Catch-22 for CPM in Bengal

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Red brigade CPM uses the padyatra to moot an alliance with the Congress.
Red brigade CPM uses the padyatra to moot an alliance with the Congress.

The ghosts of Singur have come back to haunt the politicos of West Bengal ahead of the 2016 Assembly elections. Five years ago the Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by Mamata Banerjee with strong backing from the Congress and the ultra Left had captured the imagination of both the urban and rural youth by using the Tata Nano factory in Singur as a trigger to promote the then newly coined slogan of ma mati manush (mother, soil, people). Their campaign aimed at exposing the ‘anti-farmer’ attitude that the 34-year-old Left rule had adopted by giving sops to the mighty Tatas, which allowed the business conglomerate to set up factory on agricultural land.

But who would have known that Didi, after becoming the chief minister, would tread the same old path of wooing industrialists, something she vehemently opposed while the CPM ruled the state. In the second edition of the two-day Bengal Global Business Summit held earlier this month, a jubilant Mamata proudly announced that the state currently has projects worth Rs 2,50,104 crore in hand and more on way.

It seems that the tables have turned and it comes as no surprise that, spurred by the ruling party’s stand, the CPM has organised a padyatra (procession) in order to gain full political leverage. On 16 January, the CPM strategically sought to bring Singur and Salboni under focus once again. The march, began from Singur, the site of Tata’s botched small car project, and concluded at Salboni, the town in West Midnapore district where the proposal for an iron and steel factory was stalled by the erstwhile TMC. It is a clear indication that former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (the founder head of both the Salboni and Singur projects) wants to drive home his party’s age old agenda that “agriculture is the base and industry is the future of Bengal”. This march comes as a follow up to the political resolution that the 21st Congress of the CPM had adopted in Vishakhapatnam in April 2015 in which it had highlighted that the annual GDP growth rate (from 2011-14) was dismally low; below five percent. The worst hit was the industrial sector with manufacturing growth being close to zero in the last 40 months.

The padyatra appears to be a strong pre-poll strategy to question the policies of the TMC, which was part of the anti-land acquisition movement when in opposition but has been pursuing industrial investment after coming into power. Hence, the high point of the padyatra has come in the form of the open proposal from Bhattacharjee to seek an alliance with the Congress. Speculations are on the rise over the likelihood of this alliance, the ultimate motto being the formation of a broad coalition to oust Mamata’s government.

“It is an open appeal from a public forum towards all the secular and democratic forces, not just Congress in particular, to unite against an autocratic and corrupt TMC,” says Samik Lahiri, state CPM leader. “Parties like TMC are no less opportunistic than the BJP. The people of the state have been aware of this and therefore want us to forge this alliance.”