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