On Forthcoming West Bengal and Kerala Assembly Elections
(Adopted on August 09, 2010 At the Extended Meeting of the Central Committee)
The states of West Bengal and Kerala alongwith Tripura are the outposts of the Left and democratic movement in the country. Prolonged political struggles and people’s movements in West Bengal and Kerala led by the Communists, going back to the pre-independence period and during India’s struggle for freedom, have laid strong foundations for the growth and consolidation of the Communist-led Left movements in these states.
The strong Communist movements in West Bengal and Kerala alongwith Andhra Pradesh and others during the course of the freedom movement itself, had brought on to the agenda of the people’s struggle important issues like land reforms, linguistic reorganization of states, reforms against various expressions of social oppression, the defence of the rights of the working class and the people at large including their civil liberties etc.
It was on the strength of such powerful movements that the Communist Party won a majority in the Kerala Assembly elections in 1957. This was the first instance of Communists winning the elections to head a state government in a bourgeois parliamentary system anywhere in the world. The pioneering steps of this government for land reforms; minimum wages and welfare measures for the working people; democratization of the education system; decentralisation of powers etc was naturally not palatable for the ruling classes which led to its dismissal under Article 356 of the Constitution. Again, when the CPI(M)-led front won the elections in 1967, this government was toppled in 1969.
In West Bengal, the strength of powerful popular movements led to the formation of United Front governments in 1967 and 1969. On both occasions, though the CPI(M) was the larger partner of the coalition, CPI(M) had allowed others to head the government in order to maintain and strengthen the United Front. The fillip these governments gave to the democratic movement and to the land struggles was, again, intolerable for the ruling classes, that saw their dismissal under Article 356. The semi-fascist terror unleashed against the Party, with the massive rigging of the 1972 Assembly elections, that lasted till the defeat of Emergency in 1977, was aimed at seeking to decimate the Communist-led popular movements in the state. Over 1,400 comrades were martyred and 22,000 Party families had to be relocated during the successful resistance defeating this semi-fascist terror. Contrary to the hopes and machinations of the ruling classes, the people of West Bengal had not only reposed faith in the CPI(M)-led Left Front in the 1977 elections but continued to repose, in an unprecedented manner not found elsewhere in the country, such faith in the seven consecutive elections that followed till date.
This had been possible because of the unparalleled manner in which the Left Front government tackled the people’s issues. The implementation of land reforms is one of its most important achievements. Nearly 1.3 million acres of illegally held land was acquired and distributed among over 3 million landless and marginal cultivator households. The registration of over 1.5 million bargadars (share croppers) brought 1.1 million acres of land under their control through operation barga. As of 2007, West Bengal whose population is 8 per cent of the country’s, having only 3.5 per cent of our country’s agricultural land, accounted for 22 per cent of the total ceiling surplus land distributed in the country. Contrary to all adverse and hostile propaganda that the CPI(M) is against the peasantry, a further 16,700 acres of land were distributed to landless families between 2007 and 2010. Agricultural productivity and output have made remarkable strides. From a chronic rice deficit state, West Bengal today produces the largest quantity of rice. The Left Front government today supplies rice at Rs. 2 per kilo to 2.64 crore BPL population.
The financial assistance provided by the Left Front government in West Bengal to the workers of closed factories and tea gardens has now been enhanced to Rs. 1,500. Likewise, pension for widows, the disabled, old-age, artisans, handloom weavers, farmers and fishermen have now been increased to Rs. 1,000. 17 lakh unorganized sector workers have enrolled in the Provident Fund Scheme. West Bengal encourages the growth of labour intensive micro, small and medium industries. The state has the country’s largest number of functioning small-scale units (27 lakhs) and largest number of employment (58 lakhs).
In spite of functioning under the limitations of the Constitution, the Left-led state governments in West Bengal and Kerala have taken measures to reduce poverty, create new welfare measures and improve living conditions. Even the World Bank admits that the record of West Bengal in terms of poverty reduction is the best amongst all states in India. The infant mortality rate measured per 1,000 live births in 2006 was 38 in West Bengal and 15 in Kerala which has the best record in the country. The all India rate is 57. As far as life expectancy is concerned, it has improved considerably in West Bengal to 64.5 years for males and 67.2 for females. Kerala has life expectancy of 70.7 for males and 75 for females. The all India average is 61 for males and 62.5 for females. As against the all India average (7.4), the death rate in Kerala is 6.3 and West Bengal is 6.2. West Bengal has a literacy rate of 72 per cent and Kerala 90.09 per cent. The all-India average is 63.4. In West Bengal, nearly 100 per cent of all girls and boys of age six are enrolled in schools. In Kerala, 98 per cent of eligible boys and girls are in class X, indicating nil or very low dropouts. It is noteworthy that such achievements are recorded at a time when, due to the pursuit of neo-liberal policies by the ruling classes, the livelihood conditions of the people have deteriorated in large parts of the country.
The LDF government in Kerala has taken forward its welfare legacy currently having the largest number of welfare schemes amongst all states of India. The pensions to the workers in the unorganized sector have been raised from Rs. 100 to Rs. 300. The women workers of the unorganised sector are being offered one month’s pre-maternity leave. Half the population of the state are being covered by Rs. 2 per kg rice scheme and free health insurance, including for chronic diseases. Besides the PDS, a wide network of fair price shops are set-up where the prices of 13 essential commodities have been maintained at the same level for the last four years. When the half a million houses proposed under the EMS housing scheme are completed, there would be no family in Kerala without a house. In stark contrast to the Central government’s privatization offensive, the rehabilitation of the sick Public Sector Units has resulted in reversal of annual loss of Rs. 96 crores in 2005-06 to annual profit of 240 crores of rupees in 2009-10. This surplus is being reinvested in the expansion of the existing public sector and the establishment of eight new ones. In the agriculture sector the measures adopted by the state government has been successful in putting an end to the suicides of farmers.
