Updated: August 28, 2015 4:59:08 am
The march to Nabanna by a conglomerate of 17 Left parties, led by the CPM, ended in sporadic street battles at several places in Kolkata and Howrah on Thursday. CPM politburo member and chairman of the Left Front committee, the 76-year-old communist veteran of many battles, Biman Bose, was severely beaten up by the police as he pushed ahead in a scrum of stone-throwing protesters and lathi-swinging policemen.
The picture of Bose, his head bleeding but his fists clenched, refusing to give up the march, was in some ways reminiscent of the militant left movements of the late 1960s. And it is precisely the militancy of the 1960s that the communist leadership in West Bengal might be aiming at to revive the party’s sagging morale and dwindling ranks. The developments of Thursday seem important in more ways than one.
For the first time after the 2011 poll debacle, the CPM and its Left partners — many of whom had disintegrated into a crisis of existence — put up a respectable show of their determination to come back into political reckoning. The rally, held under the banner of Krishak Sabha, the agricultural front of the Left partners, had a strategic logic and plan.
The rallyists started out from six points in Howrah and Kolkata, with each group trying to head to Nabanna, the new secretariat of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The turnout was impressive — at least 10,000 to 15,000 protesters gathered at each point. Everywhere, they were determined to break through the police barricades, a clear indication of the message they had received from their leaders. A determined display of militancy was part of the strategy the comrades had adopted, and which they managed to successfully implement.
The police brutality on the streets is bound to be used to galvanise support for future movements. Veterans like Biman Bose, Surya Kanta Mishra and Anisur Rahaman, and the relatively younger Sujon Chakrabarty led from the front, and the rally will likely address complaints from the rank and file that the leadership was unresponsive to the distress calls from grassroots cadres facing persecution from cadres of the ruling regime.
Thursday’s show seemed to be a curtain-raiser and template for action for the days ahead. The next opportunity could come on September 2, when both Left and Right trade unions have planned an all-India strike.
The coming together of 17 parties in the Left spectrum — including some pro-Naxalite outfits — for Thursday’s rally signalled success for CPM efforts towards Left unity. The Left enjoyed the fruits of sticking together for a full three-and-a-half decades of coalition rule, and Mamata Banerjee adopted the same model to unite disparate groups like the Maoists, Socialist Unity Centre of India, and disgruntled communists. Many of those who joined Mamata’s broad coalition have now broken away, and are looking for a new platform. Some are responding to a non-political, civil society-based movement under the banner of Kolkata’s intellectual community. About a week ago, one such rally in the city saw spontaneous participation by large numbers of students, teachers, professionals, writers and thinkers. The CPM was the main architect of that rally, but chose to remain in the background.
Since it was dislodged from power, the Left has struggled to find a popular issue against the Mamata Banerjee government. Thursday’s rally under the flag of the agricultural front indicates that it is keen to experiment with questions of the fields, where it has historically had success — and which offers political potential at a time of rural distress both in the state and the country.
Therefore, the CPM has been raising issues like the crop damage in the recent floods which affected millions of farmers and the lack of remunerative prices for agricultural produce, and trying to portray Mamata’s out-of-Kolkata trips to the Darjeeling hills (from where she returned earlier this week) and the recent visit to London (at a time when a cyclone and floods lashed the state) as examples of insensitivity.
The communists are trying to regain rural belts through focus on agrarian issues, while seeking urban support by highlighting Mamata’s alleged “autocratic”, “fascist”, and “police-driven” rule. Thursday’s police action suits its political objective. The Left will be hoping it ignites a series of agitations. Whether they will succeed in getting the mass of the people behind them remains to be seen.
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