West Bengal is currently under a political turmoil. Every day without fail in some part of the state or the other, cadres of CPI(M) are killed by the Maoists or the TMC or other anti-left forces. All this is a reflection of the rabidly anti-left gang up of forces that have arisen in West Bengal to topple the Left Front government and bring in 'change'. In this endeavour of routing the Left from West Bengal, TMC has found their spokespersons in a section of Bengali 'intellectuals', who regularly visit various TV channels and spew venom against the Left, while pretending to be 'neutral'. It should however be mentioned at the outset that there is nothing wrong in taking positions against the Left Front Government. Ultimately it is a democracy and people have a right to elect governments of their choice. The point of this article is to expose the arguments given by these 'intellectuals', from a moral and academic high point, as being completely vacuous and bogus. Let us take their main arguments against the Left one at a time and prove their vacuity.
Claim No. 1: Left Front Government's rule has been a total failure and misrule
The Left Front Government came to power in West Bengal after a prolonged struggle of the people against the anti-people policies of the Congress in West Bengal. This victory was followed by nothing short of a revolution in the state whereby large-scale land reforms were initiated with the establishment of Panchayati Raj in the state resulting in empowering of the rural poor. Majority of the land distributed went to the poorest sections of the people, SC/ST and minorities. This rural reforms resulted in a massive increase in the growth rate of agricultural production. According to the Eleventh Plan Document, agricultural growth in West Bengal during 1995-96 to 2004-05 was 2.67%, which was the third highest among all major States. When the entire country was reeling under an agrarian crisis and farmers were committing suicide in thousands, West Bengal was immune to such suicides because the agriculture sector in the state withstood the all India crisis. Much has been written about this. What is often not recognized is the fact that with this huge increase in the growth rate of agriculture, poverty reduction gathered momentum. As a result, Planning Commission’s poverty estimates, shows that rural poverty in West Bengal declined from 73.2% in 1973-74 to 28.6% in 2004-05, as against the decline of poverty at the all-India level from 56.4% in 1973-74 to 28.3% in 2004-05. Urban poverty in West Bengal declined from 34.7% in 1973-74 to 14.8% in 2004-05, as against the decline of urban poverty at the all-India level from 49% in 1973-74 to 25.7% in 2004-05. The XI Plan document of the Planning Commission commends West Bengal for such massive reductions in poverty.
With regard to health and education indicators too, it is the case that the state has witnessed substantial improvement. Particularly, in the health sector recent data from the office of the Registrar General of India, using the Sample Registration System (SRS), show that West Bengal is now one of the best-performing states in the country in terms of the most basic health indicators. There have been significant improvements in the indicators of birth rate, death rate, infant mortality rate etc which are amongst the best in the country. Even in education, while there exists scope of improvement, still enrolment ratio is one of the highest in the country and school drop out has come down over the years. Moreover, University of Calcutta ranks 4th in All India and Jadavpur University ranks 9th in a survey carried out by India Today and AC Nielsen.
Does all this suggest that the Left Front Government's 33 years in existence was all about total failure and misrule? Obviously not. Then the question that naturally arises is as to why these intellectuals including renowned economists openly denounce the entire 33 years of Left Front rule? There are at least two reasons for this. Firstly, these so called intellectuals are intellectuals of the urban elites and the upwardly mobile barring a few exceptions. As a result the improvement of the poor and the ordinary, reduction in poverty, land reforms means very less to them. This is again because of the fact that these so called intellectuals belonging to the urban middle class have benefited from the policies of neo-liberal globalization. The CPI(M) being consistently opposed to neo-liberalism has faced the ire of these intellectuals. Secondly, even if some of them agree that there have been positive achievements of the Left Front Government, they are simply not saying it since any such utterance will invoke the wrath of 'didi'. Therefore, even if there are allegations of corruption within TMC by none other than Kabir Suman, these intellectuals have gone on TV to say that in these times of 'change', such allegations of corruption in TMC should not be discussed in public. In other words, nothing should be done or said which can cause discomfiture to the great 'didi'. So much for intellectual honesty and courage.
To be fair, one should accept that there are issues of under-development in various parts of West Bengal. It should also be accepted that there were mistakes committed in terms of the land acquisition drive in Singur and Nandigram. But to say that nothing has happened under the Left Front Government is a complete sham and should be resolutely challenged and rejected.
Claim No. 2: There is no democracy in West Bengal
This canard has been repeated ever since the Left Front Government came to power. It has been alleged time and again that all elections in West Bengal are rigged by the CPI(M). In 2006, all such allegations have been proved wrong when within unprecedented security and high-handedness of the Election Commission Left Front registered a historic win. If this was not enough it is alleged that no opposition was allowed to function in West Bengal because of CPI(M) terror. Again, this is far from the truth. In 1984, the Congress won 16 seats in the Parliament, while in 1999, the Trinamool-BJP combine won 13 seats. If the opposition is absent, could they have won such a huge number of seats? Surely not. But the 'intellectuals' refuse to see this basic truth. This is again because of the fact that they have no idea about the causes of the Left Front's win in the state. It can be said that this is a serious intellectual deficiency on their part not to have comprehended how the poor people of the state have rallied behind the Left because of its struggles and policies, how democracy was restored by the Left in Bengal after the semi-fascist terror of 1972-77! On the first day of office the government announced the release of all political prisoners belonging to all political parties including the Naxals. Is this anti-democratic?
