That popular approval of a regime’s doings need not always be decisive in determining its longevity is a widely observed phenomenon in politics. The obvious examples are dictatorships, which last mainly by smothering political opposition and abrogating people’s rights and liberties. Such situations might arise within electoral democracies too, either because of the dysfunctionality of democratic processes, or because of the failures of the regime’s opponents to offer a viable alternative, or often a combination of both. Contemporary politics in West Bengal is such a classic case where an unpopular government – which has wantonly breached every promise of ‘change’ that had brought it to office – continues to comfortably wield power in the absence of a credible, democratic opposition.
The retrogression witnessed in the four years of Trinamool Congress rule is unmistakable. Industrial closures, from the iconic plants of Hindustan Motors and Shalimar Paints to several jute mills and tea gardens, have rendered thousands of workers jobless. Each harvesting season has witnessed suicides by paddy or potato farmers because of faulty procurement policies coupled with decrepit storage and marketing infrastructure, leading to price crashes. Alongside shrinking economic opportunities, rising prices and successive hikes in power tariffs have made living conditions worse for the common citizen.
Though there is a woman chief minister at the helm, atrocities and violence against women have reached alarming proportions across the state, with the government machinery seen siding with the perpetrators in most cases. The Muslim minority has also been taken for a ride, with the Sachar Committee recommendations gathering dust. The education sector is in a complete mess, with the marauding mobs of the ruling party and their patrons in the administration playing havoc with the integrity of academic institutions. Irregularities in the recruitment of teachers have also jeopardised the future of thousands of young applicants.
Probity and transparency have been the biggest casualty under Mamata Banerjee’s regime. The Transport Minister of the state charged in the Saradha scam along with another MP from the ruling party, continues to function from jail. The now sidelined ex-general secretary and money manager of the Trinamool Congress has also been questioned by the CBI. He is playing a dubious game by discussing plans of floating a new outfit even as his son continues to receive the Chief Minister’s blessings as a sitting MLA. Public spats between ruling party ministers and MPs over extortion rackets and builder ‘syndicates’ have become the order of the day. Added to this are periodic public outbursts by ruling party leaders threatening to ‘rape’ or ‘gouge out the eyes’ of political opponents.
Under normal circumstances, such a wretched record of governance would have led to public uproar and paved the way for the regime’s ejection. Yet, the reason Mamata Banerjee continues to feel comfortable is the even more pitiable state of the opposition.
The Lok Sabha election results in Bengal had came as a shocker for the CPI(M)-led Left Front (LF), with the BJP eating into its vote share in a significant manner. Over the past one year, however, the BJP has lost considerable ground in the state primarily owing to its ambivalence vis-a-vis the Trinamool Congress. The shift in the CBI’s approach in the Saradha scam, the BJP’s hobnobbing with the ex-General Secretary of the Trinamool Congress and its cynical attempts to communalise the Khagragarh explosions and link it with the chit fund scam, have all backfired. The state-wide urban bodies’ polls in April 2015 have brought the BJP down once again to a level of political insignificance.
Unfortunately, the CPI(M)-led LF has read too much into the recent downslide of the BJP. What should have worried them is that the voters who had shifted from the LF to the BJP in 2014 did not return to the Left fold in 2015; rather they seem to have shifted en masse to the Trinamool Congress, leaving the LF depleted. It is clear that even as people get disenchanted with the Mamata Banerjee regime, they are in no mood to bring the discredited and confused LF back to power. Not only are the memories of the disastrous phase of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharya regime still alive, but the absence of any meaningful ideological-political introspection and organisational rectification by the LF’s main driver – the CPI(M) – is further alienating considerable sections of the Left mass base.
CPI(M) looking for partners
Despite the drubbing it received in 2011 and 2014, the CPI(M)-led LF has singularly failed to do anything in West Bengal, either internally or publicly, which can inspire people to give them another chance. The same old faces and haggard minds remain at the helm, endlessly debating the same old ‘tactical’ issues over and over again. Some CPI(M) leaders are now publicly campaigning for a tie up with the Congress before the 2016 assembly polls to take on Trinamool Congress, in complete violation of the Party Congress resolution of opposing both the BJP and the Congress. An opportunistic tie up between the CPI(M) and Congress in Bengal would not only shatter Left unity and create disarray within Left ranks, but will also generate divisions and fissures within whatever little is left of the Congress in the state.
In one of his more contemplative notes written in 1922, Lenin had advocated the need of Communists to “preserve their strength and flexibility” “to begin from the beginning” over and over again in approaching an extremely difficult task. It is precisely this strength and flexibility which the CPI(M)-led LF has lost, perhaps forever. That is why the LF leadership is constantly on the lookout for electoral short-cuts, which invariably lead to dead-ends.
The way out of the quagmire in which politics in Bengal seems to have got stuck at the moment can only be through popular mass movements. If the established opposition parties continue to fail in raising people’s issues and building effective resistance to the Trinamool regime, new forces will emerge as a natural expression of popular will. The pre-poll promises of ‘change’ may have been abdicated by Mamata Banerjee, but a strong desire for real, substantive change remains in the hearts and minds of the people.
The writer is an economist and political activist
Featured image: Animesh Hazra, CC 2.0