The Indian National Congress and their United Progressive Alliance swept the Indian elections last week coming within 11 seats of forming the first majority government in decades. Their main rival, the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party’s National Democratic Alliance, lost seats all over the country. Regional parties like Laloo Prasad’s RJD also received a beatdown. But perhaps the most interesting story of the elections is the thrashing the electorate gave to the Communists who recently controlled over 10% of the seats in Parliament.
The Left Front is a grouping of leftist parties, but mostly consists of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). The 2004 elections were the biggest elections ever for the Communists, and their votes were crucial to the UPA government’s formation. But the Left withdrew from the Congress government after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pushed for a nuclear treaty with the United States. Then they attacked their own voters.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist is the third biggest party in India. It runs two states, West Bengal (which includes Calcutta) and Kerala. The Communists have never lost an election in West Bengal since they came to power in 1977 on a program of land reform for the rural majority. The landless were given title to the small plots of land they worked in a very fertile and densely populated state (population 80 million). The farmers loved the Communists ever since and have been loyal to them for generations. Then the Communists found a new best friend: big business.
Ratan Tata invented the Nano, the “1 lakh car” ($2500 equivalent), to bring Tata Motors international fame. Tata wanted to build the Nano in Bengal, and Communists wanted to industrialize their backwards and poor state. Since the state is so crowded, there is no empty land to build factories. The state promised Tata more land than they actually had free, and then moved to confiscate it from thousands of farmers. The police and Communist Party members acted as goons for the state, beating up protesters. When the peasants, celeberities, and intellectuals fought back, the police killed 14 farmers. With leading opposition leader Mamata Bannerjee’s (some say opportunistic) support for the farmers of Singur, Tata gave up on building his factory in West Bengal and moved it to Gujurat.
The Communists had now pissed off their rural supporters and failed to industrialize their poor state. The people’s party had become anti-people. Singur voted strongly against the CPI(M) in local elections recently. But the real shocker was when the CPI(M) lost the state, only winning 15 of 42 seats to Delhi. Rural discontent spread even to the cafés of Calcutta. Bengalis love their intellectuals and writers, and even these Left supporters turned against the Communists for their thuggery against villagers.
Pity the Left Front. The party has lost its grassroots, squandered its decades in power, and
“self-seekers” have ruined a party that can’t re-imagine its role in post-Cold War India. But the questions the Left asks (“Development for whom?” “Justice for whom? and Freedom for whom?”) are the very questions modern India most needs answered.