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The Use and Abuse of Democracy in West Bengal

This article examines the left's engagement with democracy in West Bengal. Before 1967, the left built a deliberative democratic tradition in Bengal. The United Front governments and the Naxalite movement led to a radicalisation of politics, which was followed by a fratricidal conflict culminating in a counter attack on the entire left by the state. This defeat paved the way for a historic compromise of the parliamentary left. In 1977 this defeated left came to power, but it was a veritable political revolution as a middle class-led intermediate regime came to acquire social and political power. The central claim to legitimacy of this new regime was its contention of representing the people. Hence, disciplining them as well as securing their consent through the organisation and ideology of the communist party is central to their continuation in power. This new ruling class lives off the social surplus creating a fiscal crisis for the state. To get out of this crisis it ultimately has to surrender to capital, shift to a neoliberal growth model and increasingly attack democracy.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly November 3, 2007101The Use and Abuse of Democracy in West BengalSanjeeb MukherjeeWe are living in the age of democracy; not because all countries in the world are democratic, but for the fact that the popular aspiration for democracy is almost universal and the fact that even authoritarian states seek legitimacy in the name of democracy. Tocqueville way back in the 19th century remarked “that a great democratic revolution is going on among us”.1 In spite of the unprecedented popularity of democracy, the meaning of the idea of democracy is still quite minimally voiced – it is most often restricted to periodic elections and representative government. Often some more elements are added on to this thin idea of democracy, like human rights, the rule of law, an indepen-dent judiciary, a free press and so on. The socialist experience in the Soviet bloc led to the realisation of the importance of an auto-nomous civil society for the existence of democracy. In the west, often considered to be the exemplars of democracy, money and the media have robbed the people of any effective role in the democratic process. This has brought back the importance of the republican ideals of popular participation and deliberations in public affairs. Finally, the third world experiment with democracy has given us two vital lessons: first, it has exploded the myth that democracy can only operate in social situations which have undergone the experience of European modernity and secondly, the unending series of rebellions and movements against authoritarian regimes in country after country remind us not only of the popular aspiration for democracy but also the relevance of democratic revolutions.1 The Idea of DemocracyThe idea and practice of democracy has travelled long and wide making it a complex concept continuously subject to both newer possibilities as well as restrictions. I wish to disaggregate demo-cracy into the following dimensions: (i) Procedural Democracy: This is the standard understanding of democracy basically hinged on the constitution, laws, elec-tions, separation of powers, an independent judiciary and other such legal-constitutional devices. (ii) Spheres of Democracy:The narrow notion of democracy is restricted to the governmental process. Now it is widely accepted that there are other spaces, both public and private, which should be autonomous of the state and these spaces and institutions should also be democratic. This is the idea of civil society or the democratisation of the family or even the democratisation of the economy and the workplace.(iii) The Culture of Democracy: Social and political theorists areincreasingly recognising the importance of culture for This article examines the left’s engagement with democracy in West Bengal. Before 1967, the left built a deliberative democratic tradition in Bengal. The United Front governments and the Naxalite movement led to a radicalisation of politics, which was followed by a fratricidal conflict culminating in a counter attack on the entire left by the state. This defeat paved the way for a historic compromise of the parliamentary left. In 1977 this defeated left came to power, but it was a veritable political revolution as a middle class-led intermediate regime came to acquire social and political power. The central claim to legitimacy of this new regime was its contention of representing the people. Hence, disciplining them as well as securing their consent through the organisation and ideology of the communist party is central to their continuation in power.This new ruling class lives off the social surplus creating a fiscal crisis for the state. To get out of this crisis it ultimately has to surrender to capital, shift to a neoliberal growth model and increasingly attack democracy.
