Significance of Assam – West Bengal Assembly election, 2011.

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Arup Baisya (written for ARUNOOY)
The assembly election in five Indian states was held in the backdrop of corruption charges, charges for policy appeasement towards the oligopolies and their votaries of imperialist state. The parliamentary left circles were most vociferous against the UPA- II right from the nuclear deal to various new economic policy decisions and to the revelation of Radia tapes. When it is more or less a consensus within the Marxists as well as the Keynesian variants that the forces of globalization and the party in power with neo-liberal policy are responsible for increasing poverty, inequality and social insecurity of the people, the left bastion in West Bengal has been dismantled ending the 34 years left rule, and the neo-liberal proponent, the congress in Assam, has increased their previous tally both in terms of number of seats and vote-share.

A trend of change of guard in every-election was set in motion since the Monomohan’s neo-liberal policy declaration in the year 1991, and the neo-liberal poll-pundits tried to manipulate the vote against liberalism as anti-incumbency or lack of Governance. But this topsy-turvy situation and the situation of uncertainty are getting stabilized in favour of the forces of globalization without any sign of emergence of new anti-globalization political force in the horizon. Due to this trend-reversal, the neo-liberal pundits are emphatically citing with glee the logic of good-governance in the case of Nitish Kumar’s Bihar and Narenra Modi’s Gujrat. Being glued within the ambit of neo-liberal policy framework, how Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi could successfully push forward their vote-base to Maha-Dalit, Maha- OBC and to the Hindu masses respectively may be of separate interesting case studies. But left front debacle in West Bengal and Congress’s unexpected electoral gain in Assam are no less significant for the anti-globalization forces to take lesson.

In Assam, it appears to be a paradox, when the election result revealed that the voters this time sided with the Congress, the votary of neo-liberalism in power, more in numbers than its previous term. But this paradox passes away from sight if we take into cognizance that the forces of globalization is in a nascent stage in Assam and was recently let loose through the look-east policy.  The huge funding from central Government as well as from foreign Banks like Asian Development Bank in the name of infrastructural development, building peace, social security measures enabled the Congress State Government to distribute doles like computers, bi-cycles, one time cash-payment to BPL families and to take up schemes like Chief Minister Anna Yojona, building up rural health infrastructure, upgradation of Government Hospital, 108 (on call at doorstep) ambulance facilities, constructing roads, rural electrification etc. This economic situation of seemingly welfare investment also enables the State Congress Government to give a democratic gesture of providing symbolic autonomy to the ethnic communities to incorporate ethnic leaders with an opportunity to handle a portion of this ‘welfare fund’ for their personal gain. Congress party in Assam could successfully present their face of ‘welfarism and democracy’ to the rural masses, though a major part of this fund has been siphoned off to lubricate the palms of private and collective avarice. Both Assamese and Bengali Hindu professional class, the Karmacharis (state Govt. employees) and teaching community who play a big role in opinion building voted for Congress for pay revision and regular salary disbursement. Tarun Gogoi also pandered the subconscious communal sentiment of the middle class by cunningly distancing himself from, and very subtly focusing Badruddin Ajmal as his adversary whose party UDF perceived by the minority voters as the savior of their citizenship right which has been threatened from time and again from chauvinist quarters especially in Brahmaputra Valley. The congress tried to play the game to woo both Muslim and Hindu sentiment from two different fronts. When central leader and state observer from congress party’s pro-minority face Mr. Digvijoy Sing was issuing statement in favour of minority rights, Tarun Gogoi was very subtly and aptly pandering the Hindu communal cause. Congress in Brahmaputra valley miserably failed to woo muslim voters, but succeeded in getting Assamese and tribal votes, increasing the rural vote-share and retaining the traditional tea-garden votes. I would like to define this result in favour of Congress as “economic forces of anti-globalisation siding with political forces of globalization” and also the vote against pseudo-opposition who are not averse to neo-liberalism and are the co-sharer of the loot of Government exchequer as junior partner of the congress rank and file at the grassroots level. Moreover the presence of congress in the rural masses through various Central Government schemes like MGNREGA also helped Congress to get the rural votes. The Muslim voters, who are more politically conscious than others due to the world-wide resistance movement against the imperialist politics and due to  their concern for citizenship always under conspicuous administrative scanner, preferred to vote for UDF especially in Brahmaputra valley where they have to face harassment from chauvinist camp in their day to day life. The Barpeta incident of police firing on the demonstrators on NRC issue and thereby killing a few went against the Congress in power and indirectly helped UDF to increase their tally.

It became the popular perception that the sustenance of this “welfarism & democracy” would be ensured, if Congress is voted back to power. The rank-corrupt pseudo-opposition, who are not averse to neo-liberalism helped in forming this popular perception. The BJP’s only agenda of Muslim-bashing in the name of foreigner’s issue backfired this time. But question is what this “welfarism & democracy” that Congress Govt. in power advocated does mean in real terms?    

