CPM oils industry artillery
Calcutta, Jan. 7: Out in the cold since the end of its 34-year rule in Bengal last year, the CPM is all set to launch a counter-offensive in the new year. At the heart of the coming battle is the party’s campaign on industry or the lack of it in Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal.
Other leaders of the party talk of other issues — law and order, farmers’ distress or anarchy on the campus. But Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who seems to be at last coming out of the shell into which he retreated after last year’s debacle, is all for using industry as the main weapon in the party’s renewed campaign.
The former chief minister has been out at party rallies in the districts, ending months of staying and sulking inside the party office at Alimuddin Street. He talks of other issues too, but the focus of his attacks on Mamata’s government is its alleged lack of direction on Bengal’s industrialisation.
“The honeymoon is over. A new battle is on the horizon,” says maverick CPM leader Gautam Deb, suggesting that the party’s wait-and-watch policy towards the new government is slowly giving way to one of confrontation. “You’ll hear the new call for action from our million-strong rally at the Brigade Parade Grounds (on February 19).”
Deb argues that the people’s disenchantment with the new government has been happening sooner than the CPM expected. That is why the people are returning to the party rallies coinciding with the district conferences, “although we can no longer offer jobs, contracts or even protection from political persecution”.
Deb has been among the most vocal and visible of the party leaders and was so even during last year’s election campaign. His verbal blasts are often aimed at lifting the morale of the party cadre. The elections proved him to be pathetically out of touch with the ground realities. But he seems to have left all that behind and is back with the bluster that has singled him out among the party leaders.
He has no qualms about admitting “some mistakes” that Bhattacharjee made in his industrialisation campaign. “But he is a good man and will lead our battle again,” Deb says of the former chief minister.
In the party’s reckoning, industrialisation will be the main weapon in the party’s armoury against Mamata for obvious reasons. “It is the only way to create jobs. And this is crucial because the number of educated unemployed in Bengal is among the highest in the country. Unless unemployment is reduced, everything else — social stability, economic progress or even law and order — will be at risk.”
Deb was also among the very few senior CPM leaders who defended Bhattacharjee’s policy of acquisition of land for industry at the height of the Singur-Nandigram crisis for the party.
But isn’t the cry for industry fraught with a risk for the CPM, too? And especially so for Bhattacharjee? After all, it was his industrialisation drive — or its failure — that led to the collapse of the Left Front government in Bengal. “We’ll offer a new package for our campaign for industry. But we still believe it wasn’t the policy as such that was wrong. In fact, it is the most important thing that Bengal needs,” Deb says.
For Bhattacharjee, too, the return to the industry theme is both a political strategy and a personal vindication. The “mistakes” notwithstanding, he sticks to the view that Bengal’s industrialisation remains the most important political and administrative challenge. He may have lost power because of his government’s — and party’s — many mistakes, but that does nothing to alter his belief in industry.
In terms of political strategy, Bhattacharjee and his party see the confusion on the issue of industry as the most vulnerable part of Mamata’s administration. “Not only are there no industries coming, there is also complete uncertainty about future prospects because of the government’s anti-industry land policy,” Deb argues.
It is difficult to say how much of the lost ground the CPM can recover with a new campaign on industry. Some party leaders suggest that the more important political tasks for the party are to hold on to its shrunken rural support base and try to recover some of the lost ground among rural supporters, particularly among the Muslims. How much the cry for industry can reach out to these alienated sections is an open question.
But Bhattacharjee’s focus on industry is based on the argument that all politics is ultimately about the economy and that industry, not agriculture, is the future of the economy.
It is possible, party leaders say, that Mamata will revive political memories of Singur and Nandigram in order to counter the CPM’s new offensive on industry. But that is precisely the campaign that the party hopes to rekindle. There is no hope for Bengal under Mamata, the CPM will tell the people, because she offers no hopes for industry.