SPECIAL ARTICLEnovember 3, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly102understanding society. Culture refers to the values, meanings and attitudes which people have about anything; which under-lies all human action and institutions and which alone can help us make sense of any social phenomenon. If society primarily privileges the private individual and celebrates freedom as the free choices of the private individual requiring a kind of guard or fence to keep society at bay then the participatory or deliberative traditions of democracy are heavily discounted; or if society is structured along a caste hierarchy then democracy is subverted for equality is central to democracy. Democracy presupposes a culture, which values the ideals of equal and universal citizen-ship – deliberating public issues and active participation and a sense of responsibility in public affairs. This is the republican ethos of democracy that is as old as Aristotle.Marxists have been fiercely critical of the liberal model of demo-cracy as a kind of an enchantment, which both masks as wellasle-gitimises capitalism and its attendant inequalities and oppression. However, Marxists approve of two kinds, and uses of democracy; first, they uphold the democratic revolution against feudalismas part of the onward march of history toward socialism;andsec-ondly, they uphold a radical and different model of democracy for the proletariat which they paradoxically call the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, which, of course, in the light of the soviet ex-periment, came to be the dictatorship of the communist party.In this essay, we shall critically examine the state of demo-cracy, in the thicker sense of the term, in West Bengal today. The journey of democracy in Bengal has taken many an interesting turn and twist. An orthodox communist party still publicly loyal to Lenin and Stalin is in power here for almost three decades. After a brief survey of the trajectory of democracy in Bengal, we shall interrogate the Marxist theoretical position on democracy. This will be followed by an examination of the record of democracy in Bengal since 1977 when the Communist Party of India (Marxist) led government came to power. This essay is largely an attempt to theorise the left’s engagement with democracy in Bengal.2 Democracy in West Bengal 1947-67The history of democracy in India is, indeed, particularly peculiar; it was almost thrust upon the people through what may be termed a pre-emptive democratic revolution by the elites who formed the constituent assembly, which was itself based on an extremely narrow franchise and it could easily have devised a benignly authoritarian polity to supervise India’s transition to modernity and democracy. Not that there was no popular aspiration, but it was not the dominant voice to shape the destiny of democracy at its birth. Hence, when the new Constitution was promulgated, it was an unprecedented model of a democracy from above which enjoyed the support of the people from below. This was made possible because of two main reasons; first, India’s dominant classes and elites by leading the national movement came to es-tablish a kind of political hegemony over the people and secondly, popular participation in the national movement schooled the people to successfully run a future democracy. This political hegemony of the elites is best reflected in the Congress Party’s ability to win until quite recently, continuously, all elections in both the states as well as in the centre. In fact, at the all India level, in the last 56 years, only one opposition coalition could complete a full term in office; the rest of the period the Congress has ruled except for three of four short lived opposition governments. Until recently, this was also largely true for most Indian states.West Bengal is, in many senses, an exceptional state. The ca-reer of democracy too has charted a rather different course in this state. The Nehru era in Indian politics, which lasted till the 1967 elections, saw the political hegemony of the Congress over the entire Indian polity. In West Bengal though the Congress ruled the state till 1967, it faced a serious counter hegemonic challenge from the communists. In the inter-war and post war years, the left dramatically emerged in the political scene through continuous and intense forms of political mobilisation, unioni-sation, serious cultural intellectual interventions and party build-ing. Intellectuals, students, the youth, the lower layers of the middle class and the organised working class were the major sup-port basis of the left. It also had pockets of influence among the peasantry and the rural poor. Left’s Major ContributionThe left’s major contribution to the democratic experiment in Bengal was threefold – first; it highlighted and led the struggle for the anti-feudal democratic transformation of both, the agrarian society and the culture of Bengal. Secondly, through its intellectual-culturalinterventionsandpopular mobilisation the left laid the foundations of a critical-deliberative republican democratic culture in the state. The communists then unaware of Gramsci’s writings actually embarked on a politics of critical discourse to establish left counter hegemony. Thirdly, it negotiated a difficult dialogue between orthodox Marxist politics to which it adhered and its actual participation in what it called a bourgeois parliamentary democracy. There were many strands in this difficult dialogue. The received communist doctrine regarded liberal democracies, as mere masks to hide and legitimise capitalist exploitation and oppression and in the face of a truly popular challenge these democracies would show their real bourgeois-authoritarian face. Hence, “true” communists would have to