KOLKATA: The CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat has admitted during a recent interview with the British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm that his party in West Bengal is expected to do “very badly” in the next Assembly elections, slated for May, 2011. Karat’s remark has stirred hornet’s nest and the party’s state leadership is now a divided house with the Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee decided not to attend any meeting presided by Karat in Delhi in protest. Bhattacharjee feels that when the party is trying desperately to stage a come back after the disastrous results in Lok Sabha elections, the party chief’s caustic remarks will only dishearten cadres in grass roots level. In fact, the state party secretary Biman Bose convened a close door meeting of senior leaders at party headquarters in Alimuddin Street in central Kolkata on March 4 to discuss Karat’s controversial comments. Initially, Bhattacharjee suggested that the party’s state secretary should issue a statement contradicting Karat’s view. However, after hour-long heated arguments at the meeting it was decided that Karat should be told not to make any comment on West Bengal affairs before the press without prior sanction from the state committee in future. No doubt, such a step is nothing but an attempt to censor the party’s supreme leader by members of a state committee. This is a step which is unheard in a regimental Communist Party like the CPI(M) as it amounts to indiscipline and disobedience.
The harsh assessment of Prakash Karat about the party’s grim election future has been published in the latest issue (Jan-Feb 2010) of the New Left Review. The writer Eric Hobsbawm quoted extensively from his interview with Karat in his article on the changes that have taken place across the world in the first decade of the 21st century. He wrote “Prakash Karat recently told me that in West Bengal the party leaders felt themselves beleaguered and besieged. They look forward to doing very badly against this new Congress (Trinamool Congress) in the local elections.” Elaborating, the 92-year old Left historian noted, “The industrialisation policy, taking land away from the peasants by Bengal Marxist government had a very bad effect and was clearly a mistake.” Interestingly, Karat has not denied his comments on the party’s dismal election future in next rounds so far. Moreover, it is well known in party circles that Karat holds Buddhadev Bhattacharjee’s industrial policy as primarily responsible for the Lok Sabha rout.
The CPI(M) leaders in West Bengal are opposed to Karat’s view and described Karat’s comment as a defeatist attitude. They felt that the party fared badly in Lok Sabha elections in the state only due to alliance between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress. Such an alliance has consolidated Opposition votes. During the past elections in West Bengal, the united Left had never got 51 per cent of total votes polled. The highest vote sharing of the CPI(M) was only 48 per cent in all Assembly elections since the party assumed power in 1977. There is no denying a fact that the majority voters in West Bengal have always opposed the Left. But the opinion of the majority was never reflected in poll results as the Opposition was not united before. West Bengal party leaders openly blame Karat for his decision to withdraw support to the first UPA government over the Indo-US nuclear deal. An angry Sonia Gandhi asked state Congress leaders to forge an immediate election alliance with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool to ensure defeat of the CPI(M) in Lok Sabha poll. The state CPI(M) leaders feel that the state Congress leaders were the party’s best friends since past 32 years and always help the CPI(M) to win elections. That friendship was gone due to mistake of Prakash Karat.
However, the CPI(M) central committee has not endorsed the views of the party’s West Bengal leaders. On the contrary, the committee is of the firm opinion that the withdrawal of support to the UPA government on the nuclear deal in July 2008 was a correct move. The central committee in its poll assessment report has said, “Poor Lok Sabha results in West Bengal are due to erosion of support among the rural and urban poor and a section of the middle class. The erosion is due to the failure of the state government to implement properly various development projects concerning the lives of the poor people. The apprehension of farmers about acquisition of their land also contributed to the alienation of the peasantry.” Strangely, there is no mention in the central committee report about the Congress and Trinamool alliance as a contributing factor in routing of the party in Lok Sabha elections. Instead, the party’s central committee report blamed “political, governmental and organisational failures for the electoral set backs” This has angered both Buddhadev Bhattacharjee and state party secretary, Biman Bose. They feel the central committee report is highly biased and written under the dictate of Prakash Karat. They rejected the central committee report as a trash.
(The writer can be contacted at Purbasha Housing Estate, Block: B-3/3, 160, Manicktala Main Road, Kolkata – 700 054. Email- [email protected])