Another major initiative taken by the Left-led governments in both the states has been on the question of decentralization of power and deepening of democracy to the grassroots through the establishment and efficient functioning of democratic institutions of local self governments. The three tier system of democratically elected bodies established by the Left Front in West Bengal has achieved successes in a manner that is unprecedented elsewhere in the country. It was a full seventeen years after this initiative by the Left Front in West Bengal that the panchayati raj system was adopted for the country through the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments. The system of decentralization in Kerala initiated by the 1957 government was further developed into the People’s Plan that delivered far-reaching benefits to the people. Both West Bengal and Kerala are in the process of implementing 50 per cent reservation for women. Both the governments of West Bengal and Kerala have extended the central scheme of Rural Employment Guarantee to the urban poor while the Central government refuses to do so.
The hallmark of the Left-led democratic movements and the governments in both West Bengal and Kerala have been their steadfast defence of secularism and communal harmony. It is often perceived that the protection of the interests of the minorities is the litmus test of democracy which, otherwise, is de facto majority rule. The Left Front government in West Bengal has recently decided to implement the recommendations of the Ranganath Mishra Commission Report to grant 10 per cent reservations in jobs for Muslims belonging to OBCs.
The Left-led governments in West Bengal and Kerala backed by the powerful Communist-led popular movements have been in the forefront of championing the rights of the people and their livelihood standards from being gravely eroded by the pursuit of neo-liberal economic policies by the Central government. The consistent anti-imperialist positions and the interests of the Indian people and the country taken by the CPI(M) continues to expose the Indian ruling classes who seek a strategic partnership with imperialism. Further, the pro-people measures undertaken by the Left-led governments, as listed above, also expose the exploitative character of the Indian ruling classes by demonstrating that even within the existing system, greater relief can be provided to the people. For a combination of all these factors, the Indian ruling classes have mounted a concerted offensive against the CPI(M), in its strongest bastions, in order to weaken the resistance to their unbridled loot through the neo-liberal economic trajectory.
In West Bengal, an alliance of all reactionary forces led by the Trinamul Congress is sought to be forged to defeat the Left Front in the coming Assembly elections in May 2011. All rightwing forces, including the communal and fundamentalist elements, foreign funded NGOs and corporate media have joined the Maoist-backed TMC in this effort. Since the 15th Lok Sabha election, 247 members of the CPI(M) and eight members of other Left parties have been killed by the TMC-Maoist gangs. The Maoists primarily target the poorest of the poor amongst the peasantry and the tribals. Yet, sections of so-called intelligentsia continue to express sympathy. The unleashing of such large-scale violence, killings and arson by this reactionary combination is to seek the defeat of the Left Front through the most anti-democratic fascistic methods. The success of these forces seeks to completely negate the advances made by the democratic movement that we have noted above and pave the way for the restoration of the earlier forms of exploitative order. Already there are reports of former landlords attempting, in some areas, to recapture their formerly illegally held land that was acquired and distributed to the landless. In the name of `change’, what is being offered is patently anti-democratic and anti-development. Communalism that has been kept at bay by the Left movement will be enabled to stage a come back harming the interests of the minorities. The TMC had, on earlier occasions, openly aligned and shared power with BJP at the Centre.
In Kerala, the Congress-led UDF is trying to consolidate all the communal and caste forces around it. Sections of the Church are openly interfering in political affairs by conducting an anti-Communist campaign. Muslim and Hindu extremist forces are bracing themselves to disturb communal harmony in order to create political polarization. The campaigns launched by the CPI(M) and the LDF against such activities are being met by a vilification campaign launched by a section of the media. Despite the nefarious activities of the extremists and communal forces, the state continues to maintain its excellent record of communal harmony.
These reactionary offensives against the CPI(M) and the powerful Left and democratic movements in West Bengal and Kerala will have to be met squarely in order to defend the rights of the people and to improve their livelihood. There have been occasions in the past when semi-fascist terror was unleashed against the CPI(M) in West Bengal. That challenge was met and won. In the following seven consecutive elections, no effort was spared by the reactionary forces to defeat the Left Front. The present challenge will also be met like the earlier ones have been. The Left Front is determined to reforge links with the people who have moved away due to certain shortcomings that have been identified and are in the process of being corrected.
The CPI(M) as a whole, across the country, will redouble its efforts to fight back this concerted anti-Communist and anti-Left offensive. Today the Indian people need deliverance from the groaning burdens being mounted by the neo-liberal economic policies. The Indian people today need to strengthen our secular democratic foundations to ensure that the energies of our country are not wasted in communal and fratricidal conflicts. The Indian people require an alternative policy trajectory that can allow India to realize its potential which it is being denied by neo-liberalism and communalism. All efforts of spreading violence and anarchy against the Left movement like the Maoists are today indulging in, essentially only strengthens the reactionary forces in their efforts to prevent the Indian people from being liberated from their growing miseries.
The assembly elections in May 2011 in West Bengal and Kerala will be a major battle between the forces representing the interests of the working people, social justice, secularism and our country’s sovereignty and the forces which are representing the interest of the big capitalists, landlords, the rich and the vested interests that seek a strategic alliance with imperialism and who use communalism, ultra-Left anarchy and divisive politics to achieve their objectives.
The CPI(M) calls upon all progressive sections of the people to join this battle and ensure the success of the Left Front in West Bengal and the LDF in Kerala and, thus, advance further the efforts to create a better India for its people.