The Congress face of “welfarism and democracy” is both anathema to the neo-liberalism and the global capitalism. The process of accumulation of capital and the profit making both get jeopardized in the present phase of globalisatioon under welfarism and democracy. So this “welfarism & democracy” at the behest of global capital (funding from ADB etc) is actually the initial investment of the Banks and the Indian Govt. to make the socio-economic & political environment conducive for supply, contract and investment in service sector by the big companies, and to achieve this objective, all the sectors related with social security measures are being privatized indirectly by hiking the expenditure to be incurred for buying the services like health, education, electricity etc. That means, these illusory measures of “welfarism & democracy” is going to collapse sooner than later. Two examples in current scenario of banal verbiage (though that could influence the people aspiring for social security measures) of Congress bandwagon on “welfarism & democracy” will suffice to expose it as illusory. The state Govt. has made the provision of health care service, electricity, education etc for BPL families free of cost or with nominal charge. But on the other hand, the Govt., under IMF dictation, is conspiring to show the BPL percentage as low as possible. As per 2002 BPL survey, the percentage was shown barely as 34% and in the interim sample survey report 2003-04, it was further claimed that BPL population has reduced to mere 16% only. When it is too optimistic to think that Assam’s BPL population will be less than the national average of 77% as estimated by Arjun Sengupta commission, this abysmally low figure was estimated through administrative chicanery and procedural manipulation. Moreover in real term, Assam’s agricultural and industrial production have shown no improvement, rather remained stagnant in recent past. So question of drastic reduction of BPL population and increase of revenue-earning necessary for funding social security measures do not arise. So all these are done at the behest of the Fund-managers from whom loan and aid were flowing to various sectors in consonance with neo-liberal policy. There is a stark contrast between investment in the social security measures in Latin American states like Venezuela where oil-sector has been nationalized and the additional revenue earned thereof is being channeled to social service sectors, and in state like India where foreign loan and aid are temporarily being invested in social sector to make the national Govt. further susceptible to the pressure of oligopoly-capital and their policy dictation. Similarly, that the democratic gestures from the power-that-be are illusory becomes amply clear from the fact that though gazette notification has been done long back, the actual handing over of charges of various departments to Panchayats are kept in abeyance for uncertain period. Opposition who are rank-corrupt and votaries of neo-liberalism were not very keen to highlight all these issues and to make any dent in the Congress traditional vote-bank of Jharkhandi tea-labourers by raising the issue of minimum wage etc.

The initial euphoria in Congress camp will soon die down and the people of Assam is going to face the harsh reality soon, when the global capital will come out of the veil to show their devilish face of expropriator. Who will then lead the people to fruition? The social forces of grass root movement, though weak, are not insignificant. But that too could not make any impact in the electoral political battle. This phenomenon will be dealt with after the significance of West Bengal election is discussed in brief.

Let us try to understand why left front in Bengal got such an electoral drubbing. The left front Govt. in West Bengal was pursuing the neo-liberal path, despite lot of hullabaloos from the CPM central leadership against global capitalism and American imperialism. When CPM central leadership was opposing the nuclear deal and arguing for the futility of nuclear power, the West Bengal Govt. was bent on installing the nuclear power station in Bengal. When Central leadership was opposing SEZ, West Bengal Govt. was vehemently pursuing SEZ in Nandigram to serve the interest of American oligopoly. When the central leadership were vocal against the revelation of Radia Tapes on unholy alliance of politician-bureaucrats-corporate giants, it was shocking to know that Nirupam Sen engaged Tata’s lobbyist NIRA RADIA’s company VCC directly to deal with TATA to negotiate terms and condition on Singur Nano Project and on other industrial project, and subsequent state-sponsored attack on farmers to acquire their agricultural land for neo-liberal industrial drive. The arrogance of left front was in gruesome display during the recapture of Nandigram in March 2007, a violent attack on the people opposing forcible land acquisition. Even their ally, RSP was compelled to openly term it as state-sponsored violence on 16th April 2007 in the Statesman. When the Central leadership had discovered their allies in VP’s Mandal Movement with a desire to extend their vote base in Hindi-heartland, the Bhadrolok dhuti-panjabi-clad uppercaste Bengal Left-in-power so audaciously was airing the views that the reservation policy is redundant there in Bengal, as there is no caste discrimination. Now it has become amply clear that the worst kind of caste discrimination and dehumanization is prevailing in Bengal, when the Namasudras, the most advanced amongst the oppressed castes in Bengal have revolted and the CPM tried to woo them in the last minute bid in the election campaign. The left front in Bengal vehemently criticized Justice Sachar, who once sympathized with the parliamentary left for his known left leaning, for his report that highlighted the dismal condition of Muslims in the state and the rude display of their insensitivity towards the Muslim community was visible in Rizwanur’s case. When the Assam CPM, which I consider as the mini version of Bengal CPM, as its respective Bengali and Assamese upper-caste character is more prominent than its left character, was supporting the Bodo chauvinist demand(Bodos are minority in the territory they demanded), Bengal CPM was frantically opposing Jharhandi-Aivasi cultural aspiration in Lalgarh and Jangalmahal, denying legitimacy of Kamtapuri identity and brandishing sword along with Buddha’s high pitched utterances against the Gorkhas to uphold the indivisibility of Bengal. When the Central leadership and left think-tank were advocating proper implementation of NREGA, universal PDS, arguing against the erroneous methodology of  determination of BPL category, the performance of left in Bengal was worse than many other states, albeit Kerala was also not an exception on these counts.

