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The peasants have it

Tehelka, May 21, 2011
GN Saibaba says the real alternative will come from the maoists, not the Trinamool

THE RECENT debacle of Communist Party of India (Marxist) has led to widespread speculation in the media and elsewhere that this indeed is the end of the CPI(M) in West Bengal. It is being predicted that the way they have been literally routed in the assembly poll will lead to their gradual demise. The defeat of the CPI(M) in West Bengal after its uninterrupted rule of 34 years is literally seen as the fall of the fortress. However, such a reading of the situation is misplaced.

The CPI(M) is like any other ruling class party in this country. These parties come and go in central and state legislative bodies and Parliament and take their turns in pursuing anti-people policies. They never provide an alternative to their immediate predecessor, but simply capitalise on the growing grievances of the people against the existing government. The performance of the DMK, the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, is a good example. Yet the media is not talking about the end of the DMK, despite their abysmal performance. The reason for this is the turns the AIDMK and the DMK take in routing each other in successive elections and in exploiting people in a similar manner. This is an established fast and accepted even by the media. But in West Bengal, because the CPI(M) managed to come back to power in seven successive terms without a formidable opposition, the defeat this time is seen as the end of the game for them.

The unique situation in West Bengal must be understood to explain the continuous rule of the CPI(M), which ended this time. The CPI(M) in West Bengal is a social-fascist force. It was not successively voted to power because of any pro-people policies of its governments, but because it carefully eliminated the possibility of any kind of opposition. They had unleashed a reign of terror all across rural West Bengal to maintain this hegemony. Especially in the countryside and sub-urban regions, even other parties were stopped from doing their activities in most part of the sates. The CPI(M) had been carefully maintaining an immense network of surveillance on the activities of each individual in the villages, towns and localities. Anybody taking a stand against the CPI(M) was ostracised, intimidated and even killed. And, the CPI(M) in all these years did not even spare its own allies in the Left Front in this regard. Violence in rural West Bengal had been rampant in all these three and a half decades. Killing people, burying their bodies and then registering them as missing in police records was the most common practice in the villages.

The CPI(M) is a cadre-based party. But, its cadre base is not a conscious mass of people who are politicised in the basic tenets of communism. Rather, they are gangs of lumpen proletariats who are given immense privileges and protection by the party to ruthlessly sustain their hegemony on the ground. In the sham of land distribution that the CPI(M) pretends to have undertaken, a section of the middle peasantry, which declared allegiance to the party, was empowered. In the countryside, then, this section unleashed the powers of its feudal fiefdom and any kind of opposition was brutally suppressed. And this is the primary reason of the CPI(M)'s successive landslide victories in the elections in the countryside.
The challenge to this social-fascist hegemony of the CPI(M) did not come from the Trinamool Congress (TMC). In fact, in the last election in 2006, the TMC was relegated to a handful of seats, while the Left Front won 235 seats, one of its best performances in assembly elections anywhere in the country. By the end of that year, however, the first blow to the arrogant the CPI(M) rule came from the peasants of Singur. This struggle came after the CPI(M)'s all-out capitulation to imperialist industrialisation became known through grabbing multi-crop farmlands to build industries in the area. The social-fascist nature of the CPI(M) became clearer to the people when they ruthlessly repressed the peasants of Singur, and later Nandigram, in a bid to grab their land to dole them out to the Tatas and the Salem group.
The social-fascism, which had silently operated in the countryside so far, came belligerently into the open. The lumpen gangs now started functioning more openly. People now call them Harmad Vahini, an established and organised vigilante gang. But the people in Singur and Nandigram fought them back. After the Naxalbari uprising this was the first decisive challenge to the powers that be in West Bengal. The heroic mass resistance of peasants in Singur and Nandigram opened up new prospects in the politics of West Bengal. For the first time, the invincibility of the CPI(M) was radically challenged, as it made the ruling party backtrack on both the projects. It also put in abeyance other declared projects of land grab in other places, as the peasants there too geared up for resistance.
The middle class, which is otherwise complicit in the status quo, also came out in open support of the resilient peasants and also felt confident to hope for the possibility of a change of the existing ruling structures. Within no time, the next decisive challenge to the CPI(M) came from the most backward tracts of Jungalmahal, where people who have been diminished to inhuman levels of poverty and deprivation by the CPI(M), rose up in arms against the ruling class to fight for their long denied fundamental rights. The CPI(M) brazenly joined hands with the UPA to unleash a joint operation of paramilitary forces to ruthlessly suppress this resistance in the tribal region of the state. Section 144 was implemented in the entire Jungalmahal for the longest period of time since 1947, and it still continues. In Netai, 12 people were killed at one go by the Harmads, because they refused to join the gang. The leaders of the movement have been killed in cold-blooded fake encounters.
The resentment against the CPI(M) intensified in other places too, especially among the middle class, for unleashing such open military suppression of people's movements. This is where the TMC stepped in, capitalising on all these grievances and genuine anger of the masses it sought to provide an electoral alternative to the masses. Capitalising on all the popular demands in West Bengal, like saying no to land grab, withdrawal of joint forces from Jungalmahal, putting an end to state repression, etc. The TMC tried to capture the imagination of the fighting people. And, due to the lack of any other electoral opposition, it finally successfully grabbed the assembly in this election.
But this really cannot finish the CPI(M). A junior partner of the UPA government, the TMC will never be able to provide a radical alternative in policies and governance. Its cadre base is far weaker than that of the CPI(M). Its victory is not the basic expression of the aspirations of people. Nor is the TMC leading any mass movement against the CPI(M). It has, at best, punctured the well-equipped electoral machinations of CPI(M) for a term. Now, the Bengal unit of the CPI(M) will become another party competing for power, much like its Kerala counterpart.
The growth of the revolutionary movement under CPI (Maoist) has always remained outside of the electoral rat race. According to the government figures, it has grown in 200 districts across the country. The changing ruling parties in various states and their devious electoral theatrics are irrelevant in the growth of the Maoist movement. In West Bengal, it grew even when the social-fascist CPI(M) was in power with all its repressive mechanism. It is growing because of its increasing mass base and the support of the people. Irrespective of the party in power, it has always fought the ruling class. Whether a particular party is electorally ousted or not does not make any difference in the growth of this revolutionary movement. To say this is to state the truth as it exists on the ground.
GN Saibaba teaches at the University of Delhi.