WHEN THE COUNTING STARTS IN KOLKATA on 13 May, most people in West Bengal will expect what was for long unexpected—the fall of India’s longest-surviving Red citadel. The left government in the state, undefeated for more than three decades, is in bad shape. There’s much tension between the alliance partners in the Left Front alliance on a range of issues, and many leaders of the smaller parties in the coalition led, through brute force of cadre numbers, by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are quite willing to explore the other option—that of joining the Trinamool Congress-led ‘Mahajot’ (Grand Alliance). They have said that they can no longer shoulder the dictates of the ‘Party’ or suffer the consequences of its misdeeds.
In the run-up to the assembly elections, though, the CPI (M) party organisation and its mass base seem suddenly rudderless, if not leaderless, which throws up the distinct possibility of the party being unable to translate into electoral dividend the one million left-sponsored ‘self-help groups’ (which on paper have 10 million beneficiaries in the state). There is also the possibility that the left might have been upwardly fudging the numbers; and there are indications that it has become unsure of the votes of the ‘marginal’ beneficiaries (each of whom makes `1,500-2,000), who will suddenly ask for more ‘benefits’ at this crucial time from a state government that has been broke for months and is surviving on loans from the centre.
For once, the CPI (M) leadership is unsure of precisely what will work, which is evident from the huge number of new faces among the candidates it has fielded. More than half the candidates of the Left Front (149 out of 294) will be contesting elections for the first time. It is like a one-day cricket team: if the vigour of the youth prevails, you have a good performance on cards, but if a lack of experience hamstrings the team, especially during a crisis, you have defeat staring you in the face. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who has been at the helm for 10 years, seems to have lost control of his administration; and party overlords are doing pretty much what they wish, especially in violence-torn area of Jangalmahal, where they used armed cadres (the so-called harmad bahini) to battle the Maoists.