Assembly Elections 2012

(as told by Comrade Mangat Ram Pasla, Secretary, CPM Punjab, and Comrade Harkanwal Singh, State Committee member, CPM Punjab)

The Akali Dal-BJP combine bucked the long-established and unbroken trend of anti-incumbency in Punjab polls, and was re-elected to Government. The Akali Dal-BJP Government had a track record of aggressively pursuing neoliberal, anti-people policies, corruption, and broken promises to the poor. It pursued the same policy line as the Congress-UPA Government at the Centre. However, as elections approached, it made some populist gestures, conceding some of the demands raised by agitations of peasants and agricultural labourers. The Akali-BJP combine benefited from infighting within the Congress, and Manpreet Badal’s Punjab People’s Party too denied the Congress the exclusive benefits of the anti-Akali/BJP vote in the Malwa region.

There was much hype about the Manpreet Badal phenomenon in these elections. Manpreet Badal, aggrieved nephew of the CM Prakash Singh Badal, and former Finance Minister in the Akali Government, developed a rivalry with Sukhbir Badal and broke away to form his PPP. For all his talk of Bhagat Singh, it was hidden from none that his policies as FM had been a carbon copy of those of Manmohan Singh! He had pursued the withdrawal of subsidies and imposition of user charges on electricity, increase in bus fares, sale of government property and cut-backs in social services. Manpreet Badal declared that Bhagat Singh was his inspiration, but that he did not agree with the latter’s ideology!

The Punjab elections witnessed the contest among ruling class formations, between ruling class formations and the fighting Left, and also between two models of Left intervention in elections: one, of riding piggyback on ruling class formations, and the other, of independent left assertion. The results hold lessons for the Left.

The CPIM Punjab and CPI(ML) approached all left parties for a united Left platform, reflecting the spirit of the united struggles of workers and peasants that the State has witnessed. But the CPI and CPI(M) preferred to go for an alliance that bolstered the democratic pretensions of an Akali renegade.

Manpreet was obviously invoking Bhagat Singh’s anti-imperialist legacy to cloak his own pro-imperialist policies. But the CPI(M) and CPI fell headlong into the trap, taking his demagoguery at face value. They became constituents of the Sajha Morcha (projected as a ‘Third’ Front), projecting Manpreet as the Chief Ministerial candidate. The front included the breakaway Akali Dal (Longowal) faction headed by Surjit Singh Barnala, who has earlier been part of the NDA alliance. Clearly, this alliance was a purely opportunist one – with no ideological principles – neither ‘secularism’, nor opposition to neoliberal policies, nor some history of joint struggles – to anchor it.

The CPI and CPI(M) even went to the unprecedented extent of giving organisational shape to an electoral alliance of this kind, becoming office bearers in a Committee headed by Manpreet Badal as Chairman, formed to run the Sajha Morcha campaign. This is truly unprecedented for a Left party: to make an alliance with a non-Left formation is one thing, but to become office bearers in a formation headed by a bourgeois leader is quite another. And the national leadership’s blessings were with this endeavour: Comrades Prakash Karat and AB Bardhan shared the dais with Surjit Singh Barnala and Manpreet Badal at an election rally.

The case of the Bhoa constituency in Pathankot, too, was revealing. The seat was allocated to the CPI(M), but the PPP insisted that its own nominee would be the candidate. So, an PPP-nominated NRI, Gurdev Dev, contested on the CPI(M) symbol! Needless to say, he spoke not a word about Left politics in his campaign, making it clear he was committed to Manpreet Badal and the PPP instead. At Bhoa, the CPIM Punjab candidate polled 5624 votes, more than double the CPIM candidate’s 2779.

The CPI and CPI(M) counted on Manpreet Badal becoming CM and forming Government. Along with the Congress, Manpreet too played the religion card, wooing the various Deras for votes. He also spent huge amounts on paid news. But Manpreet Badal turned out to be a damp squib in the election. While he was expected to erode Akali Dal votes, he instead did damage to the Congress, and ended up unwittingly helping the Akali Dal retain power.

The CPM Punjab and CPI(ML) Liberation contested on a shared platform – the Sangharshsheel Khabba Morcha (Fighting Left Front) and a jointly issued manifesto, reflecting the spirit of mass struggles in the elections. The CPI-CPI(M)’s tactics of allying with Manpreet Badal failed badly: neither did the alliance convince Punjab’s voters of its commitment to alternative policies, nor did it benefit the Left or progressive agenda in any way. Instead it reflected an abject surrender of ideology and politics on part of the CPI-CPI(M) in a (failed) bid to share power.

For Left politics and movements, the election results have no room for complacency. The need of the hour is for all forces on the Left to unite and fight on an alternative agenda, challenging the neoliberal policies with struggles on the streets, rather than attempting any unprincipled short-cuts.

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