make an armed revolution to overthrow the state and usher in a superior peoples’ democracy. However, the USSR, in the wake of its post war victory, advo-cated the possibility of a peaceful transition to socialism through parliamentary democracy. In fact, the mid-1960s saw the begin-ning of a trigonal split in Indian communism. First, the CPM emerged to uphold a more revolutionary strategy as against the old CPI, which came to uphold the Soviet inspired peaceful tran-sition thesis. Then, in 1969, the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) was formed to make an immediate armed revolution. Over time, the CPI(M) emerged as the most powerful left force. TheCPM’s atti-tude towards parliamentary democracy was more complex and nuanced. It whole-heartedly participated in parliament, but with a bad faith as it did not aim to achieve any substantial move to-wards its promised transition, but it still wanted to make strate-gic use of the democratic opportunities the constitution offered. It also combined parliamentary struggleswithmilitantmassmove-ments and leftled unionisation of all strata of the people. In this process, the left both strengthened and subverted democracy at the same time. They strengthened thecritical-deliberativeand
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly november 3, 2007103participatory dimensions of democracy and considerably under-mined the constitutional democratic process and institutions in-cluding public institutions, which are central to the healthy func-tioning of democracy.3 Radicalisation of West Bengal, 1967-72The year 1967 marks a major milestone in the difficult dialogue between the left and democracy in Bengal. In 1967, the communists were a major part of the united front government. It gave a deci-sive spurt to the radicalisation of society and politics in Bengal in the form of heightened militant mass movements, unionisation and cultural – intellectual interventions by the left. Left inspired mass movements could not be contained within the limits of con-stitutional democracy. A more radical section of the left attempted to make an armed revolution against the existing social order and the state. The central government viewed the situation as a breakdown of the constitutional order, which led to the dismissal of the government. But the left came back to power resting on popular support to form another United Front government in 1969, which shared the same fate.This period between the mid-1960s till the early 1970s was ex-tremely volatile; it saw both a heightening of the democratic ethos as well as a subversion and attack on democratic institu-tions and culture. At the social level, the anti-feudal struggle, es-pecially in the agrarian sector, played a major role in the demo-cratisation of society. This period also witnessed the flowering of the radical republican spirit of intense public debates and partici-pation in the political process. However, since the left was deeply suspicions of the existing democratic institutions and the state, it had scant regard for the laws and norms of the Constitution; in fact, it expressly curbed, subverted and attacked these on the ground that these existed to protect class privilege and power. These moves invited state action against the left and confirmed their deep suspicions. Not only did the relation between the left and the state turn hostile but also the divisions within the left about the understanding of the situation and on questions of strategy soon converted intellectual and political debates into violentclashes. Things came to such a pass that left gang wars, especially in urban areas, seemed to push the state towards a civil war. The central government took this opportunity to crush the entire left by using state terror and repression. The demo-cratic process in Bengal came under severe attack from all quarters leading to a kind of a semi-fascist regime of the Congress in 1972 through an extensively rigged election.Both the formal democratic institutions as well as the culture of democracy and a vibrant civil society were all brutally attacked and repressed by the Congress regime between 1972 and 1977. Since democracy was already deeply mauled since the early 1970s, Bengal did not experience the emergency between 1975 and 1977 the way the rest of India suffered it when the formal democratic process was suspended all over the country.4 The Intermediate RegimeFollowing the brutal repression of the left and its formal defeat in the 1972 elections, the parliamentary left and the middle classes, which, at first was in a state of disarray, soon made a historic compromise with, both the state and capitalism in India. It withdrew from its militant political and cultural-intellectual in-terventions, which was central to its counter-hegemonic strategy in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1977 elections, the Congress faced a silent rebellion from below almost all over the country. In West Bengal too, the Congress was thoroughly defeated and the CPM led Left Front (LF) government came to power. In fact, since then, this government has never been voted out of office, which again is a record for any communist party in the world.Apparently, 1977 was in a sense a return to the mid-1960s sce-nario but if we scrutinise the left government, we find a qualita-tive change in its ideology and working. Though the same classes and the same parties came to power fundamental changes came about them as a result of its frustrated attempts to establish its hegemony and run governments in the 1950s and 1960s. The left and the social classes sustaining it was a badly mauled and de-feated class, which made a historic compromise with the state and capitalism.Turning Point in Modern BengalBut in spite of this compromise, 