Sickle prickles

Street fight Street fight: Policemen beat up a Left Front worker during a protest rally in Lalbazar | PTI

A slumber party no more, the CPI(M) hits the street to take on Mamata

The call to arms came six months ago. Soon after Sitaram Yechury was elected general secretary of the CPI(M) in April, he told cadres in West Bengal to take to the streets to regain the party's lost ground. Yechury knows these are desperate times, what with the assembly elections due next year and the party's image on the wane ever since its humiliating defeat four years ago to Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress. His frequent visits to Bengal apart, he has also decided to hold a plenum in Kolkata this December to discuss party organisation.

Yechury's messages and measures seem to have hit home as party leaders and cadres have woken up from their slumber and decided to fight back. The party is ready with an action plan to counter the Trinamool Congress and the government. “We have given a long honeymoon period to [Chief Minister] Mamata Banerjee. But we cannot wait any more. We will now pay them back,” said Gautam Deb, a central committee member of the CPI(M).

And, looks like the action has spilled on to the streets as Left leaders, led by the CPI(M), recently took out a rally to the headquarters of the Kolkata Police in Lalbazar, to protest against alleged police atrocities on its political workers. The police beat them back, and many, including women, were injured. CPI(M) leader Dipak Dasgupta, who was bleeding profusely, was rushed to hospital.

In August, veteran CPI(M) leader Biman Bose led a huge crowd to Nabanna—Bengal’s makeshift secretariat—to protest against soaring prices of essential commodities in the state. The police used the baton here as well, and Bose slumped on the street bleeding. The septuagenarian has bounced back and is up for a fight. “I won’t mind to do that again,” he said. “Let them resist us.”

One of the reasons these senior leaders fought back was the growing criticism by a section of intellectuals that the CPI(M) had lost its shine in Bengal. But the recent protests show that the change of guard in the party, both at the national and state level, was not a cosmetic one. Surya Kanta Mishra, who took over from Bose in Bengal, has been given the task of regrouping the party organisation across the state. While Mishra is travelling extensively to rural parts, Deb is building up the cadre strength in Kolkata and nearby districts.

The CPI(M) is also reaching out to the Congress and the Socialist Unity Centre of India. Apart from uniting Left parties like the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Forward Bloc and the CPI, Mishra was successful in using the huge mass base of SUCI, which had supported the Trinamool Congress in the 2011 polls. “We have realised that the Trinamool Congress regime has become more damaging for the state,” said Tarun Naskar, a SUCI leader. “We needed to extend our help to the Left Front... to get rid of this government at any cost. The violence in Bengal today is unprecedented.”

The ruling party is feeling the heat. The Trinamool Congress won only three of nine seats in the Siliguri sub-divisional board elections; the CPI(M) won the rest. In the gram panchayat byelection, the CPI(M) won 10 of 22 seats; the Trinamool Congress won only four. Mamata's party also drew a blank in the bypolls to four panchayat samitis, whereas the CPI(M) won two seats. In south Bengal, most seats went to the Trinamool Congress. “In Siliguri, the Trinamool Congress failed to carry out massive rigging. So, we won,” said Mishra. “But in south Bengal, we could not stop them from looting the electronic voting machines.”

In the municipal elections in Bidhannagar and Rajarhat, Trinamool Congress workers, who allegedly tried to rig the elections, were met with resistance from CPI(M) cadres. Violence was reported from several areas of Salt Lake and Rajarhat townships. Even reporters and photographers were not spared—21 mediapersons were assaulted. “Never before in India had it happened that so many journalists were assaulted in quick succession on an election day,” said retired Supreme Court judge A.K. Ganguly. “There is a barbaric rule in the state today,”

S.R. Upadhyay, the state election commissioner, cancelled the counting of votes on October 7 in a bid to order a reelection. But he was put under such tremendous pressure by the government that he sent his resignation to Governor Keshri Nath Tripathi even before the election was over. The CPI(M) played a key role in the election commission's decision to cancel the counting. The party led a massive demonstration to Upadhyay's office. “We went to him with proof,” said CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty. “So he had no option but to listen to us.”

BJP state president Rahul Sinha was more vocal against the CPI(M) than the Trinamool. “The CPI(M) is the father of this kind of politics in Bengal,” he said. “The Trinamool Congress has learned all these from them. So, the Marxists have no right to protest.”

The CPI(M) plans to deploy its cadres in front of the CBI office in Kolkata later this month to seek clarification on the slow progress in the Saradha scam investigation and demand a statement on why Mamata was not being questioned. “If [Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J.] Jayalalithaa could be questioned and then arrested, same procedure should be followed in Mamata’s case. We would demand a statement from the Central government as well as from the CBI. In fact, we are not alone, even Calcutta High Court wants to know why the Saradha investigation is going slow,” Deb said. “The coming days will see many such confrontations. Our goal is to get the Trinamool Congress out of power in 2016.”

Big Bong Theory
* CPI(M) leaders and cadres in West Bengal have been asked to get into agitation mode. Recently, senior leaders Biman Bose and Dipak Dasgupta led protests against price hike and police atrocities respectively
* Efforts on to build up cadre strength in the state
* Party workers resisted an attempt by Trinamool workers to rig the municipal elections in Bidhannagar and Rajarhat
* The CPI(M) is reaching out to the Congress and the Socialist Unity Centre of India
* The party plans to hold a protest in front of the CBI office, asking why the investigation in the Saradha scam is slow

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