WB Panchayat Election 2008:

A Turning Point in West Bengal Politics

--Partha Ghosh

On the eve of the recent panchayat elections in West Bengal, CPI(M) State Secretary Biman Bose had declared in a public meeting that this election would be a bloody one. In an article published in “Marxwadi Path” (Marxist Path), the theoretical organ of the party’s state unit, Bose also called upon party ranks to ensure that no new seats were lost to the enemy, and instead seats lost in previous elections were wrested from the enemy camp. His first prediction proved quite prophetic – no less than 42 persons lost their lives and hundreds suffered injuries in the course of the three-phase elections. But his call to the CPI(M) ranks was rebuffed resoundingly by the electorate with the CPI(M) registering its weakest performance in three decades.

Let us first take a quick look at the overall results. Of the 17 zila parishads, the CPI(M) lost four (Malda and North Dinajpur to the Congress, East Medinipur and South 24 Parganas to the TMC). In two other districts it has a slender majority (Murshidabad, where the Left Front has 33 seats as against 32 won by the Congress, and North 24 Parganas where the LF has 27 seats as against the TMC’s 18 and the Congress’s 6). In 2003 the LF had won all but two districts (Malda and Murshidabad). In terms of ZP seats, the LF tally came down from 619 (out of 713) to 518 (out of 748), a drop of 17.5% (down to 69.25% from 86.82% in 2003).

At the panchayat samiti level, the Left Front won 190 out of 329 (57.45%), way down from the 2003 figure of 280 (85%). In terms of PS seats, the LF tally dropped from 6294 (out of 8500, i.e., 74.05%) to 4929 (out of 8800, i.e., 56.01%), a decline of 18%. The Gram Panchayats constitute the lowest rung of the panchayat hierarchy and the results reveal the greatest erosion for the CPI(M) on this level. Of the 3,220 gram panchayats, the LF won 1,625, or 50.47 per cent, as against 2,311, or 71.77 per cent, in 2003. The decline is however somewhat less in terms of GP seats, where the LF tally went down from 32,307 (out of 49,137) to 21708 (out of 40787, the number of GP seats got reduced in the wake of panchayat-level reorganization or delimitation), a decline of 13.45% (down from 65.75% in 2003 to 52.30%).

Interestingly, among LF partners only the RSP managed to increase its tally on PS (up from 199 to 245) and ZP levels (up from 20 to 25). In many areas, the RSP did not fight the polls as a LF constituent, and even entered into local adjustments with the Congress and TMC in some places.

The TMC and the Congress emerged as the biggest beneficiaries of the strong anti-CPI(M) trend. The TMC improved its ZP tally from 16 in 2003 to 122. Apart from gaining control over two important districts, it also won control over 101 panchayat samitis. While the TMC gained dramatically at all levels, its ally SUCI actually lost many GP seats (down to 181 from 276) while registering limited gains at PS (up from 39 to 52) and ZP level (up from 2 to 6). The Congress too made significant gains, increasing its GP tally from 6724 to 7099, PS tally from 1048 to 1408 and ZP tally, from 67 to 97. Apart from winning control over two districts, it also won a good number of panchayat samitis – winning 34 by itself and 43 in alliance with the TMC.

Siddiqullah Chaudhury’s newly founded party PDCI won some 300 GP seats and 20-odd PS seats. In the ML camp, the best performance came from our Party with 2 PS and 23 GP seats.
The CPI(M) has asked all its District Committees to review the results. Meanwhile, the State Committee met on May 25-26 and made a preliminary review in the presence of Prakash Karat. According to the report published in People’s Democracy, the preliminary review primarily attributes the reverses suffered by the CPI(M) and Left Front to the party’s inability to effectively counter the opposition ‘attacks on the government’s programme of industrialization and development’, lapses in ensuring popular participation in the running of panchayats and lack of unity among LF constituents. In newspaper reports, CPI(M) leaders have also been quoted expressing concern over growing arrogance in lower-level cadres.

What must have really shocked the CPI(M) is the total rout it has faced in Nandigram. The May 18 issue of People’s Democracy had highlighted the peaceful and massive polling in Nandigram and added “The people as usual have had the last word... The results of Nandigram elections are blowing in the wind.” To discover that the massive polling went decisively against the CPI(M) defying the party’s celebrated network of close monitoring and calculated manipulation must have indeed been a huge shock. No less shocking has been the scale and breadth of electoral erosion experienced elsewhere, almost all over the state. The CPI(M) never tires of invoking the Maoist bogey in West Bengal, but ironically enough, it is in the districts where Maoists have some operational presence like Bankura, Purulia and West Medinipur that the CPI(M) has done rather well!

