ABSTRACT

By concentrating on the distinctive nature of the parliamentary left in West Bengal, this chapter argues that it is difficult to provide a universal theoretical format to explain its growth and rising importance in India’s democratic politics. This argument confirms the critical role that the prevalent socio-economic context plays in shaping a specific response. The trajectory of the parliamentary left in India thus hardly followed a pattern. Despite being broadly committed to social democratic goals, the left parties devised different strategies in different contexts. Undoubtedly, radical land reforms made the parliamentary left invincible in West Bengal and Kerala. It is also true that the left’s failure to protect farmers’ interests in the context of forcible land acquisition in West Bengal severely dented its social base that had remained stable till the 2006 assembly election when the CPI (M)-led Front obtained enviable two-thirds of the assembly seats. The aim here is to delineate the growth and evolution of the parliamentary left both in the overall Indian historical perspective and also in the specific context of each state in which it became a serious political force. By dwelling on the specific stories of the parliamentary left in West Bengal, this chapter will also focus on its distinctive context-dependent nature, demonstrating perhaps the peculiar texture of state-specific socio-economic realities in which ideologies other than social democracy do not appear to be acceptable. West Bengal stands out because the parliamentary left ruled the state for more than three decades since 1977 when the Left Front came to power for the first time through democratic election by defeating its bête noire, the Congress. West Bengal also saw the rapid decline of the Left Front which lost power to a relatively new political outfit, the All India Trinamul Congress (AITMC) comprising dissident Congressmen in 2011, signalling perhaps a victory for democracy even in circumstances in which the left hegemony appeared invincible. This chapter has two broad sections: section I probes the factors leading to the consolidation of the left in West Bengal in the form of parliamentary politics; and section II mainly draws on the gradual disintegration of the Left Front2 (the ruling alliance of several left and left-minded political parties which had been in power in West Bengal for more than thirty-four years) since the Panchayat election in 2008. From its phenomenal rise by clinching a record victory in the assembly election in 2006 to a near-routing in 2011, the history of the Left Front warrants serious

intellectual introspection. Here several critical areas have been explored to decipher the sudden rebuttal of the left in West Bengal. This chapter makes three specific points while seeking to explain the rise and decline of the left in West Bengal: first, the debacle of the left in 2011 was anything but sudden. In fact, the signal, albeit unacknowledged, was there; second, though leftist organizational strength was often held responsible for the consolidation of the left in West Bengal, this chapter argues that organization alone can not sustain any regime for such a long time. Had this been the case, the left would not have lost so miserably in the assembly election in 2011 and in subsequent Panchayat and municipal elections in 2013 as there was no visible sign of receding left organizational strength in West Bengal in 2011. Third, the consistent downslide of left in consecutive Panchayat and municipal elections since 2011 should not be seen as the eclipse of leftist ideology in West Bengal. Rather, it would be safe to argue that the electoral defeat of the left in West Bengal may be a defeat for the parties and their infamous strategy of regimentation, but not the defeat of leftist ideology per se. If we take leftist ideology as a critical consciousness informed by equality and justice, it cannot die down. The occasional enamouring of the leftist constituencies and agenda by several non-left mainstream political parties, even after the historic defeat, is a case in point.