1977 marks a turning point in the history of modern Bengal. In fact, I would characterise the change in 1977 to be a political revolution where the old ruling classes were dislodged from social and political power by the Bengali ‘babu’ or bhadralok particularly the lower middle classes includ-ing teachers, clerks and the labour aristocracy in the organised sector of the economy. The left brokered a firm alliance of this class with the peasantry. It also enjoyed popular support among the poor both in the cities and the countryside. It was almosta classic instance of Michael Kalecki’s2 idea of an intermediate re-gime. Our received idea of revolution is the recurrence of a cata-clysmic event on the likes of what happened in France, Russia or China; but if we define revolution, especially political revolution, following Lenin3 as the transfer of state power from the hands of one class to another then the attendant events no longer become central. Hence, if 1977 can be described as the rise to political power and not just government formation of a new class we may as well describe it as a revolution. If the uniqueness of the patterns of historical change is accept-ed then our conceptual categories have to be freed from their specific historical associations and models. Over time, this politi-cal ruling class formed a powerful bloc consisting of the middle classes, middle and rich peasants, and contractors. The social core of the middle class providing leadership to this bloc consists of teachers and clerks. There are some fundamental structural constraints of such an intermediate regime. This ruling class, particularly the middle class, is primarily political in nature, in the sense that its sustenance and well-being is derived from the state and its revenues, i e, from the social surplus. State power is used to benefit itself in the form of jobs, privileges, influence, etc, as a result the revenue of the state is exhausted in paying salaries, pensions and other subsidies and relief. This causes an acute fiscal crisis leaving the state with no funds for developing social and economic infrastructure or to provide for the basic needs of the poor, which is essential for the long-term development of any society. This fiscal crisis leads to an impasse which compels the left
SPECIAL ARTICLEnovember 3, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly104to surrender to capitalism on the one hand and to take unpopular moves which alienates its own social constituents and support bases. The change in economic and social policies of the LF government since the 1990s is directly related to attempts to get out of the im-passe and the fiscal crisis. This ruling class, unlike the bourgeoisie, lives off the social surplus but is itself unable to organise or lead the production of wealth. This makes it a parasitical class, which could lead to a major contradiction between its unsustainable surplus extraction process and its need to retain its power and legitimacy by winning elections, which is a crucial precondition of its political and social power. The strength of such a political ruling class lies in its unity and organisation, which is largely achieved by a party-controlled unionisation at every site and sphere. The central claim to legitimacy of this new ruling class is its ideology and its claim to represent the people, i e, the poor, the dispossessed and the oppressed. Marxism enables the left to a superior claim to rule based on the right knowledge of the science of history – the laws of the progressive movement of history and its identification with the labouring people. It gives the left a sense of superiority and arrogance for it alone knows what is right for the people. But being primarily a political ruling class in a constitutional democracy it has to reinforce its ideological claims with its ability to get the support of the people who, of course, would know what is in their best interest. This makes winning elections a crucial element in their bid to legitimate rule. It also leads to the extension of the electoral principle to nearly all sites and institutions from schools to vice-chancellors or neighbourhood committees and clubs. The other claim to democratisation, which is made by the left, is its policy to bring about anti-feudal changes in agriculture and society at large. In fact, on both counts, the legitimacy of these intermediate classes have been vindicated by the fact of its win-ning all elections since 1977. In fact, if 1977 can be called the year of the revolution then, unlike most revolutions, it continued to rule through democratic elections, which is an extremely diffi-cult task. Only by winning elections can this regime claim to re-present the majority of the people. This makes democracy, defined in exclusively electoral terms, central to its hegemonic strategy. The left has mastered the fine art of winning elections by a strat-egy of controlled and disciplined mobilisation of the people aimed at manufacturing consent in its favour and at delegitimis-ing and decimating the very idea of a legitimate opposition. Marxist ideology gives the left a superior scientific knowledge, an exclusive truth claim, which makes any opposition a reaction against the just and lawful course of history. In the rest of this paper we shall examine what happens to a constitutional democracy when an intermediate regime led by a communist party rules.5 Ideology, Organisation and ControlA centralised, unified and disciplined organisation is central to the power of the left and its supporting classes. If political power is the basis of the rule of the middle classes, it can acquire power and retain legitimacy only through popular support, best expressed in elections. This is an extremely difficult task, which the