The Right End to Bengal’s Left
I was recently told that even Alimuddin Street is a field of green flags. The record voting turnout, the philosophical attitude of my leftwing friends and relatives, and the confidence of Mamata Banerjee who is allowing herself to sound almost ministerial – it all points to not merely the end of communist rule in West Bengal but its imminent rout.
“The left is ready to sit in opposition,” is what I’ve been repeatedly told. The expectation of both the Congress and the communists is that Mamata will discredit herself in the next two to three years. And then it will their chance again.
The Trinamool chief knows this. So she’s kept the lion’s share of tickets in North Bengal, the last remaining Congress party stronghold. The Congress has run a bunch of independents there to recoup some of their losses. But it’s hard to see them going beyond 35 seats in a 187 seat state assembly.
The left parties don’t really know what’s going to hit them or what will follow. How can they? They’ve been in power for over three decades and don’t really quite know what is going in West Bengal. My analysis is simple: the original Communist Party of India Marxist leadership consisted of land-owning feudals from East Bengal – now Bangladesh – turned into refugees by the Partition. They hated the Congress for the Partition, but declined to hear the siren call of Hindu nationalism.So they turned left. The unusual discipline that imbued its members was forged from the Partition. They combined this with aggressive and voter-friendly land reforms (they didn’t have land any more, what did they care?) to create the forever rule of the Left Front governments.
But the memory of Partition is now nearly three generations past. The new party members of the party are simply opportunistic politicos. Land reforms is a has-been accomplishment and the beneficiaries are wondering what to do with what has become handkerchief-size plots of land.
Mamata will have an even tougher time as chief minister. She will inherit a state with a huge debt. Fiscal consolidation, or draining the red ink from the government’s books, is an election loser for ruling parties. The best of the best have survived one and even two elections while belt-tightening is going on. But never more than that and rarely two.
The political skill that is required to cut the debt, keep voters happy and win elections is considerable. Which is why everyone looks at Mamata and wonders.
She couldn’t have done worse by choosing Amit Mitra, former head of FICCI, as a candidates and possibly future finance minister. Her aides have dabbled with free market types like Bibek Debroy. And she talks of inviting investment, American and otherwise, to state as a necessity. So who knows?
Question: whither the “left space” in Indian politics with the demise of the communists for this election cycle (they are likely to lose in Kerala as well)? The Congress will be tempted to take over that discourse under the impression all that politically correct mumbojumbo gets votes. The truth is the communists were barely communist after so many years in politics. My guess the NGOs and their ilk will be the ones who take on that mantle.