After the initial period of  Operation Barga through which the left in Bengal made a huge mass base amongst the landless and the poor, the CPM party in Bengal took a U-turn to empower the vested interest, the new middle class, through the party organization in tow with administrative machinery including the police, instead of taking up the political task of empowerment of people and grass root democracy, and this role reversal gradually turned the Bengal CPM into a ruling class bandwagon with the characteristic “left arrogance” considering themselves as savior and benevolent to people’s interest. After the initial phase of left rule, the left front Govt. was quite comfortable with the present centre-state relation. That means, they were vociferous (when Ashok Mitra was FM) for more power to the state, when they were leading people’s movement within the state. Maintaining an overwhelming control over a subdued mass [established through one party hegemony (left front is multi-party in appearance only) over state structure and doles-distributing] was in no way facing any hindrance from present centre-state relation. It became a party-state where ruling party throttles the voices of all opposition, controls & dictates the workplace & livingspace, even from kitchen to matrimony of any rural family. However, in Kerala, Achyudanandan is leading a CPM core who supported reservation policy and opposed the implementation of neo-liberal policy to some extent. So, I consider the Bengal CPM in power as the reactionary social fascist core that has been crashed in this election to open up the possibility for an inner party debate to enable the central CPM to tread the path opposite to reformism, revisionism and crass parliamentary opportunism and cretinism.

The people of West Bengal have been searching for an alternative since long to get rid of the suffocating social polity under suppressive rule of CPM’s party-state structure. Singur-Nandigram inspired the popular classes with the required courage to be vocal and act against left-rule. From the class point of view, all the revolutionary classes revolted against the LF-Govt. and sided with Mamata who captured the people’s mood with populist approach and as a parliamentary ruling class bandwagon. But with a view to creep in to the helm of affairs of the state and keeping a Hawk’s eye on CM post for her, she & her party had taken up the people’s issues and successfully dislodged the left with huge popular mandate. The jubilant mood of rebellious people will encourage them to march forward to get their issues resolved and a section of LF rank & file (though miniscule – but not insignificant) who were critical to LF but were sitting idle, will become active to side with the people, and in case of Mamata’s transformation into the most reactionary variant of the ruling class party and the betrayal of the people’s issues, this will, in every possibility, be countered head on by the popular movement in which revolutionary forces will get a space to widen their base.

In Bengal, the various forms of social movement right from the question of SEZ, land-acquisition to identity question has been transformed into Mamata’s Brand of political movement to grasp state power. Why others who are for the radical transformation of the society and were involved in the grass root movement failed to be a political force. Only this statement that Mamata could capture the mood of the people does not explain the phenomena wholly. Was Mamata’s rise and not of revolutionary left inevitable at this present juncture? Was the political consciousness induced to the people by Mamata and her party from without or Mamata’s political line could successfully mobilize the grass root leaders who emerged and carried the political content from within the spontaneous movements? In Assam, the grass root movement failed to transform itself into political force and to make any impact in the electoral battle.

In the aftermath of Naxalbari peasant upsurge and in the wake of world-wide social movement since 1968, there was a debate within CPI(ML) leadership in consonance with the world-wide left debate on the question of mass-movement and the goal, and a section of leadership citing the example of the vote in favour of Congress by the people involved in mass movement, advocated preeminence of party cadres over the mass struggle and imparting the political consciousness to the people from without. This argument, if ultimately prevails and is braught to practice can transform the revolutionary party to Stalinist or social fascist like Bengal CPM or terrorist like a section of ‘Maoist’.

This old opposition between the ‘movement’ and the ‘goal’ no longer makes any sense. As Marx theorized, the simple exercise of the social power that has accumulated or is accumulating in the hands of labour is in and by itself a revolutionary act and on the basis of this theorization, we can safely conclude, without any risk of oversimplification, that the revolutionary grass root social movement has not yet accumulated enough social power in the hands of labour that could demonstrate recomposition of ‘movement’ and ‘goal’ and this is not only true for these two states only, this is true everywhere. We can also safely conclude that the bases of social movement in these two states will soon strengthen itself further, if pursued with vigour, in the wake of world-wide social movement rising leaps and bounds, towards the recomposition of ‘movement’ and the ‘goal’. The class of people who are leading the present social or grass root trade union movement can yet easily be accommodated within the ruling class political space which is rapidly shrinking for the working classes to take lead and to occupy the political space. 


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