Surely, the 'intellectuals' know the history of the state. Even then their effort has consistently been to deny the history of the Left Front in West Bengal. This is because that history is a history of acting against the vested interests of the rich and the powerful. There are elements within these 'intellectuals' who are ideologically opposed to this role of the Left. That is why they have no qualms in talking against bandhs by the working class or they dream about making Kolkata like London or Hyderabad without understanding the immense pain that the working class and poor have suffered when these cities were built. They want Kolkata to become a world class city. But this definition of world class necessarily excludes the poor and the shanty dwellers. The experience of posh Hyderabad and the poverty in surrounding areas is a case in point. But the consciousness of the people of West Bengal is so high that such right wing rhetoric will simply be rejected by the people. Therefore, these 'intellectuals' take resort under a left rhetoric on the pretext of Nandigram and Singur to deny the historic legacy of the Left in the state. In other words, these 'intellectuals' not only want to throw out the Left Front from power. They actually want to throw out the Left forces from West Bengal.
Claim No. 3: Political violence in West Bengal is erupting because after a long time the people are giving resistance to the brutal party machinery of the CPI(M)
Probably, the CPI(M) is the only ruling party whose cadres have been consistently killed in any Indian state. Ever since the Left Front Government came to power more than 2500 cadres of CPI(M) have given their lives in defence of the party. Time and again, right wing forces have launched vicious attacks against the party and claimed many poor and innocent lives. The latest avatar of this diabolic game plan are the Maoists who have no qualm in killing innocent people simply because they are supporters of the CPI(M). These so called neutral 'intellectuals' have hardly ever spoken against the atrocities of the Maoists.
Their deceit and falsehood were completely exposed in the aftermath of the Maoists sabotage of the Gyaneshwari Express where more than 150 people were killed. These intellectuals hurriedly convened a press conference and openly accused the CPI(M) of perpetrating the tragedy. Now that the CBI has arrested Bapi Mahato and established convincingly the hand of the PCPA and the Maoists behind the train massacre, these 'intellectuals' have become completely silent. Honesty demands that either they accept their mistake and apologize to the people or they challenge the investigation of the CBI. They have refused to do both. These people are supposed to be the conscience of society. Unfortunately it seems that they have lost their own conscience.
Claim No. 4:The CPI(M) has monopolized power for 33 years. Now there should be 'change' which is healthy for a democracy
The basic argument implicit in this above claim is that the CPI(M) has clung to power undemocratically, which as we have already argued is completely wrong. But there is a deeper issue in this. What is it exactly that these 'intellectuals' want to change? What are the policy changes that they are envisaging? What would be the course of the Bengal economy and polity? There are no clear cut answers to these important questions apart from some rant that once they come to power they will decide. The fundamental point is that at the Central level, governments have changed since 1991 with the BJP or the Congress mostly in power. But there has been no change in the anti-people policies of the Central Government because both the parties are under the hegemony of neo-liberalism. The 'intellectuals' have never demanded any fundamental change of policy at the central level. They are only demanding change in West Bengal, which is the strongest opposition to the policies of neo-liberalism. It is therefore not hard to understand whose policies they want to pursue and to whose side their balance is tilted.
Indeed, there is a need for radical change not only in West Bengal but also in India. This change should be towards re-orienting the economy towards the benefit of the poor and marginalized. The Congress or the TMC far from ushering this change are the torch-bearers of the hegemony of neo-liberalism. It is unfortunate that these 'intellectuals' have sided with neo-liberalism.
Claim No. 5: There is hardly any difference between the political agenda of CPI(M) and TMC
This is the most ridiculous and the most dangerous of the arguments of the 'intellectuals'. They are forced to take upon themselves a mask of left wing politics otherwise people of West Bengal will never accept them. This is the reason they want to portray the TMC as also Left. They argue that TMC has opposed disinvestment etc which bears the hallmark of left ideas. It is important to understand that the anti-CPI(M) gang up led by the TMC has ultra-left elements and the Maoists within it. Additionally, the CPI(M) has played an exemplary role against neo-liberal economic policies of Congress and BJP which has been appreciated by the people. To keep this gang up in tact and at the same time project a left image in the public TMC is resorting to a complete hypocritical politics. This is again aided by the 'intellectuals'.
The vacuity of the claim that TMC has a left agenda is exposed by the fact that TMC has done nothing against price rise apart from making one or two noises, they have not voted in favour of the Women's Reservation Bill, they have nothing to say on the Foreign University Bill or the Nuclear Liability Bill, they have nothing to say on Food Security Bill and various other issues on which the Left is struggling against the neo-liberal policies. But these 'intellectuals' in order to deceive the people and mislead them are repeating constantly that there are hardly any difference between the TMC and the Left political agenda. In other words, these 'intellectuals' utter only those words, however wrong they may be, which serve the interests of 'didi' and TMC.
Noam Chomsky had once said that “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.” The pro-Mamata intellectuals have turned this dictum on its head and are resorting to lies and half-truths to further the political interests of TMC. In this context it can be rightfully asked as to whether they pass Chomsky's criteria of intellectuals.
All the above arguments is not to deny that there are short comings on the part of the Left Front Government as well as the CPI(M) in West Bengal. The Election Review of 2009 by the CPI(M) Central Committee identified governmental factors, political factors as well as organizational factors for the electoral set backs of the Left. Additionally, the party has also initiated rectification campaign to identify and fight certain non-communist trends that have set in within party members at various levels. These issues need to be addressed properly and urgently in order to come out of the problems that are facing the Left.
In this drive towards introspection and rectification, undoubtedly the intellectuals have their right to criticize the party and the government. But these should be based on sound logic and not mere rhetoric and baseless allegations. Ultimately, the intellectuals carry a heavy responsibility of awakening awareness within the society. This cannot be done by merely resorting to vacuous arguments and falsehood. They are of course entitled to their opinions about anything under the sun including the CPI(M). But the absence of rigorous arguments and falsehood suggest that they are not the harbingers of pro-people 'change'. Rather, they want to re-establish the hegemony of the right in West Bengal, which has remained elusive for a very long time.