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The Collapse of Hegemony: Kumar Rana

June 1, 2009

[This is a guest post by KUMAR RANA. Kumar Rana is an activist and works with Pratichi]

At last, after 32 years, history repeated itself in West Bengal. It’s the history of routing of a prolonged political hegemony established by the CPIM led Left Front that replaced in 1977 another prolonged reign of the Congress.  The Left Front is now reduced to 15 seats from its 2004 tally of 35. The Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee, who severed her ties with the NDA to form an alliance with the Congress has swept through the elections to multiply her parties tally by 19 – she was the sole representative of her party in 2004. She made two alliances – one with the Congress that has managed to restore its position by winning six seats, and the other with SUCI, which too has won the seat allotted to it. The BJP has also secured a seat mainly through its bargain with the Gorkha Janmukti Parishad that has been fighting for a separate state of Gorkhaland. In other words, the opposition parties have now secured 27 out of 42 seats – more than two third – in the state.

Not that the change was fully unanticipated. There have been indications in the pre-poll surveys and other discourses that the Left Front was going to loose – but only to some extent (18-19 seats). None, including the opposition parties, did expect such a result. This writer too estimated the opposition seats to be 23-24, and could not imagine that the phrase – era jak (let they be dumped) – could have so routing effect on the ruling front.. Indeed, it’s the people who build up their own phrases, and this time it was “era jak”.
What caused to the culmination of the phrase? Poor governance? High-handedness of the CPIM and other left party leaders and workers? Wrong conceptualization of industrialization? Publication of the Sachar Committee report that showed clearly the deprivation of the Muslims in the state? Inter-party rivalry in the front? Intra-party feud inside the CPIM?
Indeed, there have been a range of factors that combine to create a ferocious anti-CPIM mood among the public. (The Left Front in West Bengal is precisely being seen as a Hindu Undivided Family where the role of the other partners is strictly defined prescribed by the big brother.) Firstly, it was the constituency of the CPIM that sustained and emboldened the party year after year since 1977 has changed dramatically. The CPIM’s change in policies, initiated in 2001 but bloomed fully after the 2006 landslide victory in the Assembly Election has been causing the erosion of its base among its central constituency comprising of the agricultural poor, small farmers and labourers. Although, the CPIM has always followed the economic class line of analysis, as a crude reality the economic poor of Bengal are mainly consisted of the socially disadvantaged – Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis. What the CPIM has continued to do was using the socio-economic vulnerabilities of masses and taking their subjugation to the party as granted.

The erosion of the CPIM’s base among the poor was indicated enough in the 2006 election itself – the Muslim support base started to revolt. Instead of identifying the particular disadvantages of the Muslims, the party – and its public face Mr. Buddha Dev Bhataccahya – continued to alienate the Muslims. At one point of time there was little or no difference in the line of articulation of Mr. L.K. Advani and Mr. Bhattacharya. While the policy of land acquisition, which was fought vehemently by the Muslims in Bhangar (near Kolkata) even before 2006, directly went against the livelihood interest of the Muslims, Mr. Bhattacharya’s almost equating this social group with religious terrorism, fanaticism, intellectual backwardness and so on, infuriated them en masse. On the other hand, the growing aspiration among part of the dalit masses, who are relatively empowered than their lowlier brethren but perceived to be deprived of the privileges and power, found ways of expression against the suppressive rule of the party and government.
These resulted in the 2008 Panchayat election, where the CPIM lost control over a large section of Muslims and Dalits. The publication of Sachar report clearly showed the deprivation of the Muslims of West Bengal vis a vis some other states. The findings of the report were taken by various Muslim Agencies to the masses. At the same time the Nandigram episode where the Muslims first started the resistance to the proposed land acquisition added severely not only to the fury of the Muslims but also the common masses including, ironically, sections of middle class, whom Mr. Bhattacharya’s party attempted to win. It also gave the people the required confidence to believe that challenging the party and government was possible. The defeat of the CPIM in the battle over Nano in Singur added more to the syndrome of defiance that spread quickly to another parts of the state. While this took an explicit form in Lalgarh, where a mass upsurge against police repression on the Adivasis took place, the undercurrent of dissent was even rebellious.

Instead of attempting to read the situation the CPIM tried to control damage through the conventional means – party’s custodianship at the societal level and over-dependence on bureaucracy at governmental level. “We have given the poor the voice”, claims a CPIM activist. Perhaps, he is not wrong; however limited the CPIM contribution to the upliftment of the poor cannot even be denied by its enemies. But, what it failed to understand that support and loyalty are two different things: support is something that embeds a sense of partnership, and loyalty is absolute subjugation. The CPIM’s following the line of exacting loyalty has been quite explicit for a fairly long time. This not only caused to the culmination of “era jak”  but also highlights a lessons for the victorious.

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