After having failed to win back voters with its campaign on the long-running Saradha chit fund scam, the Left Front in this state has taken up the issue of industrialisation from where it had left off in the previous West Bengal Assembly elections 2016.
“Our main issue is obviously lack of industrialisation. We have got a huge response from people in our Singur to Salboni protest march on the issue,” says Nirupam Sen, industry minister when the Left was in power.
In mid-January, prominent Left leaders -Sen, from chief minister Budhhadeb Bhattacharjee, Politburo member Biman Bose, opposition leader in the legislative assembly Surjya Kanta Mishra – flagged off a padayatra from Singur in Hooghli district, site of a much-reported land acquisition controversy for a Tata car factory that is held to have contributed the Left rout in the 2011 Assembly poll. The padayatra covered seven South Bengal districts and ended at Salboni in West Medinipur.
It was Bhattacharjee and Sen’s first visit to Singur since the 2011 rout. Both were strong advocates of industrialisation when in the government but not everyone within their party had supported their stand.
“The problem is, Bhattacharjee was almost apologetic about his fight for industrialisation,” a Kolkata-based industrialist said. In 2008, Bhattacharjee courted trouble when he had famously blamed his own party for the negative image of the state, at a meeting of the business chamber Assocham. “I am against bandhs. Unfortunately, I belong to a party which calls bandhs”, he had said, drawing flak from all quarters – allies, the opposition and his party, above all.
Bengal polls: Left banks on industrialisation Things have since changed. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) state conference last year concluded that the party had faced hurdles in Singur and Nandigram (where a Singur-like controversy had also erupted) but would take forward industrialisation keeping those lessons in mind.
The change was manifest in the big annual rally of the CPI(M). In 2014, before the Lok Sabha elections, party leaders spoke in different voices. Biman Bose mentioned the needless ‘festivals’ organised by the state government, Prakash Karat on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) communal agenda, Surjya Kanta Mishra labelled the Mamata Banerjee government anti-people, anti-development and corrupt. Bhattacharjee stuck to industrialisation.
Saradha, the chit fund scam that erupted in the Mamata regime, became a hot issue for the 2014 Lok Sabha election, courtesy the BJP. The campaign didn’t do anything for the Left, whose vote share fell from 41 per cent in the 2009 elections to 29-30 per cent. Now, the Left has again sought refuge in industrialisation. At the December rally, almost all leaders spoke in one voice, talking about unemployment, development and industrialisation.
“Everything stems from lack of industrialisation. The extortion, the suffering of the people, lawlessness, it’s all due to lack of industrialisation,” CPI(M) senior Mohammed Salim stated.
Wrong policies of the state government – of keeping away from land acquisition for industries, of empowering local satraps, its stance on special economic zones – had cost industry heavily, he said.
A section of the CPI(M) is hoping for an alliance with the Congress party to cash on whatever sentiment there is against the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). Whether it will happen is not clear.
“We have an agreement at the grassroots level to oust the TMC,” said Salim.
A recent opinion poll by C-Voter and telecast by India TV has given the Left 114 seats in the coming elections, in the 294-member Assembly, up from 61 in 2011. The CPI(M), however, is not sticking out its neck to make a guess. The worst is over is all it’s saying right now.