left has to a great extent achieved. Popular support is always rather slippery; the people can be “temporarily swayed” by emotions or can be “misled” by the opposition. Thus, there has to be a strategy to both organise as well as discipline and govern the people. The left in Bengal has almost realised the Foucauldian dystopia of discipline and governmentality based on the intertwining of power and knowledge. Marxist ideology and the Leninist party provide a fatal combination of knowledge and power to perform this task. The left has both unleashed the democratic process but has simultaneously been able to tame and domesticate democracy through innovative techniques of governmentality. The left has not only been able to establish its political hegemony over the people but has also been able to establish its control over the democratic constitutional state and its autonomous organs like the civil and police bureaucracy. First we shall examine its power/knowledge nexus and in the next two sections the state and civil society would be examined.Philosophically Marxism is both, deeply anti-democratic as well as anti-political. It claims the monopoly to historical truth since it is based on an understanding of the laws of history, which again Marxists claim to be as objective as Darwin’s theory of evolution. The second and more insidious claim is that only the working class being free of any vested interests in the existing order can truly understand these laws of historical progress inevitably leading to socialism and communism. Lenin made a further disingenuous move by arguing that given the existing situation of the workers under capitalism, achieving revolution-ary consciousness of the Marxist variety is near impossible. This is where intellectuals have to step in to perform their role as the interpreters of real history and as the philosophical and political educators and leaders of the proletariat. This is achieved through the communist party and its claim to be the repository of truth based on science, reason and the study of history. It follows that whoever opposes the communist party actually opposes science and truth and the inevitable forward march of history. Such opposition can come from two quarters: those hav-ing a vested interest in the old order like feudal landlords or the bourgeoisie or it can come from a lack of knowledge of the laws of history and the role of the communist party. The latter kind of opposition can be removed initially by education and persuasion but if it fails, methods that are more coercive are justified against the carriers of a corrupt consciousness, who are unable to discern their own objective interests. They are forced to acknowledge reason, history and truth; almost “forced to be free”. The older exploiting classes are usually more incorrigible and are thus con-sidered to be enemies against whom a class war has to be waged till they are defeated. Hence, politics and democracy in the sense of freedom, autonomy and debate is deeply discounted in the Marxist scheme of things.It could, of course, be countered by the view that theCPM no longer believes in such a Marxist orthodoxy; but I would argue that this orthodox belief system provide the left with a legitimis-ing discourse to undermine and crush the legitimacy of the very idea of an opposition. The CPM needs to explain how it can defend Stalinism or even the absurd communist versions of democracy in the socialist bloc. Such verbal monstrosities like the “demo-cratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” can only make sense in terms of this knowledge-power nexus of Marxism.
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly november 3, 2007105Marxist ideology in the service of the CPM has become a mere means to its end of retaining political power. In this strategic use of Marxism, the CPM makes instrumental use of the old left orthodoxy that the end justifies the means. Such an amoral philo-sophical and political stand can ultimately lead to the justifica-tion of grotesque or caricatured versions of the end itself and is usually reduced to the sole end of staying in power. Or by a curi-ous twist staying in power is considered to be an indispensable means to reach that elusive end.Serious philosophical and political problems arise when a com-munist party wedded to the cause of making a revolution by de-stroying the liberal democratic bourgeois state has to operate and run such a state. If the party sticks to its ideology, either it is unable to work within the state and quits or it gives a call for revolution. In Bengal, theCPM has charted a novel course. It has not left the state arena to make a revolution, nor has it entirely given up its ideology and become liberal or even bourgeois. It has used both, Marxist ideology and the organisation of the commu-nist party to capture, colonise and subvert the institutions of the state as well as the space of civil society. Marxist ideology has provided legitimacy to this process of colonisation. The party is considered to be above the state as well as its members. It has a life and goal of its own and everything is subordinated to its ends. This results in a powerful party bureaucracy, which exercises constant control and vigilance over the government and the state. The centralised communist party is manned by whole-timers whose profession and passion is the party. Lenin called them “professional revolutionaries”. Fierce loyalty to an ideology and organisation is the hallmark of a communist; to the extent that he can die for his party or kill those opposed to his party. The party takes on a missionary character fired by zeal no less power-ful than any militant religion.The communist party extends its influence and control over the state, civil society or community