Left Is Right Back

Awak­ing from deep hi­ber­na­tion, the CPI(M) takes to the streets to ‘save’ Ben­gal

India Today - - STATES - By Romita Datta

On May 22, the roads lead­ing to Na­banna, the build­ing that houses the tem­po­rary West Ben­gal sec­re­tar­iat, turned into a sea of red—com­mu­nist flags, caps and ban­danas were ev­ery­where—set­ting Kolkata’s al­ready sear­ing roads ablaze. Re­spond­ing to the CPI(M)’s call to ac­tion to ‘save the dis­tressed state’, lead­ers including Left Front chair­man Bi­man Bose, state CPI(M) sec­re­tary Sur­jya Misra and state sec­re­tar­iat mem­ber Madan Ghosh led close to 2 lakh work­ers on a march to Na­banna. They fought pitched bat­tles with Chief Min­is­ter Ma­mata Ban­er­jee’s riot po­lice, de­fy­ing wa­ter can­nons and tear­gas.

This was ex­actly the kind of ‘hands on’ ac­tion the CPI(M)’s in­creas­ingly de­mor­alised cadre had been de­mand­ing of their lead­er­ship, in­stead of the (much ridiculed) ‘con­struc­tive op­po­si­tion’ role they have been play­ing so far. It was al­most as if the Left had a be­lated re­ac­tion to the 2016 assem­bly polls, where it man­aged just 32 of the total 294 seats.

The May 22 protest was pre­ceded by a se­ries of street cor­ner meet­ings and mi­nor pro­ces­sions. Mo­ham­mad Salim, CPI(M) MP from Raiganj, says it was more than a sim­ple show of strength: “It’s to show our sup­port­ers— the debt-rid­den farm­ers, the labour­ers who don’t even get 100 days of (paid) work and the un­em­ployed youth—that we are still there to fight for them.”

Party cadre have been di­rected to ex­tend a help­ing hand wher­ever they can. State com­mit­tee mem­ber Robin Deb says, “If a vil­lage school is closed due to a short­age of teach­ers, we are ask­ing qual­i­fied sup­port­ers to help. Sim­i­larly, at short-staffed pri­mary health cen­tres, our work­ers will pitch in.”

The party has also can­celled mem­ber­ship of “20 per cent in­ac­tive mem­bers”, an ex­er­cise to stream­line the party or­gan­i­sa­tion ahead of the 2018 pan­chayat elec­tions. “The fi­nal ob­jec­tive is to en­sure party pres­ence at all polling sta­tions. In the 2013 polls, we could not reach some 16,000 booths and we couldn’t con­test 4,000 gram pan­chayat seats,” says Deb.

In­ter­est­ingly, though, the CPI(M) isn’t wor­ried about the BJP’s re­cent surge in West Ben­gal or their big jump in vote share in the Con­tai (south) by­poll. “That was the re­sult of a tacit un­der­stand­ing be­tween Tri­namool Congress min­is­ter Su­vendu Ad­hikary (an ac­cused in the Narada scam) and the BJP,” a CPI(M) leader claimed.

To those who were ready to write off the Left, CPI(M) lead­ers point to the vis­i­bly greater peo­ple’s par­tic­i­pa­tion at its May 22 Na­banna ab­hi­jan (ag­i­ta­tion) com­pared with the BJP’s Lal Bazaar ab­hi­jan on May 25. This, they say, was de­spite the dif­fer­en­tial treat­ment by the TMC gov­ern­ment. “We were beaten, over a hun­dred of our sup­port­ers were hos­pi­talised,” says CPI(M) leader Kanti Gan­guly, who also sus­tained in­juries.

Mean­while, ap­par­ently un­fazed by the street protests by the Left and BJP, CM Ma­mata has dis­missed it as a fight for sec­ond and third place.

LEAD­ING THE CHARGE

Left ac­tivists try to breach a po­lice bar­rier near the sec­re­tar­iat build­ing on May 22

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