Monday, July 06, 2009
From here on, it's a lonely ride for the Left
There was an interesting story in last week's morning papers. Senior IAS officers — which means babus who are well networked with the New Delhi establishment — of West Bengal cadre are desperate to move out of Kolkata. We are told that “at least eight principal secretaries in the State Government, including two additional chief secretaries, are looking to leave” for assignments in New Delhi. “If you work in Delhi, you can deliver because of better work culture,” Urban Development Secretary PK Pradhan has been quoted as saying, “Also, in Delhi, there isn’t much political interference... Here, things don’t move.”
The claim, of course, is no more than hogwash. Bureaucrats are adept at the art of serving political masters, irrespective of the latter’s allegiance and ideology. In any event, a bureaucrat’s job is to turn political directive into policy and implement it. Rare is the bureaucrat who has the courage to resist directives that are flawed, patently partisan or motivated by concerns other than those for the nation and its interests. Equally rare is the Minister who is comfortable with a ‘thinking’ bureaucrat. That’s the way it is.
The issue, however, is not of senior IAS officers of West Bengal cadre feeling “frustrated” or wanting to prove their worth in a “better work culture”. That’s bunkum. It’s to do with babus sensing, as they alone can with unerring accuracy, the demise of the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government in the 2011 Assembly election. Between now and the Left Front’s anticipated exit from Writers’ Building, the seat of power in West Bengal, they would like to rid themselves of any perceived proximity with the Marxists and get into the good books of those who are expected to replace the decrepit Left regime — namely, the Trinamool Congress and the Congress.
The best way to achieve both purposes would be to swing a job in the UPA Government, preferably with a Trinamool Congress or Congress Minister. Curiously, there appears to be no resistance from the West Bengal Government to this cynical job-seeking by its bureaucrats. Has Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee accepted that defeat is inevitable in the Assembly poll? Or is it that he has lost the spirit to put up a fight till the empire built by the Marxists over three decades is actually lost?
Obviously a sense of despondency has overtaken Mr Bhattacharjee and his comrades after this summer’s general election in which the Left’s tally has been reduced from an unnatural high of 35 to an unexpected low of 15, with ‘committed’ voters in both urban and rural areas abandoning the CPI(M) in hordes. The Maoist takeover of Lalgarh, till recently a bastion of the CPI(M), and the need for Central forces to put down the rebellion after personnel of West Bengal Police, who owe their jobs to the ‘Party’, turned tail and fled, has only served to further accentuate the sense of defeat.
The CPI(M)’s debacle in Nandigram and Singur could be linked to Mr Bhattacharjee’s industrial policy, but the party’s fall from grace in Lalgarh is about repudiation of its politics by its core constituency — the toiling masses. Images of palatial buildings built by local CPI(M) leaders amid gut-wrenching poverty and squalor, deprivation and denial, being razed to the ground by those who till recently held aloft the Marxist banner and identified themselves with the ‘sarba haarar dal’ (party of have-nots) is unlikely to be erased from popular memory in the near future. To the contrary, it can only fuel similar uprising in other impoverished districts of West Bengal where yesterday’s mass leaders are now in an awful minority and stick out like sore thumbs for their affluence and prosperity which has been glaringly denied to others.
Mr Bhattacharjee and his comrades are painfully aware of this reality. They are also aware that nothing seems to work any more under their tutelage. The civil administration, which has been systematically subverted over 32 years and whose mainstay, the bureaucracy, has been only too willing to be emasculated and treated as a doormat, is virtually non-existent in vast swathes of the State. The party’s own organisation, which was used to supplant the official machinery, is riddled with corruption; the little that remains of it has become too slothful to respond in any meaningful manner. This became only too evident in the aftermath of Cyclone Aila when relief material, including emergency food packets, despatched from Kolkata for the affected villagers of the Sunderbans remained undistributed for more than 72 hours. Mr Bhattacharjee discovered this to his horror when he visited the Sunderbans for what is referred to as an ‘on-the-spot survey’, but by then it was too late and the damage had been done. Men, women and children who had to remain hungry and thirsty for three days and more because neither the Government nor the ‘Party’ delivered on time and with alacrity are unlikely to forgive and forget.
And, as the CPI(M) struggles to cope with the emerging reality of its fast-slipping grip over the masses it once mesmerised with its promise of ‘revolutionary change’ and whose unflinching loyalty it could bank upon in the toughest of elections, its fair weather friends have begun to distance themselves like rats jumping from a sinking ship. The ‘intellectuals’ of Kolkata — writers, actors, film directors, theatre personalities, artists and journalists, collectively referred to as the ‘Nandan crowd’ — who have benefited enormously on account of the patronage extended by the CPI(M), most notably by Mr Bhattacharjee himself, have been the first to turn their coats. Nothing illustrates this better than Aparna Sen aligning with the Trinamool Congress. The colour of activism has suddenly turned green.
But the ‘intellectuals’ are not alone in jumping the sinking Marxist ship. Look at the ease with which the CPI, which was rehabilitated by the CPI(M) after its shameful collaboration with the Emergency regime, now blames the Marxists for the Left’s problems. Mr AB Bardhan was the loudest and the most strident in demanding that the Left break ranks with the Congress over the India-US civil nuclear cooperation deal. Even before ‘marriage counsellors’ could get into the act, he had declared ‘talaq’ with the Congress — not thrice but many times over. Indeed, it could be argued that the CPI forced the CPI(M)’s hands, making the Left tread the path of no return.
Yet, Mr Bardhan is equally loud and strident now in blaming the Marxists and berating them for breaking the Left’s cushy alliance with the Congress. These are truly bad times — dushshomoy, as Mr Bhattacharjee would call it— for the CPI(M). It will only get worse here on.