Communists assess India election defeat

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NEW DELHI - Following the defeat of the Left Front government in West Bengal state elections, the Communist Party of India met last month to assess the results. The Communist Party of India - Marxist held its deliberations on June 11-12.

A.B. Bardhan, CPI general secretary opened his after assessment press briefing by underlining the party's commitment to the will of the voters and the need for change.

"We are committed to Indian Democracy and the need for social change in the country has assumed urgency. The change cannot take place without the help of the Left and therefore we have decided to prepare the party for that. We wish that our partners and friends in the Left Front will also do the same exercise."

Bardhan said despite the severe attack on the Left Front government in West Bengal and elsewhere, the performance in the Indian states "Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry is good."

Though the Left Democratic Front lost in Kerala, it was very close, "very near a majority," 68 seats out of total 140. CPIm has emerged the largest party in the LDF with 45 seats, CPI got 14. The Congress party was hoping for a rout.

Communists have a reputation for attending to people's economic needs with extreme care and providing an honest administration. The former chief minister, now opposition leader, has a reputation for intolerance for corruption.

In West Bengal where 90 million people had Communist rule for 34 years, Bardhan said, "It will be wrong to term the verdict there as a mere electoral set back, it is a political defeat."

The editor of CPI's weekly newspaper, New Age, gave historical political context to the Communist defeat, challenging commentators that assert the end of India's Communist Parties.  He said, "India's Congress party, as early as 1967, was uprooted in nine states. In contrast, the Left Front ruled for over three decades [compared to 20 years of Congress rule since 1947] and created a record in the history of multi-party democracy, that will remain so till it reasserts itself in the future electoral battles and creates new records."

Former Chief Minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, a leader of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, "broke his silence" last month.

We are "taking lessons from the rout, " he said, yet emphasized the still sizable vote the Left did get. The Left garnered 41 percent of the vote, nearly 19.5 million people cast their ballot for the Left Front.

This in the face of unprecedented organized violence and attack on the CPI-M, which continued after the elections.

"Hundreds of our party offices have been destroyed, [our] flags removed and [the opposition's] flags put on. Many have been killed. It is our fault  we lost, but does that mean we should be killed?" Bhattacharya said.

"Five thousand of our workers fled their homes due to fear, were compelled to donate funds [to opposition], our village-level elected members are attacked and compelled to join other parties or die. We cannot tolerate these killings. Do they think people of West Bengal are blind? The people very well know what is true and what is not.They cannot fool the public," he said.

"We will take our lessons, and go back to the people. People will decide for us which path to take," he said.         

Defeat after 34 years of being elected has emboldened anti-communist doomsday predictors, writing off the Left. But analysts note that had there been a single defeat in the 34 years of Left Front's electoral victories, and a re-election, as what has happened in Kerala, then they wouldn't be so quick to write off the Left.

The Left parties still have a strong, massive cadre base and trade union strength.

The Left parties are also looking forward to organizing on vital issues of the day that affect millions of India's people.

The CPI said it will mobilize on five areas: soaring prices on food and essentials, strengthening the food security law, changing how poverty is measured to a more accurate and scientific basis, guaranteeing land reform laws are for the people and, finally, ending government and corporate corruption, which has reached "Himalayan proportions," due to the economic neoliberal policies that emphasize deregulation, privatization and maximum profit above all.

For the Left, the parties say, power comes out of its fighting spirit through mass struggles.

Photo: CPI's A.B. Bardhan, center, stands with a representative from the Israeli Communist Party, left, and the Palestinian ambassador to India, right at the CPI convention in 2008. (Teresa Albano/PW)

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