June 22, 2011

We Will Counter the Violence with Political Campaign: Biman Basu

By N S Arjun (INN)

Hyderabad: June 11, 2011: The ongoing physical attacks on the cadre and leaders of the Left Front in Bengal will be countered through intensive political campaign among the people in favour of peace and saving democracy. This campaign has already begun in the state and will be intensified in the coming period, said CPI(M) Bengal state secretary Biman Basu.

Speaking to INN on the sidelines of the Central Committee meetings here, Basu criticised the TMC-Congress government for not taking up any measures to stem these physical attacks despite repeated deputations by the leaders of the Left Front. Leader of Opposition in the state assembly, Surjya Kanta Mishra, along with Left Front MLAs submitted memorandums to the state Governor and CM on this issue but no action has been taken so far. He said since May 13, the day of results, a total of 13 comrades belonging to the CPI(M) and one to RSP have been brutally killed by the TMC-Congress goons in the state.

On June 25, the day Emergency was clamped on the nation by Indira Gandhi, a two day statewide campaign ‘Save Democracy, Ensure Peace’ will be launched by the Left Front against the terror tactics unleashed by the TMC-Congress combine, said Basu. About the weapons being regularly “found” in the vicinity of CPI(M) offices and residences of its leaders, Basu said that it was the TMC activists who are planting these in order to get the CPI(M) leaders arrested, most of whom have in fact been charged under non-bailable sections. They have gone so far as to plant the Maoists captured rifle (during their attack on EFR jawans camp) near a residence of CPI(M) leader in order to propagate that it was the CPI(M) which attacked the EFR camp!


Biman Basu termed the coverage of the corporate media in Bengal during the elections as ‘media terrorism’ and that it played a part in creating a positive impact for the TMC-Congress combine. “Corporate media always reported in a concocted fashion, putting out blatant lies about the functioning of the Left Front government while demonising the CPI(M) and the Left Front in general. We couldn’t assess properly how deeply this media had penetrated in different districts”, said Basu. He cited the mis-reporting of what he said yesterday about the ordinance brought out by TMC-Congress government relating to the giving back of 400 acres of land in Singur to farmers. He said that he had only pointed out the unconstitutionality of the ordinance route at a time when the assembly was still in session. But the media suppressed this part and only propagated that Biman Basu opposed the transfer of land. He said this was a blatant lie and is a stark example of media’s role in Bengal.

Biman Basu said that the deep penetration of the slogan of change given by TMC-Congress could not be assessed properly by Party activists in different districts. The campaign unleashed by TMC-Congress on this slogan, ably aided by the corporate media, did make inroads among the people in rural and urban areas, felt the preliminary review made by the Bengal state committee. Further reasons would be found out in the detailed reviews of district committees and in the next state committee meeting scheduled in mid July, said Basu.

One of the factors in not coming to a proper assessment was the fact of massive participation of people in the mobilisation either through road shows or public meetings. Some lacunae in organisational front also played a part, he felt.

Elections 2011: One Clear Message, Several Ambiguities

By Sukumar Muralidharan,

Newsclick, May 15, 2011

Over seven days of polling between April 4 and May 10, five Indian states, together accounting for over a fifth of the membership of the two houses of parliament, had general elections to their legislative assemblies. The long drawn out process of balloting left everyone – candidate, voter and interested bystander – restless for final closure. And when the counting of votes started early on May 13, the results flooded in with the momentum of a fast-moving sporting encounter.

Analysts did not have to spend too much time parsing the results that emerged for a dominant message. Quite simply, the implosion of the Left Front in West Bengal, a state considered its impregnable bastion, was so dramatic that it overshadowed every other message. For the left parties, there was little mitigation even in the near miracle of Kerala where they almost beat the iron law of incumbency disadvantage, operative for the last seven rounds of assembly elections.

Though written off at various points during its 34 years of uninterrupted rule, the Left Front (LF) in West Bengal had managed to script one epic triumph after another. It managed a smooth transition from the leadership of Jyoti Basu, the patriarch who led it through nearly a quarter century, and won two consecutive state elections under his handpicked successor. But when things started falling apart, the disintegration was rapid and almost catastrophic.

In the days of reflection that will inevitably come, the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the leading party of the left, will wonder what went wrong. As a party, the CPI(M) has seen its fortunes plunge from stratospheric heights to virtual rockbottom in five years. In May 2006, the last time the same five states of the union went into general elections, the left won two of them. It had at the time, 58 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. And the Congress-led coalition, the United Progress Alliance (UPA), which ruled at the centre, was crucially dependent on its support in every legislative and policy initiative.

Today, the left has none of the major states under its control, since the north-eastern state of Tripura, which sends two members to the Lok Sabha, counts for little in national politics. Its strength in the Lok Sabha is down to 24 and the UPA has no need to seek its support in anything it undertakes.

