Sankar Ray is a senior journalist who has worked in various news and current affairs magazines, has spawned scores of good journalists and has in-depth knowledge of global issues, especially Left politics in India and abroad
Almost four decades ago, a respected journalist, the late Umapada Majumdar, then a commodity stringer with the Financial Express, used to tell a few of us, “In India, once a newspaper declined it never came back.” It was when Bennett Coleman and Co. Ltd. (Times Group), commissioned Pritish Nandy to revamp and edit the once-famous Illustrated Weekly of India (aka Weekly) whose circulation was falling at more than at a geometric progression. The top management of India’s most financially powerful newspaper house made substantial investment in the hope of jacking up the Weekly circulation. Nandy’s strategy initially clicked, as the gradient of sales curve turned positive. But soon the illusion turned into an utter disillusionment. The increase in sales reached a plateau and the difference between expenditure which increased vertically and revenue widened, belying expectations. The Times management was left with no option other than shutting down the Weekly. The words above suggest a simile. Going by the contemporary Indian history, Left parties, once having begun plummeting, never saw regeneration. Mazumdar-da, then in his seventies, made me construct this hypothesis. First it was the Socialist Party led by the maverick but very erudite Ram Manohar Lohia (and blessed by Jay Prakash Narain), then Praja Socialist Party, followed by the Samyukta Socialist Party, Communist Party of India, and various groups of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) walked towards a phenomenal decimation. The late-joiner is India’s still-the-largest leftist political party, Communist Party of India (Marxist). The CPI(M) is likely to face the same fate. But why pick up the CPI(M). Official Marxist (or Leninist) parties are fading out never to be back into the reckoning. But the validity of Marxian ideas remains, with steadily rising demand for Das Kapital at book shops, particularly in the West. Very affectionate to us, in those days, Mazumdar-da, I have a feel that had he been alive even until the end of the first decade of this millennium, he would have said very firmly no Left party, once adrift along a falling path, would romp home energetically afresh. In the late 1930s, he was among the front-ranking organisers of the CPI student front, All India Student Federation in the 1940s, hand in hand with legendary Biswanath Mukherjee. Later on, he differed with the CPI ideologically and joined the Radical Humanists, led by the legendary Manabendra Nath Roy. Rot in CPI(M) The decline of CPI(M), which used to occupy the lion’s share of the Left space in Bengal even a decade ago, needs to be scanned not only politically, but also sociologically. The task of historians is apart as it takes time to derive conclusions, judging by the historiographic imperative. Once, the party had over 35 MPs from the state. Aside from 160-plus MLAs and over 80 per cent of zilla parishad chairpersons and over 170 ZP members. Now there is not a single MP and ZP chief and less than 30 MLA, not a single ZP member, elected as CPI(M) nominees. The hitherto world’s largest Stalinist party is washed away by the rise of Trinamool Congress to a very, very great extent. Unthinkable as it may seem, today the Bharatiya Janata Party is the second largest party in the state, edging out the CPI(M). Let us listen first to how and what the Left functionaries think about the phenomenal collapse of the Left. A saddened and shocked Gurudas Dasgupta, formerly general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, the erstwhile deputy general secretary of CPI and very specially, the most anti-establishmentarian MP from the Left for nearly three decades takes a taciturn but crisp position. Speaking to this writer, the firebrand octogenarian communist leader said, “This is too grave a matter to be discussed over phone. I need a long conversation even to briefly state my own perception about this tragic retreat.” One who virtually led the opposition attack on the shameless surrender to India’s leading crony capitalist group, with the Reliance Industries at the head, inside and outside the Parliament, is genuinely concerned about the collapse of ‘official communism’ in West Bengal, the most powerful citadel of the Indian Left. Reply to just two questions, put before Dr Prasenjit Bose, an economist and the first and last convener of the research cell, attached to the central committee, CPI(M), is thoughtful. He quit his post and the party by issuing an open letter to the then CPI(M) general secretary, Prakash Karat, in protest against the decision of the Central Committee to support the candidacy of the then Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as a nominee of the Indian National Congress in the presidential election in 2012. He reminded all of the clear direction to the party leadership to strictly adhere to the ‘Political Resolution’ adopted at the 20th Congress (Kozhikode, 4-9 April, 2012) of CPI(M). The para 2.137 of the ‘political line’ stated, “The CPI(M) has to politically fight the Congress and the BJP. Both are parties which represent the big bourgeois-landlord order, which perpetuates class exploitation and is responsible for the social oppression of various sections of the people. They pursue neo-liberal policies and advocate a pro-US foreign policy. Defeating the Congress and the UPA government is imperative given the crushing burden of price rise, unemployment, suffering of the farmers and workers on the one hand and the brazen corruption and big sops to big business and the wealthy sections. Isolating the BJP and countering its communal and rightwing agenda is necessary and important for the advance of the Left, democratic and secular forces”. Bose was promptly expelled from the party, but the mandarins of AK Gopalan Bhawan, party’s national headquarters, stood for surrendering the ‘independent class role’ of party Congress to Congress, which did ‘pursue neo-liberal policies and advocate a pro-US foreign policy’. Pranab-da Support Significantly enough, the decision to support Mukherjee, who as a Union