Karat makes grim Bengal forecast

via Manini Chatterjee (The Telegraph) published on March 2, 2010


New Delhi, March 1: The CPM feels “beleaguered and besieged” in Bengal and expects to do “very badly” in the next round of Assembly elections.

This harsh assessment has been made by none less than party general secretary Prakash Karat, according to renowned British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm.

In an interview in the latest (Jan.-Feb. 2010) issue of the prestigious Left journal New Left Review, Hobsbawm discusses the changes that have taken place across the world in the first decade of the 21st century.

Among the developments that have surprised him since he wrote his tome Age of Extremes on the 20th century, Hobsbawm lists the “collapse of the CPI(M) in West Bengal which I really wouldn’t have expected”.

He goes on to say: “Prakash Karat, the CPI(M) general secretary, recently told me that in West Bengal, they felt themselves beleaguered and besieged. They look forward to doing very badly against this new Congress in the local elections. This after governing as a national party, as it were, for thirty years.”

Elaborating, the 92-year-old historian and prolific author notes: “The industrialisation policy, taking land away from the peasants, had a very bad effect, and was clearly a mistake. I can see that, like all such surviving Left-wing governments, they had to accommodate economic development, including private development, and so it seemed natural for them to develop a strong industrial base. But it does seem slightly surprising that it should have led to such a dramatic turnaround.”

It is not clear whether the comment on the Left Front government’s industrialisation policy as the main cause of the CPM’s Lok Sabha poll results is Hobsbawm’s own or based on his conversation with Karat. It is also not clear how recently that conversation took place — immediately after the election results or much later.

Although the CPM general secretary has not been as forthright in public as he has been with Hobsbawm, it is well known in party circles that he represents the dominant view in the party holding the Bengal government’s policies as primarily responsible for the Lok Sabha rout.

The alternative view, which many in the Bengal state unit hold and which is tacitly backed by sections in the central leadership as well, is that the CPM would not have fared so badly had the Trinamul Congress and the Congress not joined hands and taken on the Left united. This view indirectly blames Karat’s decision of withdrawing support to the UPA government over the Indo-US nuclear deal and thus facilitating the Trinamul-Congress tie-up for the party’s disastrous showing last May.

This section also believes that it is in the CPM’s interest to drive a wedge between Trinamul and the Congress, and be less hostile to the Congress at the national and state levels in pursuance of this objective.

Officially, so far, the Karat line has prevailed. The CPM central committee, in its assessment of the Lok Sabha results in June 2009, “was of the firm opinion that the withdrawal of support to the UPA government on the nuclear deal in July 2008 was correct”.

It also endorsed Karat’s pre-poll efforts to form a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative or what is referred to as the third front as “a correct tactic”. The only criticism voiced by the central committee was that “it failed to be a viable and credible alternative at the national level” and that “in the absence of a countrywide alliance and no common policy platform being presented, the call for an alternative government was unrealistic”.

The central committee’s review of the party’s performance in Bengal also endorsed the general secretary’s line in so far as no mention was made of the Trinamul-Congress combine as a factor in the Left’s defeat.

Blaming “political, governmental and organisational reasons” for the setbacks, the review noted that “there is some erosion of support among the rural and urban poor and sections of the middle classes. There are shortcomings in the functioning of government, panchayats and municipalities based on a proper class outlook. This is due to the failure of the government to implement properly various measures directly concerning the lives of the people.

“The apprehension about land acquisition has contributed to the alienation amongst some sections of the peasantry,” the review said.

While this remains the official view, there has been a growing feeling in sections of the party that the central leadership and the general secretary had chosen to put all the blame on Bengal for the poll setbacks. That the central line, which facilitated a united Opposition, was a factor has been swept aside entirely.

These sections also believe that when the party is faced with hostility all around, the central leadership should avoid overt and covert criticism of the Bengal government and not foster “a defeatist” attitude in the run-up to the Assembly elections which are over a year away.

In this context, Karat’s comments to Hobsbawm which have spilled out in the public domain could further demoralise an already demoralised state unit just as it was shedding some of its defeatism in the wake of the massive turnout to bid farewell to Jyoti Basu a few weeks ago.

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