The LF built its base in West Bengal with its visionary reforms in the agrarian sector, of which the most important were connected with the land – the registration of unrecorded tenancies and the distribution of land held above a legally notified ceiling. Towards the last years of Basu’s stewardship of the LF, the stimulus was beginning to fade. Under acute threat, the left managed to consolidate its monopoly on power because of disunity and disarray in opposition ranks. The Congress then faced what seemed an existential threat from the BJP and tended to look on the left as a friendly opponent. And the most significant leader of the Congress in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, was so bitterly alienated by this ambivalence that she chose to break away and seek an alliance with the BJP, rather than be part of it.

Coming to power just in time to capitalise on these multiple fissures in the opposition, Basu’s successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharya won a massive triumph in 2001 and followed up with an equally impressive victory five years later. He was not content with electoral trophies though and was restless for change, for diversifying the economy and setting it on a pathway to rapid industrialisation.

In effecting the course change, the CPI(M) set its cadres to work in enforcing a policy of dispossession, or turning over large tracts of land in a densely populated state to business houses whose patronage the state government seemed rather too anxious to cultivate.

Opposition ambivalence ended in 2008, when the left walked out of its alliance with the UPA at the centre, over an abstruse geopolitical issue that did not strike much of a chord with the majority of the electorate. The Congress now had an incentive to team up with Mamata Banerjee’s breakaway Trinamool Congress, which had in the years since separation, grown to be a far larger and better organised political force in West Bengal. The final defeat was foretold by the outcome of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and successive rounds of local body elections. When the decisive moment arrived, the defeat proved more crushing than anything that even the most percipient had foreseen.

The creditable performance in Kerala comes as small solace to the left. Led by V.S. Achutanandan, the sole survivor of the group that walked out of the National Council of the parent party to set up the CPI(M) in 1964, the left (which goes under the name of the Left Democratic Front in Kerala) was not given a ghost of a chance. The LDF was riven by deep factional animosities through its five years in authority, almost entirely originating within the CPI(M). But in the media spectacle that emerged, the underlying story was lost: that the LDF had provided a level of efficiency in administration that the state had not seen in years. And for this, the people of Kerala were inclined to credit Achutanandan’s leadership – which many among the newer generation thought rather hidebound and rigid, but was ultimately, about an unswerving sense of probity and political commitment. Again in a suggestion of its inability to feel the public pulse, the CPI(M) leadership first sought to isolate Achutanandan, before conceding him a ticket for reelection.

The two main national parties, ironically, had rather modest stakes in these five states. The Congress had only an indirect stake in the two largest of the five: riding piggy-back as it were, on the fortunes of powerful regional parties in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. It scored a win in one and went down to a humiliating defeat in the other.

The Tamil Nadu verdict conforms to the pattern established since at least 1991, when the two main regional formations have alternated in power, each election bringing a decisive shift. The swing this time has perhaps been stronger than before, with a powerful new ingredient being added to the mix by the brazen nepotism in the family of the incumbent chief minister, M. Karunanidhi. Kalaignar, as he is known in tribute to his literary gifts, first took office as chief minister in 1969 and at 87 has quite possibly contested his last election. He has a legacy that will unfortunately now, be forgotten as the people of Tamil Nadu seek to grapple with his least welcome political bequest: a dysfunctional family, squabbling bitterly over the spoils of office.

Expectations that the United Democratic Front (UDF) that the Congress leads in Kerala would win comfortably, were demolished and the Congress performance in terms of seats won has been decidedly worse than its main coalition partners’. The Muslim League and the Kerala Congress – both junior partners in the UDF – have scored a much greater success rate in seats contested and will almost certainly demand a commensurate share in the allocation of ministerial responsibilities. This does not suggest a smooth course ahead for the UDF ministry that will shortly be sworn in.

It is only in Assam, where it won an unprecedented majority of over two-thirds of the seats at stake, that the Congress did itself some credit. Its main opponents, the BJP and the Asom Gano Parishad, were once allies in state politics, but this time managed to fight each other to a state of paralysis by their brazen over-use of the xenophobia card in a state where the issue of illegal migrants has always been politically touchy.

The BJP which once showed the conceit of actually seeking to spread its roots into Tamil Nadu, Assam and West Bengal, contested several of the 800 odd seats that were at stake, allowing its ambition to overwhelm rational calculation. Nobody quite knows how many seats it contested, which is an eloquent comment on its ambition, rapidly evaporating, of being the sole and singular representative party of a true Indian sense of nationality. What is germane here, is that the number of seats the BJP has won will not touch the double-digit figure.

The 2011 assembly elections underline further that the BJP will remain narrowly based in its geographical spread, since minority baiting, the key to its dominance in the few states it governs, is precisely what drives potential partners away in other parts of the country.

Left parties have always shown political courtesy: Biman

KOLKATA, May 20, 2011: Left Front chairman Biman Basu, who attended the swearing-in ceremony of Mamata Banerjee along with other CPI(M) leaders, today claimed the Left parties have always shown political courtesy in the state.