through a network of mass organisations affiliated and subordinated to the party. In fact, party members are deputed to different social spheres like factories, farms or colleges to organise people under the umbrel-la of the party. Members with a missionary zeal take up such “mass work” since it is believed that such organised mobilisation is crucial for the communist goal of revolution. Work in mass fronts is also the testing grounds for members whose career in the party depends on such successful mass work. Thus we find that leftists spend a lifetime of dedicated full time work in organi-sations of teachers, clerks, students, workers, etc. The Leninist concept of democratic centralism ensures centralised control over the entire organisation. Extent of ControlThe extent of control can be gauged from these figures: The CPM has 2.84 lakh full time members; its peasant wing, the Krishak Sabha has 1.4 crore members; its workers front, Centre of Indian Trade Unions has 29 lakh members; its womens’ wing 36.62 lakh mem-bers; schoolteachers’ organisation 2.3 lakhs.4 Centralised control over such a huge network of organisations enables the party an all-powerful and all-pervasive role. Though these are huge mass organisations, party members working withinthemmanageto control them and use them to further the party’s ends. Theparty has turned mechanisms of control like disciplining, punishment and surveillance into a fine art to control its members.These organisations are not only mobilised to win elections but they are used as countervailing powers to control the formal systems of power in any organisation. For example, in a university the formal bodies are subverted by these mass organisations. If they do not have formal control in the bodies, they resort to standard trade union tactics to tame them and where they are formally in these bodies – which is most often the case – they turn them into a subordinate committee of the communist party. As I pointed out earlier, the intermediate classes claim to rule is based on popular consent and hence the electoral principle is ex-tended to a large number of organisations, including universities. In fact, even vice chancellors (VCs) are elected in Bengal. But what is more interesting is how the electoral college entrusted with the task of choosing theVC is turned into a mere rubber stamp to ratify the name already decided by the education cell of theCPM. As a result, when the official body meets to deliberate the names for the top job absolutely no time is spent for such de-liberations. So, the party and its mass organisations subvert what is apparently democratic by eliminating the deliberative process in so crucial a decision. If in some rare instance the left is unable to form a majority to recommend their candidate, they resort to typical trade union disruptions to prevent the formal authority to function. This became glaringly evident when non-left candidate, Santosh Bhattachayya, was elected the VC of the University of Calcutta in the early 1980s.6 The StateThe Constitution of the state is crucial to democracy. Besides an elected legislature and a government, the other organs of the state have to be so organised to uphold the rule of the law. To en-sure accountability and to prevent the abuse of power, various constitutional devices have been designed to uphold principles of autonomy and neutrality, like a system of checks and balances and separation of powers between the different organs of the state. In fact, the Indian Constitution goes to great length to up-hold the autonomy and neutrality of the civil and military bu-reaucracy as well as the judiciary. The Constitution has two kinds of provisions for the bureaucracy and the judiciary: one is by giv-ing them rights and powers to ensure their autonomy, neutrality and authority, but it has also denied them certain rights, like join-ing a political party, to ensure their independence.The left’s theoretical understanding of these constitutional safeguards is that they are the rear guards of class privilege and property. Marxists argue that if the democratic face of bourgeois rule is unsustainable the civil and military take over to defend the ruling classes. The fact that this is almost a commonplace historical reality does not warrant the kind of suspicion and hos-tility that the left has towards the liberal constitutional princi-ples and arrangements. In India, the left had an additional rea-son to suspect the bureaucracy, as it was a continuation of the colonial state, where it was the “steel frame of the empire” com-bining the rule of class and race. The internal structure and cul-ture of the colonial state and its postcolonial incarnation was to
SPECIAL ARTICLEnovember 3, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly106a great extent feudal. The vast lower rungs of the civil, police and military services were treated as serfs and servants of the officers. The left government in Bengal made considerable efforts to internally democratise the culture of the state by unionising and mobilising the subaltern policemen and the clerks and peons of government offices. But inthe process,they made fundamental changes in theworking of the Constitution to the point of subverting it from within.Left and Government EmployeesWhat the left did was organise these government employees as a front organisation of the CPI(M), viz, the employees’ coordination committee. As we had seen earlier, theCPM successfully organ-ised, controlled and disciplined these members to act as an ex-tension of the party. The government and the employees’ union have become two closely tied centres of power. The formal power of the government is used to coerce the employees to tow the party line. This coercion is carefully balanced with leftwing