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What Lalgarh Signifies for the CPI(M)

There is an undoubted alliance of the Maoists, Trinamool Congress and the Indian National Congress in Lalgarh and elsewhere in West Bengal where the opponents of the CPI(M) are trying their best to capitalise on the latter's electoral rout in the Lok Sabha elections. But they are merely riding a rising tide of discontent among the state's poor against the incumbent Left Front government. Unless the reasons for this discontent are identified, it will not be possible to understand or counter the growing violence in the state.

COMMENTARY

What Lalgarh Signifies for the CPI(M) years back it appeared to have wide popularity. The change has been so drastic that the initial reaction was to avoid, then to discard and dismiss, then deny, and now a state of shock, as if checkmated. Even the
TMC poll plank has been more left wing
Saibal Bishnu than the CPI(M) in the recent elections. It

There is an undoubted alliance of the Maoists, Trinamool Congress and the Indian National Congress in Lalgarh and elsewhere in West Bengal where the opponents of the CPI(M) are trying their best to capitalise on the latter’s electoral rout in the Lok Sabha elections. But they are merely riding a rising tide of discontent among the state’s poor against the incumbent Left Front government. Unless the reasons for this discontent are identified, it will not be possible to understand or counter the growing violence in the state.

Saibal Bishnu (bishnu.s@gmail.com) is a CPI(M) supporter in West Bengal.

I
n Problems of War and Strategy (1967), Mao Zedong theorised that an insurrection needs a combination of gunpower and popular support to succeed. If either of these is missing it will fail, but if this combination works, it can be potent enough to shatter prevailing structures of power. Lalgarh presents a potent combination of popular support and gunpower. The Maoists have worked under the cover of the Police Santrosh Birodhi Janashadaraner Committee (People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities). This movement has received help and support from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Congress at crucial moments. These forces are well entrenched in the area and police action could well lead to the agitating poor being killed leading, in turn, to more anger against the Bengal government and political isolation for the Communist Party of India (Marxist), a stronger “Liberated Zone” there with possibilities of more “Liberated Zones”, the next in line being Darjeeling.

Unlike in Nandigram before the police firing of March 2007, it is not the Left Front government that is behind the violence. The violence against the CPI(M) and the common cause of the Maoists, TMC and Congress in Lalgarh are being openly reported in the media. But it appears improbable that administrative or police action will solve this issue at Lalgarh, the likely outcome can be a permanent problem. Even if the police smash their way into Lalgarh, it will be difficult to “hold”, until the insurrectionary conditions subside. That was exactly the case with Nandigram. Moreover, more violence will lead to the killing of more poor people. The CPI(M) and the Left Front government have wanted to fight this battle politically, so that the popular support can be won back, but now that option increasingly seems difficult.

The situation CPI(M) finds itself in is quite odd. It is being attacked from the

left, right and centre, when just a couple of

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
june 20, 2009 vol xliv no 25

appears that people in Bengal wanted a change from the “tyranny” of the apathetic state administration and arrogance of CPI(M) local leaders. They saw the poor affiliated to CPI(M) gaining, while others remained uncared for. The Congress state governments provided rice at Rs 2 per kg for the poor and got support. People do not think of world history while voting, they want immediate relief. They voted for immediate relief of rural employment guarantee, of Rs 2 a kg of rice for the poor. Interestingly, the CPI(M) declared “immediate relief” as its stated objective for state governments way back in 1964. And after 32 years of left rule in Bengal, people distinguish between their friends and enemies and vote against this very party. This indeed is an irony!

With the limited resources at its disposal, the Left Front government worked to improve the lives and livelihoods of the poorest and empower them through democracy and decentralisation. From the class angle, whereas the benefits should have reached all and any poor, in practice it reached those with the CPI(M) first. A division emerged between those with the CPI(M) and the larger public. This division was sharpened through neglect on part of the CPI(M) and by mass movements organised by the anti-CPI(M) bloc. That is why CPI(M) worker Anuj Pandey’s palatial house in poverty-ridden Lalgarh could become such an easy target for the Maoistbacked movement. The CPI(M) cadres are perceived as representing authority, as beneficiaries of the system, an empowered class of people.

Factionalism inside the CPI(M) helped such “leaders” entrench themselves, while democratic centralism was used as a tool inside the party to dismiss any dissent or critique as questioning the so-called party line. As a result, today, CPI(M) leaders find themselves isolated from the masses and popular agitations can easily be built against

(Continued on p 146)

COMMENTARY

(Continued from p 143)

them. With the CPI(M) entrenched in power, it attracted those who wanted to use government levers for gain. The number who joined out of political or ideological commitment continually reduced, especially given the lack of mass movements. This demoralised and demobilised communists inside the CPI(M) and allowed careerists to take an upper hand. Now, CPI(M)’s sitting members of parliament and legislative assembly join the TMC, Congress and even the BJP. The rot spread faster as the political strategy of “people’s democratic revolution” was buried under the tactical slogan of defending the Left Front government. Eventually, government agendas became party agendas and administrative exigencies started defining politics.

At the time of writing (19 June) police action had begun in Lalgarh and the initial reports were that the police did not meet any armed resistance. But these are early days yet. Even if we assume that the Maoist control of Lalgarh will be broken without loss of life, police stations opened and civil administration restored, it does not imply a political victory. What needs to be recognised is that Lalgarh witnessed something of an insurrection. This insurrection was caused by a feeling among a large number of local people of police high-handedness and loss of faith in the CPI(M) and the state government. Wrong politics, and not just in Lalgarh, has brought us to this impasse which could only be broken by armed police action. That the Maoists, TMC and Congress encouraged sections of the local people to take up arms and kill CPI(M) workers is a factually correct observation, but that is not the entire explanation. Neither poverty nor grievances with the civil administration are new in Lalgarh, but until recently these very adivasis felt a sense of affiliation with the CPI(M) in dealing with the local authorities. Today, the adivasis seem to have turned their back on the party. To blame the people for this is naivety of the highest order.

Unless a politics based on the demands of the poor and a radical transformation of power relations is foregrounded, unless careerists are pruned, unless there is a drastic course correction by the CPI(M), things might not improve, either at Lalgarh, Nandigram, Singur, or Darjeeling, or, for that matter, in the CPI(M)’s election prospects.

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