In a bid to counter criticism often levelled against the Left parties for showing discourtesy to their political adversaries, Mr. Basu argued, “In West Bengal, Left parties have shown political courtesy.”

Mr. Basu, along with former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, former State Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta and former Assembly Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim attended the ceremony.

Political observers said in other states the simple gesture of opposition party leaders attending swearing-in ceremonies would be perfectly normal, but in West Bengal it assumed a special significance as the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress rarely saw eye to eye.

Regarding expectations from the new government, which took over after 34 years of uninterrupted rule by the CPI (M)-led Left Front, Mr. Basu said, “We hope the government will work in the interest of the people. We want it to work towards upkeep of democracy and peace in the state.”

While senior Trinamool Congress leader Partha Chatterjee had personally gone to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s residence to invite him and his wife, letters were sent to others inviting them to attend the ceremony.

Exit Buddhadeb, man who saw beyond ideological convictions

14 May, 2011, 01.40PM IST, IANS

KOLKATA: With a reputation of being incorruptible and cultured, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will go down in history as a chief minister who tried to fast-track industrialisation in West Bengal. But the emotional 67-year-old was no expert in managing political contradictions and that proved his undoing.

Notwithstanding his deeprooted Marxist convictions, Bhattacharjee wooed big capital to create jobs for lakhs of unemployed youths in the state. He, however, ended up eroding his party's core constituency, seemingly proceeding too fast without preparing the stakeholders.

A yardstick for judging the quality of an administrator is also his ability to take swift and decisive decisions, but on this front he took a beating again and again, ultimately leading to the Left Front's debacle at the hands of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and his own shock defeat at the hands of his former chief secretary in assembly polls.

The beginning of Bhattacharjee's chief ministerial stint was promising when he took over from an ailing Jyoti Basu in November 2000.

He worked with passion and dedication. He sold a dream of industrialisation and the Left Front won the 2001 polls and repeated the triumph with a bigger majority five years later as foreign investment came and there was also substantial success on the IT front that gave coveted jobs to the youth of Bengal.

For a state long known for its outward flight of capital, it seemed like a windfall in May 2006 when Tata Motors announced that its small car Nano would roll out from Singur.

However, peasants - the mainstay of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led ruling Left Front - revolted against acquisition of their land; sections in the CPI-M expressed reservations; while other Left Front partners openly dissociated themselves from the move. The Tatas shifted the plant to Gujarat.

Alongside Singur, came Nandigram. The government's bid to construct a gigantic chemical hub with Indonesia investment triggered a violent peasant unrest backed both by established political parties like the Trinamool Congress and Maoist guerrillas that ultimately led to 14 dying in police firing.

The public outcry that followed numbed the administration. The Left Front then suffered a series of debilitating electoral blows culminating in its crushing defeat.

Bhattacharjee's weakness as an administrator post-Nandigram came to the fore when he refused to take stern action to end the sit-in organised by the Trinamool near the gates of the proposed Tata Nano plant in 2008 despite the advice of some ministerial colleagues and a section of partymen.

"He allowed the sit-in in good faith thinking the opposition would not scuttle the project. Many of us felt the platform should have been dismantled," said housing minister Gautam Deb.

Bhattacharjee has admitted that he made an error of judgement.

He again delayed taking action against some police officers accused of bullying graphics teacher Rizwanur Rahman into leaving his Hindu wife, the daughter of a big businessman. As a result, the Left Front lost some Muslim support.

Born March 1, 1944 in north Kolkata, Bhattacharjee is the nephew of famous Bengali poet Sukanta and did his graduation in Bengali from the famous Presidency College. He worked as a teacher for some time, before becoming a fulltimer of the CPI-M, a party he joined in 1966.

Bhattacharjee got elected as a legislator in 1977 and was made the minister for information and culture in the first Left Front government. He got wholesome praise for his work in promoting good films, Bengali theatre and other forms of art, but lost in the 1982 polls.

He rejoined the cabinet in 1987, after winning from Jadavpore from where he won five consecutive times.

In 1993, Bhattacharjee suddenly resigned from the cabinet. Though he never spoke publicly on it, then chief minister Jyoti Basu later said he had ticked the latter off for being rude with a bureaucrat.

On his return to the cabinet, Bhattacharjee was gradually given charge of police and then made deputy chief minister, as Basu groomed him as his successor.

Bhattacharjee, a chain smoker, was an avid cricketer in his youth, and retains his passion for the game even now.

A well read man, he is known for his ability to give apt quotes from Rabindranath Tagore's writings suiting any particular situation. He is married to Meera, a corporate data centre manager. The couple have a daughter Suchetana, who is a wildlife activist.

It was under Bhattacharjee that winds of change began to blow in West Bengal , but ironically it swept away the Left Front that was in power since 1977.

With his exit, perhaps posterity will debate whether the state lost a golden opportunity to regain its place as a frontline industrialised state.