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Reds ragged in West Bengal

Reds ragged in West Bengal
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First Published: Thu, May 22 2008. 11 55 PM IST
Updated: Thu, May 22 2008. 11 55 PM IST
For 30 years, the Left has relied on its rural vote bank in West Bengal to preside over the Writers’ Building in Kolkata. Those votes are fast depleting. In the zila parishad elections, results of which were declared on Wednesday, it lost control of three out of 17 districts.
Significantly, it lost East Midnapore where Nandigram is located. It barely managed to hold Hooghly district, the location of Singur. These were the sites of violent protests against forcible acquisition of land. This land was to be used for industrialization.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, a well-meaning person otherwise, had told the people of the state that industrialization would create jobs which would ultimately benefit them. In his view, the process would have revived the sclerotic economy of the state.
This was a false choice that was offered to the people of West Bengal. Property (assets such as land, money, etc.) and jobs both represent security for those who possess them. This is security in terms of a predictable tomorrow and a productive life. One cannot take away property in the name of giving jobs and then argue that welfare is being enhanced. Unfortunately, that is what the chief minister did. More so, the process was accompanied by violence against the hapless people of Nandigram by Communist Party of India (Marxist) activists. There was opposition to land acquisition in Singur, too.
If this rationalizes why the Left lost these zila parishad seats, what explains the political dynamics of the defeat? It’s a complicated mix of things. In tune with Indian political culture of not accepting defeat with grace, the Left is trying to underplay its defeat in the three districts. Its leaders have expressed surprise at the defeat. The possibility that the Left anticipated defeat and decided not to take remedial steps in these districts cannot be ruled out. For, such a step could have been dangerous: Political parties are loath to appear “weak” before the electorate. It’s understandable. People form political expectations by observing their rulers. Any sign of weakness can be fatal. As a result, there’s no point in expending scarce political capital. At least that’s the calculation in such choices. The Left made its choice, so did the people of Nandigram and Singur.
What led to the Left’s defeat in West Bengal? Write to us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, May 22 2008. 11 55 PM IST