Reacting to the CPI(M)’s preliminary review, eminent economist and former West Bengal Finance Minister Ashok Mitra described it as an exercise in self-deception. He said the rural poor of West Bengal were perfectly capable of understanding and defending their class interest and the CPI(M) could in no way ‘convince’ them to give up whatever they had gained through decades of communist movement. While lamenting the steady ideological erosion of the CPI(M) in West Bengal, Mitra usually ends his articles by hoping that the CPI(M) central leadership would be able to read the writing on the wall and take urgent corrective measures to revamp the party. But the same Ashok Mitra described the panchayat outcome as a revolt from within the larger CPI(M) parivar and called upon all sincere well-wishers of the communist movement and CPI(M) to join this revolt. This by and large reflects the position of the progressive intelligentsia in the state.

If the CPI(M) finds it difficult to swallow the harsh panchayat verdict, it is also impossible for the TMC/Congress alliance to reflect or implement the mandate delivered by the rural poor of West Bengal. Revolutionary communists must use the present juncture to boldly carry forward the real battle of rural Bengal for land and liberty, for survival and democracy.

Turning the Balance against the CPI(M) and TMC – the Hooghly Experience

--Sajal Adhikari

Hooghly, the ‘Singur’ district, has been a traditional citadel of the CPI(M). Together with the prosperous neighbouring district of Bardhaman, Hooghly constitutes the ‘green revolution’ heartland of West Bengal. In the early 1990s we saw the first signs of anger and alienation among agricultural labourers in Bardhaman and soon the echoes could be heard in certain pockets of Hooghly as well. Basing ourselves on the everyday issues and struggles of the rural poor in our limited areas of work, we began to establish a close link with agricultural labourers and share-croppers in adjacent areas and intervene in every incident of contradiction or conflict between the rural poor and the corrupt leaders-middlemen-administration nexus.

The day-to-day struggles were combined with consistent and sharp political propaganda against the CPI(M)’s politics of opportunism and betrayal and a consistent mass political campaign on all issues of national and international importance. In the course of this class struggle, we not only forged close organic contact with the alienated mass base of the CPI(M) but also began to establish links with dissident voices inside the local CPI(M) leadership. Instead of dismissing dissidence within CPI(M) as mere factional bickering and power-struggle, we tried to link it to the ongoing class struggle in the area and the larger political debate within the Left movement.

This approach paid us good dividends and we were able to gradually expand our area of operation and zone of influence. In the last Assembly election held in May 2006 we were able to put up candidates in three adjacent Assembly segments and poll more than 11,000 votes. When Singur happened we lost no time to intervene in a sustained and spirited manner, camping among the people and actively joining hands with the resistance of the local people. Yet unlike some other ML groups we never shared platform with Mamata Banerjee and asserted our independent political identity at every juncture. In the Balagarh by-election held in December 2007 we were able to poll more than 5,000 votes in a matter of just ten days of election preparation and campaigning after the Party’s Kolkata Congress.

In the May 2008 panchayat elections we put up 130 candidates in the gram panchayat election. We won 13 GP seats, including majority in Goswami-Malipara panchayat in Polba-Dadpur block and finished second in 23. At the panchayat samiti level we fielded 29 candidates, winning two panchayat samiti seats in Pandua Block and losing one seat in tie and another one by a very narrow margin (4 votes) in Polba-Dadpur Block. For the Zila Parishad, we had 7 nominees. Two of our candidates polled more than 5,000 votes each in Polba-Dadpur and Pandua blocks and altogether our nominees polled more than 17,000 votes. Some ex-CPI(M) ranks and supporters who had supported the TMC-BJP combine in the previous panchayat election rallied once again around the red flag thereby denying the TMC any edge in several areas of our work.

The CPI(M) is of course alarmed over the rise of our Party as an alternative rallying centre for the Left-minded people of Hooghly district and has already started applying the notorious terror tactics to stall our advance. But we are determined to foil their desperate attacks by relying on the people and the strength and spirit of class struggle and our revolutionary politics 

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