CPM’s massive rally shows Marxists are down but not out
Author: Shikha Mukherjee
It’s almost a year since the CPI(M)-led Left Front was shown the door in West Bengal. But the Marxists still retain a substantial support base across the State
In politics, the routine of a mass mobilisation and a rally are rarely significant events, no matter how many people may have attended the meeting. The Brigade rally, irrespective of its unexpected size, was a political gathering that reconnected the CPI(M) to its bases. As one wag of the party told his district leader: “We know who we are and what the party means; the leadership is confused and adrift.” The mobilisation was, therefore, a turnout by the supporters and sympathisers who delivered a message to the leadership, which is, get your act together and get on with the job.
Ambitious as the call was to fill the vast Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata on February 19, the CPI(M) had no inkling that the crowds would come and that people would spill out of the grounds and clog the roads that serve as boundaries to the rally site. Crowds are neither historic nor significant unless they convey a message. The February 19 meeting did so and the first effects of it are evident in the spurt of violence on account of a rise in tension between the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress resulting in the killing of two local leaders from Burdwan district, once the red citadel of West Bengal. The Diwandiha killings in the context of the next rallying of the masses on February 28 as part of the nation-wide industrial strike underscores the connection to February 19 and the nature of confrontation that is revealing itself through the incident.
Three things that compel a review of the political landscape of West Bengal post February 19 include size, organisation and leadership. First, the size of the mobilisation that was certainly not one lakh as some absurdly reckoned. Second the strength of the CPI(M)’s ‘organisation’; and third, the spontaneous and collective acknowledgement of former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as the leader.
As the party out of power, the CPI(M)had little to offer to lure ‘supporters’ to show up for the rally, given that in the past this is how pundits have explained the mobilisations that filled earlier Brigade meetings, the size the of February 19 is significant. Despite the fact that the CPI(M) could not commandeer buses, it could not take over stadia in and around Kolkata to lodge ‘supporters’ who had come in from the districts, it could not offer lavish lunches to those who had come, the size of participation should be taken as a measure of the support the party retains.
Orderly processions and groups of individuals filled the Brigade. The capacity of the CPI(M) to organise rallyists on this scale or even call upon the support and ‘sympathy’ of fellow travellers at a point when the rotten bits of its structure lay revealed is as remarkable for the observer as it is disturbing for the Opposition. By February 18, widespread changes had been formally made to the leadership of the West Bengal party at the district level. Heavyweights, particularly those mired in controversy, had been dropped and replacements had been installed. The message that the reorganisation sent out was unequivocal; the shake out was to remove the tainted; be it controversy, be it abuse of power, corruption or outright factionalism; anything that damaged the unity of the organisation.
The applause that greeted Mr Bhattacharjee when he rose to speak and the post meeting rush to get his autograph and be photographed with him was as unexpected as it was different from the usual routine of CPI(M) meetings. The popularity of Mr Bhattacharjee contradicted his disastrous performance in the elections. For the party, the embarrassing gush of sentiment was balm to shattered nerves. It also confirmed the wisdom of the leadership that had insisted that Mr Bhattacharjee could not abandon his role despite the defeat.
The Brigade meeting altered, visibly, the standing of the CPI(M). It signalled that the party and the coalition of the Left was a strong and popular platform that retained the support, sympathy and loyalty of lakhs of people. Having been told repeatedly that its future was bleak, that it was a spent force that ought to retire quietly into the background, the Brigade meeting by its sheer size and discipline demanded a rethink on the role and responsibilities of the party.
Difficult though it is to read more into the rally than the fact that it succeeded in filling the Brigade, it is possible to consider that the size of the meeting was an endorsement of the measures that the CPI(M) has taken to rectify its faults. It is also possible to speculate that in the polarised politics of West Bengal, the CPI(M)-led Left Front remains a counter attraction to whatever other combinations that exist or will emerge in the future.
There is a difference between repeating the rhetoric of the Left and being Left, at least in West Bengal. The rally affirmed the difference. No matter how often the Opposition declare that the unscrupulous mercenaries that the CPI(M) had collected during the 34 years of uninterrupted power have now shifted allegiance and are wreaking their usual havoc under other banners, the fact is that the identity of the CPI(M) is not to be confused with the toxic rubbish it acquired.