With the fall of its thirty four year old regime and the silent slaughter of its local cadres that has sadly escaped media attention, the CPI(M) has withdrawn into an introspective mode. It is a humiliating defeat but it is a telling defeat.
Rajdeep Sardesai asked Brinda Karat if this defeat marks the redundancy of Left ideology and she coolly told him he was being very stupid. The capitalist crisis has shown us that bubbles are the modus operandi of growth in capitalism and that busts are systemic. Stark inequalities of income in India as in capitalist development everywhere, have reminded us that even if you put moral and ethical questions aside, trickle down doesn’t work –and what is the point of a growth that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer? The economy has grown on the backs of cheap and cheaper labour –contractualisation has ensured that 92% of the labour force gets less than the minimum wage and “hire and fire” means poor and dangerous work conditions that no one can even protest. Can Marxism be dead in times like these? Brinda Karat was right. It was not a ‘redundancy’ of its ideology that led to the CPI(M)’s defeat.
Is it bad governance? It is difficult for a Left loyalist to admit this but after thirty four years, the people wanted a change of government. They wanted efficiency. When the mainstream media talks about the inefficiency of the Left, it forgets the achievements of the West Bengal government. The index of industrial output is surprisingly very high as is the index of agricultural productivity. West Bengal is one of the few States that had taken land reform seriously. And yet, when I had travelled into the West Bengal countryside, I had noticed that towns less than four hours away from Kolkata have no electricity. The people of West Bengal wanted a change. Mamata rode this desire for change with a call for ‘poriborton’. Meanwhile, college Leftists like me snorted. A change that would put Bengal on the same neoliberal growth trajectory as any other State is hardly a ‘Revolution’. But Mamata saw that the time was right and that as the people looked hard for an alternative, she rose to the task.
The real reason for the CPI(M)’s defeat was the presence of this alternative- Mamata.
But who is this Mamata? As the results of the polls poured in, a jubilant Barkha Dutt interviewed women coloured in green gulal. Dutt emphasised the point that Mamata Bannerjee’s supporters spanned across class and gender and she was right. What her report lacked, however, was an understanding of ‘how’.
When you think about it, it has hard to put the Trinamool Congress on a political spectrum.
Does it promote the interests of big business? Mamata once made a declaration that she will make Kolkata into London and Digha into Goa (or was it Singapore?) While the Central Government is happier making bigger grants in aid to West Bengal under Mamata rather than under the CPI(M), with the fiscal responsibility Act, it is unlikely that she will be able to undertake such wide-scale beautification projects without making it easier to attract investment. So Mamata may easily be pro big business.
Is she pro working class? The Trinamool Congress runs its fair share of trade unions but on and off, Mamata has made statements about how strikes are a bad idea. The Trinamool Congress may have a difficult time inviting private investment with the Bengalis’ reputation of being lazy workers and frequent strikers. I will not be surprised if Mamata bans strikes in the near future. So is she pro working class? She has definitely got large parts of the working class on her side but it is not likely that she will take issues of labour very seriously –especially, given her ‘poriborton’ plans.
One of the key factors in Mamata’s appeal amongst the more snobbish Bengali middle class is that she has often mentioned that student political organisations should be disbanded. Students should stick to their studies instead of going around making a nuisance of themselves. This attitude is an undemocratic attitude in that it denies students the democratic right to take political positions. It is characteristic of a view of education as a machine to create professionals to serve the system rather than to create intelligent, thinking people who are not afraid to challenge the system, to ask dangerous questions and to serve as organic intellectuals of the masses.
This is why people from all classes tend to support Mamata –the snobbish middle classes see that their children will focus on studies and on building safe careers, the working classes see an alternative to the CPI(M) which may prove more efficient and works in much the same way at least as far as labour unions go, the upper classes see a chance for more business friendly policies. All in all, Mamata reminds people that she is efficient.
The biggest chunk of Trinamool rhetoric is the restoration of Bengal to its former glory –a very good way to get the proud, parochial Bengalis to stand up to support the Trinamool Congress. A little before she became CM, Mamata renamed the Tollygunj station as ‘Mahanayak Uttam Kumar’ and another station as ‘Netaji’. This was a reminder to the Bengalis of their great land. This was the ‘mati’ in the ‘ma mati manush’.
Finally, what you see most starkly is that the pro Mamata vote is mostly an anti CPI(M) vote. Mamata herself, has rabidly concentrated all her energies on bringing down the Left bastion. She had even defected from the Congress in the earlier part of her career, saying that the Congress was not serious enough about bringing down the CPI(M). As such, Mamata has no ideology of her own. Her focus is on holding up the CPI(M) cadre as the villains who stand in the path of Bengal’s glory. In fact she has even made an anti CPI(M) alliance with the CPI(Maoist) and famous Maoists have actively campaigned for the Trinamool. It is hard to see anything they could possible ally upon other than to bring the CPI(M) down.
What frightens me about the Trinamool is not the constant killing of CPI(M) cadre under the cover of dark though I fear for some who are close to my friends. It is the odd fact that the Trinamool reminds me of old history lessons on the rise of Fascism in Italy and Germany. Mussolini was a dictator and a war monger but at the end of the day, he was efficient. While he was the dictator, the trains ran on time. Mamata has given us the Durronto and it is seldom late. She is efficient, very efficient. Hitler had managed to coax all possible classes to support his electoral victory. He had focussed on restoring the past glory of the Fatherland and had identified an enemy- the Jews- as standing in the path of achieving that glory. Similarly, Mamata has focussed her energy on restoring the glory of Bengal and has identified the CPI(M) cadre as standing in the path of the restoration of Bengal’s glory. Mamata’s kristalnacht however, is not one night of breaking glass and killing. It is a concerted and slow slaughter of every CPI(M) cadre the TMC supporters can catch hold of. Mamata is in power and she intends to stay.
Theoretically, if Mamata has a political ideology, it is an ideology of Fascism. It is an opportunistic rise to power on an anti incumbency wave, based on wooing each class on the idea of a common glory and on the identification of a common enemy. Though it is not communal Fascism like in the case of the BJP and of course, the Trinamool is closer to the UPA but all the same, it is reminiscent of the story of the early Nazi party and the rise of Mussolini.
Finally, there is the personality cult. Mamata herself, is the ‘ma’ in ‘ma mati manush’. She holds herself as a mother figure, a saviour of the people in the same way as Mussolini called himself ‘Il Duce’ and Hitler became known as the ‘Fuhrer’.
One may say I am sore about the Left’s defeat and am being unnecessarily dark and ominous but this is how I understand the phenomenon of Mamata,
“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” –W.B. Yeats.