The New Left?

So what is this about closer co-operation with the centre and words likeperformance and accountability? LF chairman Biman Bose explains.

The New Left?

The Sixth Left Front in Bengal has initiated a series of measures not readilycompatible with the Left political establishment. Along with the ongoing driveto improve discipline and accountability in government offices, schools andcolleges, illegal encroachers have been cleared from the Tolly's nullah (canal)area, while squatters have been evicted from at least four government hospitalsand suburban railway tracks. Except for Tolly's nullah area squatters, nocompensation has been paid.

The Left government has announced similar projects in Sealdah and Howrahstations as well as the Rabindra Sarobar area, to expedite development projectsand improve infrastructure.

What has not been reported in the local media is perhaps more politicallysignificant. Both the form and content of Left-sponsored movements in the statecould be in for a major change. When some time ago Left students proposed toblock train movements to protest against the fare hike, LF leaders firmlyoverruled them. Such protests brought misery and suffering for the people and itwas better to stick to standard demonstrations, the leaders told them.

Now Biman Bose, the dynamic chairman of the LF, outlines a bolder proposalthat he proposes to offer for a larger debate. In an exclusive interview to Outlook,he spelt out his thinking that carries an important message for the Indian Leftas a whole.

'Too often, political parties, especially in the Opposition, agitating on anyissue, aim at achieving what it seen as a total victory, to secure their demandsin toto. I suggest that instead of this all-or-nothing approach, why not be moreflexible? The country is passing through a major economic crisis, the worldeconomic situation is no better either. In a class divided scenario,exploitation and injustice will remain.

'No government can possibly meet every demand of the people, despite its bestefforts. To move forward, you must also be patient. Even if there is a partialsatisfaction of some demands, why prolong agitations endlessly, why not wait foranother round of struggle?

'I agree that we (the Left) in the past have carried out such longagitations, but have learnt from our experience. Restraint and consolidation areas important, if not more so, as militancy.'

Brave new words, even if they do not jell with what party secretary HarkishanSingh Surjeet said in 1996. 'The CPI(M)) is the only revolutionary party inIndia.' With the Left's known penchant for militant agitations on major issues,can Bose guarantee that his thinking will gain currency within the CPI(M) andits mass organs, never mind other Left parties?

Bose is determined. 'I will discuss my ideas with other Left parties. Thereis no reason to suppose that Leftists do not understand the present complexsituation.' What he proposes involves a major shift of tactics for the ruling LFin Bengal, if not its long term strategy, and could trigger an ideologicalturmoil in the Left.

No prophet outcast, Bose lends his political imprimatur to what is beingpractised by Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and his team in the executivesphere. Unlike his other senior colleagues Bhattacharya and state secretary AnilBiswas, Bose did not graduate to party membership through an apprenticeship inthe mass organisations. He joined the party directly in his teens.

Recent announcements of Bhattacharya, too are in consonanace with Bose'sline. 'We shall not tolerate labour indiscipline or violence:  teachers andgovernment employees must fulfil work norms, punctuality and attendance. Railrokos, and traffic disruptions should not be organised by anyone, they causemuch inconvenience to the people.'

Clearly the sixth LF Ministry is determined to override cadre opposition toensure good governance.

Don't such concepts and slogans take the CPI(M) iedologically closer to thenew liberal Left movements in Europe? Bose disagrees. 'I am familiar with newLeft ideas. We do not subscribe to some of their formulations. There can be nochange in the basic Left concepts. But yes, we have to implement them in our ownlocal circumstances.'

Unlike the CPI(M), the new Left does not rule in any country, except asjunior coalition partners in some countries.

Left observers point out that its commitments as a ruling entity are catchingup with the LF fast. In the classic sense, Left parties were never geared orstructured to run governments for long periods. 'Throughout the eighties, wefeared that the Centre would dismiss us any moment, as it did in 1967 and 1969.Before the 2001 Assembly polls, we expected to win narrowly. We feared theTrinamul Congress would push us to the limit. Yet people voted for us in largernumbers than we hoped for,' admits a CPI(M) state committee member.

Says Bhattacharya, 'This time (in 2001) people looked for a change and weheeded the warning, implying that a pracactive administratrive policy was now apre-condition for political survival.' This lends meaning to his slogan,. 'Do itnow'.

According to an observer, 'The new Left argument is, if rule we must inBengal, let us make a good job of it. Jyoti Basu had voiced many of today'sslogans, specially about better discipline in hospitals and offices. But henever followed them up. Naturally no one listened to him.

'Now rid of Basu's shadow, Bose and Co. exercise a more rigorous politicalcoordination. Ministers are grilled at LF meetings, analysing the nitty-grittyof official business which never happened before.'


The shift within the Bengal Left is defined also by its need to survive in anexceedingly hostile milieu. Socialism has collapsed in the former USSR and EastEurope. China and Cuba remain Left role models, but there has occurred a seachange in their economic policies over the years. 'The Indian Left too mustchange, adapt to new realities and survive or perish,' says veteran observerCharubrata Ray.

The present CPI(M) leadership in Delhi and Kolkata have learnt their lessonsfrom the Chinese model. Case studies are Basu's concession to multinationals andforeign capital in the eighties.

After Basu, the Left's national policies specially its anti-Centre approachis also under close review. Despite protests against the saffronisation ofeducation in India, Bhattacharya talks openly of  'close cooperation withthe Centre', adding that 'We do not seek any confrontation.' His personalrapport with Prime Minister Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj,Ram Naik and others is common knowledge.


Naturally, doubts have been expressed about the CPI(M)'s restraint, bothamong the party's Left allies and the Opposition. The TMC leaders point out thateven recently Basu had reminded workers that they should not give up their rightto strike.

Mamata Banerjee said 'Those who specialised in disruptive agitations havewoken up after three decades!' The CPI and the RSP maintained that at times,agitations that impinged on civic rights became unavoidable.

Bose admits, 'We had carried out such agitations earlier, but that does notmean we cannot explore other means of protest!'

Bose, Bhattacharya, and Biswas are consciously engineering a major imagechange for the Left; from a non-performing dormant, declining force that existsonly as a truculent petitioner before the Centre, to a performing, accountablepolitical entity that could highlight its own achievements.


Major features of this image-restructuring agenda are implementing time-boundprogrammes with mass involvement and targetted at an improvement in public life.

Basu did not care for middle class sensibilities, alienating the educated.CPI(M) leaders succeeding him are specifically addressing middle classgrievances.