ONE interpretation of the Cultural Revolution in China, some four decades ago, evokes justification for it. Mao Tse-tung wanted his party men and bureaucrats to go to the villages and stay there. His purpose was that they should imbibe the rigours of living in the countryside so that they would not be complacent when they returned to their chair.
The communists’ routing in Kolkata’s recent civic election should renew Mao’s thoughts. CPI leader A.B. Bharadhan has attacked the communist government at Kolkata for becoming “swollen headed” because of their distance from the ground realities and people’s aspirations.
Indeed, a government which has ruled for 33 years and had all the time to experiment with the communist way of administration is either inept in governance or incapable to rule. The growing conviction is that a communist state does not fit into today’s world of free thinking and pragmatic working.
The communists in West Bengal did not do badly and remained popular, particularly in the rural areas, as long as they were effecting agrarian reforms, transferring power to the panchayats and making the countryside feel that it was the master of its destiny. Both the communist cadres and those in power then sat back as if they had nothing more to do. They became slaves of chairs. People were exasperated over the status quo and expressed their resentment by defeating communist candidates in bye-elections. Still the communists did not get the message. The people became more expressive when they voted against the communists in the last Lok Sabha election and reduced the Left’s strength in the country some from 60 to16.
The party’s politburo considered the defeat an aberration and did not anticipate the mood of the people when state chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya announced that the industrial development had to have priority if economic conditions were to improve in the state. He said that falling living standards and growing youth unemployment could not be tackled without industrialization. This was a departure from the communist policy which was primarily based on agrarian reforms. Most ministers, much less the cadre, did not understand or appreciate the new policy.
Even the calculation of the top Communist leaders was wrong. How could West Bengal attract industrialists when their cadre had driven them out two decades ago, after humiliating them? The communist cadres had organized hartals and committed daylight crimes which went unpunished because of an indulgent police. Big industrial houses which had their headquarters at Kolkata eventually moved out.
And when Bhuddhadev wanted to bring back the industry and began with the Tata’s Nano car plant at Singrur through land acquisition “in public interest,” the chief minister failed because he did not prepare the ground. Farmers, nourished in the climate of reforms, preferred agrarian economy to the industrial switchover. Therefore, when the communist cadres, with the help of the police, tried to fight farmers who were not willing to give their land for industry, they became oppressors. And the cadres showed little consideration for their vote bank, the farmers. The West Bengalgovernment committed atrocities to the horror of liberals and failed to make any headway. It was inevitable.
The Left did not understand—and it does not do so even now—that the support won through the betterment of villages could not be diverted to the industry in which farmers would have no equity. Farmers could not be expected to hand over their land for cash which would not last them for life.
At least the West Bengal government should have realsied that the land acquired for an industry did not come under the purview of “public interest.” How could the Left create something akin to Special Economic Zone (SEZ) when it had vehemently opposed to the Union government’s decision to have such exclusive estates?
The reason why the Indian Maoists have spread to nearly 200 districts is not because they use force but because they pay special attention to the development of the countryside where the tribals and the marginalized live. They have not made industry their priority and have apparently stayed with the agrarian needs. B.D. Sharma, an eminent activist, is right when he says in an open letter to the President of India to allow the tribals their traditional life in forests, mountains and mines, which the global economy requires for development, to check the spread of Maoists.
However, the point on which the communists excel the Maoists is the confidence in the parliamentary system. They have come to put faith in the ballot, not the bullet. The Left in West Bengal should, however, realize the people’s feeling of participation in governance, which the regime under Old Guard Jyoti Basu encouraged, has got diluted.
The administration in Kolkata appears at the beck and call of the communist leaders which throw their weight around for personal ends. The Left should also try to find out why they are not selling as they did in the past. One reason, of course, is the lessening of liberal appeal in the glittering world of consumerism. But another reason is that the communist ideology has got jaded.
In fact, such questions stare at the communist throughout the world. Globalisation of economy or free markets is not something the Left has faced for the first time. Why religious fundamentalism is today attracting the youth more than the Karl Marx teachings? Why, as eminent Urdu poet Iqbal, asked 90 years ago, the bank buildings are higher than the kalisa (church)? These questions cannot be brushed aside.
True, idealism is lessening in the society. But at the same time, people are more fascinated by social democracy than the system which concentrates power in a few hands. Those living in poverty—for example, the subcontinent—are tired of the trickle theory which the globalization promises in terms of benefits “in due course.”
The 21st century has different challenges, different calls and different compulsions. What strings different endeavours together is the fight against bigotry on the one hand and vested interests on the other. The Left should understand that this battle cannot be won until the people’s say is strengthened. Any kind of dictatorship, either of the proletariat or of others, is bound to fail. The communist ideology has to be reinterpreted.
When West Bengal is introspecting over the causes of its unpopularity in the state, it should be considering how to build an agrarian society which can increase the output, enhance farmers’ income and bring about egalitarianism. This cannot be done through the steps where the land is acquired in “public interest” to benefit a few industrialists. The communist ideology should be radiating with fresh thinking for retrieving idealism which is receding into the shadows.