about Left ministers but this did not mean there was no corruption - or nepotism - at the lower level. The contractor Raj continued. Those who voted for Bhattacharya in the hope he would bring in fresh air felt betrayed.

This is when Singur and Nandigram happened. A Marxist regime snatching land to give it to industry was too much. Even Left intellectuals were horrified. Singur and Nandigram were the spark that lit a festering fuse. When Mamata jumped on the bandwagon mouthing slogans that sounded leftist, many otherwise not supportive of her decided the time had come for a regime change.

By the time the CPI-M realised what had gone wrong, it was too late to correct the rot - although the party tried.

The Left seriously erred in not building on the success of its revolutionary land reforms begun in 1977. Those who benefited from it had nothing more to gain. Agro-industries were not built. The biggest failures were in the health and education sectors. The CPI-M decision to ditch the Congress-led government in New Delhi also played a role - in making the Marxists look like permanent oppositionists.

To add to this was the violence the Maoists unleashed in recent years in Bengal - undercutting the Left base in the very rural areas the Marxists had traditionally dominated. The Maoists had no intention of contesting the elections; their task was to make things easy for Trinamool.

Mamata's doggedness was another key factor for her victory. She was the only politician who was passionately anti-Marxist, one who never gave up. She had learnt her lessons too. As the mood turned against the CPI-M, she did not go it alone; she teamed up not only with the Congress but also with the smaller Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI). The aim was to repeat the CPI-M's trick: every vote is valuable, have as many partners as you can. Till now the strategy worked for the Left, now it made Mamata a winner.


(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at



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(Photo: Hansraj)



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