ideology and small favours of promotions, choice postings and benefits for their wives and children. Over time the left’s suspi-cions about the higher bureaucracy was removed as they were found to be the loyal and willing tool of any government. In fact, over time, through its power of promotions, postings and favour dispersions like land in Salt Lake, foreign tours, jobs, contracts and other sundries for their wards, the left front government has found a trusted tool in the bureaucracy. Recently a Calcutta High Court judge was given a highly subsidised plot in Salt Lake in return for a favourable judgment in a petition, which had chal-lenged the government’s right to distribute subsidised plots in an arbitrary fashion. The list of such subsidised plot holders was found to be a who’s who of bureaucrats, journalists, politicians and academics. The Supreme Court criticised Justice Bhagwati Prasad Banerjee for his gross misconduct and ordered that his house be auctioned to return his dues to the government. Thus, a centralised party has managed to not only control the state ma-chinery but has also rendered ineffective the constitutional safe-guards like separation of powers.Consequently, the party controlled state machinery filters out any move by any independent citizen, which might go against the interest and power of the left. It takes the form of refusing to take down First Information Reports (FIRs) in police stations unless ratified by the local party and union bosses. The partisanship of the state machinery extends to all its functions including selec-tion for new jobs, contracts, grants, loans etc. In most parts of In-dia, citizens have to pay an underhand price for any service of the state in the form of bribes – whose rates are fixed for different kinds of work. It makes the bureaucracy almost predictable, ra-tional and objective in a perverse Weberian sense. Not that it does not exist in several departments but that is subordinate to the political interests of the ruling party. In fact, compared to many other states open and fixed rates of bribery is far less the case. Instead, there is a far greater corruption – in the republican sense of abuse of state power and the subversion of the Constitu-tion and the rule of law. Thus, we find that some of the constitu-tional preconditions of democracy in Bengal have been deeply eroded from within. According to the Police Commission Report by Pradyut Sarkar, “It is needless to emphasise that police associ-ations seem to have emerged as an alternative centre of authority in the police system. In many places they have tended to usurp control of the force and subvert its command structure.”5 Another aspect of the subversion of the rule of law, which is a common-place, is simply ignoring court judgments including those invok-ing the contempt of the court. The police and administration blatantly refuse to implement court orders, which goes against the left or its supporters.In a large number of cases the police, hand-in-glove with public prosecutors, again belonging to the lawyers’ front in the CPI(M), in the judicial administration have delayed and subverted justice where the left had indulged in large-scale murderous attacks on the opposition. Some glaring examples of such casesinclude the mass killings of Anada Margis in 1982, the near genocide in Marichjhampi in the 1970s, the killing of 11 opposition supporters in Suchpur village in 2000 or the Chhoto Angaria arson and murder.6The important theoretical question that can be raised about the communist experiment with liberal constitutional democracy in Bengal is what safeguards must be taken about a party which makes strategic use of constitutional democracy and with the help of its ideology and organisation subverts its fundamental principles and organisational arrangements. The standard bour-geois reaction has been to ban the communist party or dismiss them from office or take repressive and other measures to pre-vent them from coming to power. Most of these tactics had been used against the left in Bengal in the 1950s and 1960s, but they were quite evidently undemocratic. Constitutional democracy has to device institutional mechanisms for checking and prevent-ing its own subversion. A possible safeguard is the judiciary, but then it has to expressly uphold not only the letter of the constitu-tion but its basic democratic aims and spirit.7 Civil Society and the Culture of Democracy Now it is widely recognised that democracy is not only about elections and parliament. Civil society and the public sphere are important spaces for the democratic participation of the commu-nity. In the absence of an autonomous civil society democracy degenerates into a formal majoritarianism as happened in the former Soviet bloc. Bengal has a fairly well entrenched civil soci-ety and a well-developed middle class or the Bengali babu, as it is sometimes called. The strength of the babu lay in the fact that it was largely autonomous of any of the basic classes of society, namely, the bourgeoisie, landlords, peasants or workers.Though in the first two decades after independence the Congress retained its political leadership throughout the country, in Bengal it faced a serious political and cultural challenge from the middle class, in alliance with other subordinate classes es-pecially in the sphere of modern civil society. Marxism largely inspired this challenge. Political movements and ideological struggles gave the babu and the civil society a certain vigour and autonomy. New institutions and spaces emerged within civil society like little magazines, study circles, theatre groups, neighbourhood associations, etc. Values, virtues, social commit-ment and political action, as against the ideology of individual success were encouraged.
