By Sirshendu Panth
Kolkata, Nov 30 (IANS) Nearly four years after his death, Marxist patriarch Jyoti Basu is still a potent weapon for the Left opposition to take on its arch enemy – the Mamata Banerjee led ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.
Passing through one of its lowest phases in what was for over three decades considered an impregnable red bastion, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led Left Front seems to have clutched on for dear life to an issue given on a platter by the state government, which this week withdrew a bill that provided for naming a modern township after the legendary leader.
Crying foul, the LF has been holding protests both within and outside the state assembly, trying to exploit every spinoff from the controversy.
The virulence of the protests was not lost on political observers, who saw in the outcry a calculated build-up to a wider political agitation to cash in on the emotive chord that Basu, who ruled Bengal as chief minister for 23 long years (1977-2000), still strikes among a large section of the masses – particularly the leftist old guard.
While many thought that the communists had reached their nadir when people voted them out with a vengeance in 2011, later elections have shown that the declining popularity curve continues to this day.
In a sharp anti-climax to the all-pervasive domination of the Marxists of the state’s political theatre during their 34 year reign, they have lost all elections – panchayat, civic bodies, assembly and Lok sabha by-polls – over the past two-and-a-half years.
A telling example of the Marxist decline was the recent municipal poll – where they finished a miserable third in the number of seats.
In Murshidabad district, the Baharampur municipal election saw the Trinamool upstaging the left to move up to the second position after the Congress, both in the number of seats and percentage of votes.
Only a little over a year ago, the Left narrowly lost the Jangipur Lok Sabha by-poll necessitated by Pranab Mukherjee’s elevation as president.
The drop in votes was symptomatic of the Leftists’ shrinking base. It betrayed a strong unwillingness among even their traditional supporters and old timers to return to the fold of the forces they had backed for decades before switching allegiance over issues like corruption, arrogance and large-scale efforts at land acquisition for industrial projects.
In such a situation, Basu appears as the perfect mascot for the Left to swing these sections of voters.
The latest stand-off sparked off when the Mamata Banerjee government earlier this week repealed the New Town, Kolkata Development Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2011 passed by the erstwhile Left Front regime which had included a clause naming the sprawling township in the city’s eastern fringes “Jyoti Basu Nagar”.
The township, conceived during Basu’s tenure, was named after him through a gazette notification in 2010.
Disregarding strong protests from opposition LF members, the government withdrew the legislation and replaced it with the New Town, Kolkata Development Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2013, which had no provision about the township’s nomenclature.
Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said the new bill aimed at re-laying the tax system of the township to enable the people play at lower rates than what was envisaged in the previous legislation.
Leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra countered: “We have no problems if tax rates are lowered. But that can jolly well be done by retaining the name as Jyoti Basu Nagar. The move of the government is politically motivated.”
A day after, there was pandemonium in the state assembly when Mishra alleged that a question he asked on the issue was “arbitrarily changed”. The Left Front members tore papers, raised slogans, displayed posters, and descended into the well of the house. They later staged a walkout, demonstrated in the assembly premises and held mock assembly sessions.
The treasury benches moved a privilege motion against Mishra, but an unfazed leader of opposition said: “The more the government wants to suppress our voice by bringing privilege moves and passing such resolutions, our voices of protests will only grow louder”.
At the Muzaffar Ahmed Bhavan CPI-M state headquarters, former housing minister Gautam Deb termed the move an example of “partycracy” and warned the ruling party against playing with the sentiments of the people.
“I hope good sense will prevail. There will be no need to seek legal remedy or hit the streets,” Deb added.
All frontal organisations of the CPI-M are also gearing up to hold demonstrations on the issue.
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)