minister has for several decades been promoting the Ambanis of Reliance group, was mainly a sequel to the initiative of the brass of the West Bengal CPI(M). Bose, who is a top leader of Young Bengal, an independent left and democratic initiative, was asked a question which, along with respective replies, are as follows: Has the decline of the Left historical roots? “Let me elaborate the point from my own modest understanding. From the very beginning, signs of shift from the Leftist or anti-monopoly capitalism were manifest. First, fostering of joint sector(with RP Goenka group on Haldia petrochemicals, and with GP Goenka in the mid-1980s, new industrial investment policy in the early 1990s in sync with the Fund-Bank reform at the Centre etc. Bose: ‘The orthodox socialist model itself had turned out to be a failure, which the collapse of the USSR embodied. The Left should have devised new trajectories of politics and economic development. The advent of globalisation posed a challenge and the Left lost its way. I personally think that the industrialisation strategy adopted in the 2000s by the Left Front Government (LFG) marked a neoliberal shift, which met its nemesis in Singur-Nandigram. Of course, it had its roots in an earlier period, but to emphasise them over and above what happened since 2006 would be to miss the wood for the trees. That way one can trace the roots of the USSR collapse in the Bolshevik revolution itself or the NEP (VI Lenin’s New Economic Policy). The CC resolution in support of Mukherjee to ensure the victory as the 13th President of India was a success in hitching the wagon (neo-liberal swing in the economic and industrial policy of LFG , especially since Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee became the chief minister of West Bengal to the path of embourgeoisment. When did the distancing from the Leftism begin? By Leftism, I mean the 36-point programme of Left Front in 1977 that “laid stress on restoration of democratic norms, preservation of basic individual liberties and protection of the rights of students, teachers, employees in public and private sectors and of peasants to form associations and bargain with and protest against their respective authorities. Labour Lost Bishu Dasgupta, once a frontliner as a trade unionist associated with the CPI(M) labour front, Centre of Indian Trade Unions(CITU) and a party member until the mid-1980s, thinks differently than Bose. Dasgupta severed relations with both the CITU and CPI(M) when he had smelt a rat. Dasgupta who had a short stint as the private secretary (picked up from amongst senior members of the party by party bosses) joined the dissidents, later Nagarik Mancha, a voluntary social action forum that took up cudgels for workers, hit by industrial sickness and occupational hazards. When CITU in West Bengal was shying away from its commitment to working class, Nagarik Mancha took up the mantle by undertaking studies and investigation into the ‘plight of workers’ and publishing a series of reports and analyses. Dasgupta told this writer, “The drift began pronouncedly since 1987 and now it’s irreversible, at least in West Bengal. I mean the ‘sarkari’ Left under the hegemony of the CP(M). The leadership , both at the party level and trade union field, gradually developed a culture to ignore the workers and woo the big business, expecting the latter to invest in West Bengal, although in vain. More disappointing was the spread of corruption and nepotism. I am of the view that chances of comeback of ‘official Left’ are almost zero in West Bengal. Things would have been different had the leadership voluntarily or even symbolically stepped down, owning the responsibility for electoral disaster in 2011 state assembly elections. But the leaders are too aligned to vested interests to do so. That’s why I feel that even if the Left reasserts outside West Bengal, no such possibility is there in here in the foreseeable future. The danger lies in the visible expansion of RSS and BJP in this state but here the responsibility does not lie wholly with the CPI(M), but TMC and its policy of gagging dissent and intolerance to democratic protest. One cannot rule out the possibility of victory of more BJP candidates in the next Lok Sabha elections.” Worries of the former CITU functionary are realistic. After the 2014 LS polls, despite seat-sharing with Congress, the number of seats won by the LF reduced to two (both bagged by the CPI(M), from 15 in 2011. A state secretariat member of CPI(M) told a few reporters after the 2014 polls: “The tally of votes in as many as 60 to 70 seats indicates that many voters who supported the BJP in 2014 voted for the Trinamool or Congress this time, instead of voting for us. Also, we didn’t get votes from Muslims in many areas.” Llike many of his fellow comrades, the secretariat member is not willing to buy Mamata Banerjee’s argument that the Left-Congress alliance lost because it did not enjoy the trust of people. The Stink The stink of collapse of the Left was felt by the dominant section of top leadership of CPI(M). In the mid-1990s, a prominent Delhi state committee member of the party and a leading functionary of CPI(M) -promoted Delhi Science Forum told the late Subrata Sinha, ex-deputy general of Geological Survey of India, then president, All India People’s Science Congress, “ Subratada, the Left Front of West Bengal is now mainly responsible for backward trend in the Left movement outside India.” The former has been politically close to Prakash Karat, then party’s chief ideologue. However, this writer thinks that the poisonous seeds were sown in the CPI(M) and the LF in the wee hours of LF government, when Promode Dasgupta as the state party secretary and a polit bureau member of the CPI(M) used to call the shots. During the Emergency, Jyoti Basu, as a CITU vice-president, wrote to the then CM Siddhartha Sankar Ray, demanding that the license to the British-owned Calcutta Electricity Corporation Limited (then incorporated in the UK) to sell electricity not be renewed. In 1977-78, this same Basu as the new CM of the state post-Emergency, helped the very same company set up two power-generation plants at Titagarh (near Calcutta), followed by 20-year extension of license. The rest is history.