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly november 3, 2007107This process reached its peak in the period from the mid-1960s till the early 1970s when the left came to power and another section of the left – the Maoists – staged an abortive insurrection. As a result, sharp dissentions came about in civil society, which could no longer be held together by the ethic of debate and dis-course. Large-scale violencedisrupted civil society.The Indianstate openly used dictatorial methods to face the left challenge and that enabled the Congress to come back to power in a widely rigged election in 1972. The Bengali civil society was battered and con-trolled by the forces of order and status quo. This was traumatic experience for the babu. From its defeat it learnt some far-reaching lessons – it gave up its republican virtues and non-conformism.In 1977 the communists came back to power but the paradox of its victory came in the wake of the defeat and pessimism of the middle class – the left defeated the Congress not through any mass resurgence of its earlier strength, but in the secrecy of the ballot booth where singular rejections of the Congress spawned a collective verdict. Its pessimism and defeat robbed the babu of its earlier ability to publicly debate and collectively intervene in the public sphere and civil society. This was not a temporary setback for the left was in no mood to revive the spirit of the 1960s. Rather, along with the babu, the left made a historic compromise with the state and capitalism. As a result, Bengali civil society changed fundamentally. The babu made a dramatic exit from the public sphere into domesticity and individualism. Having failed to realise the left utopia, now the babu redoubled its efforts to make it within the system itself. The erosion of civil society is closely linked to the loss of auto-nomy and initiative of the babu. This is clearly evident in the de-cline of the public debates and little magazines, the withering of autonomous public institutions and the political passivity of the babu. It is in this context that one can make sense of the CPM’s concerted strategy to control civil society.7 First, it has sought to wrest control over all-important public institutions like universi-ties or even local clubs and associations. The important point is that theCPM has “democratically” managed to achieve this feat, and it is no mean achievement for it has all the trappings of what Gramsci would call social hegemony. Most public institutions are democratically run, i e, elected bodies run the show. The CPM has so efficiently managed to win elections on a large-scale because it has a well-oiled machinery to conduct elections,8 which is no match for people who have not made electioneering a full time occupation. The left has also mastered the art of manipulating the electoral game in every possible way to ensure its victory. Muffling of DissentAt a more substantial level democracy is subverted by the system-atic muffling of dissent, especially dissent critical of the regime. Intellectuals in Bengal constitute a distinct social category and had played a major role in creating a culture of democracy in civil society by free and critical thinking in all aspects of life of the mind – from serious discursive thinking toartandpoetry. The left has sapped the critical spirit of the intellectuals through an intricate and elaborate mechanism involving the control of the work place through its ability to give jobs, promotions, crumbs, sponsorship or freebies. When these do not work the left has openly resorted to violence and terror. If for any reason the left control mechanism misfires especially in public institutions then a trade union assault is orchestrated to paralyse its activity. The left can dead beat any institution because of its long experience in organising the politics of the work place under party controlled unions which acts as conduits for furthering the power of the party.History has shown that there is a fundamental transforma-tion of the left when it comes to power. Outside power it is a militant champion of democracy and rights but when it is com-fortably ensconced in power it evolves a deadly recipe for left-fascism whose ingredients are – Marxist ideology, Leninist party and the Stalinist state. I am not arguing that the left re-gime in West Bengal is fully fascist but it has successfully sub-verted democracy and a kind of soft fascism is in the making. 8 The Left and the OppositionPhilosophically communism does not admit any legitimate oppo-sition because of its claim to Truth based on Science and Reason. In fact, the left political rhetoric is conducted in the language and imagery of war and enemies. Politics is the expression of the struggle between warring classes where the historically prior classes and state forms are considered as enemies to be defeated and exterminated; otherwise, being a war, the communists would be finished off. Both the classical republican idea of politics, as found in ancient Greece or the modern liberal idea is based on free debate, judgment and choice on the part of the individual citizen. In Bengal too, any political opposition to the left is treated as a reaction to historical progress bring introduced by the left. This not only undermines the legitimacy of the very idea of a political opposition and criticism but it also sanctions the use of any means, including coercion, to crush them. Any opposition to the left is, by definition, intentionally or not, a tool of the older ruling classes to regain political power. Theoretically, Marxism does not admit differences. Even their main slogan in a recent election smacked of such a monist mentality when they chanted that, “The only alternative to the Left Front is a better Left Front”.Slowly a lot of evidence has been documented by different rights groups, activists and some journalists to show to what extent the opposition is subjected to hate and violence.9 Left terror has instilled such widespread fear among the people who are even mildly critical of them. Bengali intellectuals who had a long critical and activist tradition have largely been silenced. Some examples can prove this point. Recently an academic wrote an article critical of the left front using a pseudonym, which heotherwise does not use, in so respected a journal like EPW. Or a woman teacher of the university of Calcutta who fell foul of the party bosses simply “disappeared”. Leave alone intellectuals or women’s groups, the university teachers did not raiseanyvoice.Or again a member of CU was terminated from service for quoting a poem (incidentally, written by a Marxist poet) in a leaflet. Or again inCU, a candidate (who incidentally comes from a very poor economic background and is also a dalit Muslim) was unanimously recommended by the selection committeewasdeniedalecturer’s job not only without assigning any reason but also without any discussion apparently because

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