Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Left Confused: Politics in West Bengal

The left was given massive mandates for seven successive terms in west Bengal.But, In the recent Municipal elections, the Left managed to win only 18 of the state's 81 municipal councils.The left got much public support through the agrarian reforms of the 70's.But, the benefits of the much famed land reforms weared off and they lost the support they had gained. Even sympathizers of the left find the horrors of Nandigram repulsive, writes Semu Bhatt in Southasia Online.

Read the whole article here:

"For 33 years, the Left Front has been synonymous to West Bengal politics, with people having given it massive mandates for seven successive terms. However, on June 21st, when the Left Front entered into the 34th year of power in the state, the celebrations failed to hide the despair amongst the party members about a distinct possibility of the unthinkable - collapsing of the thus-far impregnable Leftist fort in the 2011 state assembly polls."

"In the recent Municipal elections, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left plank managed to win only 18 of the state's 81 municipal councils, 36 seats less than its 2005 tally."

"What is alarming is the rate at which this slide has happened - after all, the Left had won the assembly polls of 2006 with a huge majority."

"The Left fort was built on the unwavering support it generated through major agrarian reforms starting late 70s - to an extent unseen in any other Indian state, and decentralization of power - much before the Indian Constitution encouraged it through 73rd and 74th Amendments. The Left Front enforced land ceiling and effected an equitable distribution of surplus land to small and landless farmers. It enumerated the sharecroppers and secured their rights to crop share and tilling tenure. With the government ensuring good irrigation facility and high quality seeds, West Bengal agriculture boomed. Unlike other agrarian success stories of India, the West Bengal green revolution was unique in the fact that it was based on a small farmer economy. This positively impacted poverty alleviation in the state. Approximately 60 per cent rural households in West Bengal benefited from the land reforms, earning a life-long loyalty of the farmers that kept the Leftists in power for so long."

"The benefits of the much famed land reforms are wearing off and the second generation small farmers, who are increasingly finding agriculture an unviable option, are on a look out for jobs outside of it. To win back its farmer support base, the government has recently announced that it will buy land from willing farmers at much higher rate and redistribute it to the landless. By the look of it, however, this scheme appears more of an appeasement strategy to win back rural masses than an actual workable program."

"While the Left fared much better than most of the Indian states in land reforms, it fared poorly in both, public and private industrial sectors. In 1947, West Bengal was one of the most industrialized states of India with a huge share of 24 per cent in total industrial production of the country. Due to a combination of factors - including lack of private interest and public investment, and freight equalization policy- West Bengal's share had declined to 12 per cent by 1977 when Jyoti Basu came to power. In the following three decades, the state's share further dipped to a dismal 4 per cent."

"The vitality in rural economy had led to substantial growth in the unorganized small scale manufacturing in the state. Thus, the unorganized sector absorbed a lot of workforce, to the extent that number of workers employed in it in the state were, and are still, a lot higher than those employed in the organized sector. West Bengal, in fact, accounts for almost one-fifth of the unorganized sector workforce of India. This is the reason why despite the Left plank's neglect of heavy industries for almost three decades, it continued to retain electorate support."

"With both the primary and the unorganized sectors contribution to SDP and employment on decline, the Left Front was left to choose between ideology and industry. Little did it know - when it opted for fast track industrialization - that it is stepping into a minefield that would cripple its political fortune. Events in Singur and Nandigram were result of a very inept and insensitive handling of the land acquisition issue by the government. Even the strongest supporters of the Leftists were shocked by the police firing on women and children in Nandigram."

"It is ironical that today in West Bengal the Left is considered pro-capital while TMC pro-poor. In line with this new perception, TMC has gained support from many leftist intellectuals, civil society groups, and even the Maoists. Disillusioned with the Left government's support to the Centre in fighting red terror, Maoists sided with TMC calling it a progressive option in their fight against feudalism."

"At the moment, the Left Front is in deep trouble facing popular anger and charges of rampant corruption and poor governance; as well as possibility of split in the Left plank with couple of smaller parties moving towards an alliance with TMC."

Read the article on Miracle of Democracy.

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