The message from West Bengal

The Red disaster has drawn the spotlight away from the Green splash in West Bengal, and recriminations in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are ringing louder than celebrations in the Trinamool Congress. The verdict has expectedly opened old, unresolved debates in the CPI(M). The decision of the State unit of the party to >forge a seat-sharing agreement with the Congress was taken against the central leadership’s firm reservations, and the air is already thick with both misgivings and excuse-making. It is not clear if the party will take away from its West Bengal disaster lessons of theory, praxis or realpolitik — or none at all. But on a larger canvas, the election result suggests significant messages from the electorate. Indeed, these messages could be projected nationwide. For one, the electorate has again rejected the politics of cynicism. >Voters have showed that they couldn’t care for an alliance that is scared to even utter its own name. The Congress-CPI(M) seat-sharing was referred to as jot in Bengali, but quibbles about its definition gave away the lack of conviction in the two parties for it to be anything but an expedient measure, with no positive outreach. Left Front chairman Biman Bose would say in interviews that it was not an “alliance”, simply seat-sharing. It is impossible to say after the event whether the Left-Congress combine would have got more seats had they gone to voters with a common minimum agenda, and levelled with voters on the obvious contradiction about facing each other down in the Kerala elections. But certainly, the Left would not have found itself floundering to give an honest account of itself, as it is today.

The fact, however, is that the West Bengal elections were not lost by the Left Front and Congress. >They were won by the Trinamool Congress . Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee went back to the people with a firmness of conviction. She owned the record of her five years in office. Elections in India, especially at the State level, now pivot less on anti-incumbency. With the increased focus on development and delivery of essential services over the last two decades, incumbency is not always a disadvantage. Governments that defend their record, that do not get squeamish about taking on election-time charges flying their way, are usually unbeatable. Ms. Banerjee won West Bengal in 2011 when the Left Front had its back to the wall. She has retained it, now in 2016, by knitting together a welfare politics that not only borrows freely from the Left’s economic agenda, but also customises outreach — Rs.2 per kg rice, cycles for students, stipends for young women who continue their studies, recruitment of special police constables from the Maoist belt of Jangalmahal, recreation facilities, and so on. This has left Ms. Banerjee’s government struggling with a debt-GDP ratio of 35.5 per cent. But her opponents were not exactly cornering her on that.

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Printable version | Aug 3, 2021 1:58:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-message-from-west-bengal/article8626700.ece

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