The five State elections of 2011: The Democracy Drill-Stagnancy is the Change!

After month long arduous process of much trumpeted “Indian Electoral Democracy” the results for the just concluded elections for five state assemblies arrived a fortnight ago with a mixed bag. Though much of the results have gone on the expected lines, the verdict in Kerala is a bit of a surprise. The rejection of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) rule in Tamil Nadu is of course something many did expect, but the sweep with which the corrupt rule of Karunanidhi and his coterie has been done with, goes to show the bottled up anger of the people in this southern state.

Puduchery’s just yesterday’s party “All India NR Congress” (N R stands for N Rangaswamy the rebel from congress ) has pulled off a surprise by winning 20 seats out of the total 30 assembly seats, N Rangaswamy previously the chief minister of Puduchery under Congress floated a rebel party when he was humiliated by the “high command” by removing him from the post of Chief Minister

It is ironic for the Congress which rules at the center and the State of Andhra Pradesh , had to suffer the shame of loosing the “prestigious” by-elections for Kadappa seat to Jagan Reddy (the son of former Congress Chief minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy) by a whooping margin 5,12,000 votes!. The southern states once considered as Congress Party’s fortress is reduced to cordons where they struggle to remain politically relevant.

The 34 year rule of Stalinist CPI(M) and its Left Front allies has come to a grinding halt, this result was much foretold and was more than expected. The victor Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress (TMC) though has very much less to offer as an alternative, caught the imagination of the voters of West Bengal with a relentless battle against the Stalinist mafiosi.

Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) the two main bourgeois parties can only claim that “we too ran” status in this mega electoral exercise involving 115 million voters. The only solace for Congress in this round of crucial elections before the scheduled general elections in 2014 is the third time victory for its party in Assam. This was mainly due to the large Muslim refugee votes who continued to be threatened by the blatant communal politics of Assam Gan Parishad (AGP) and its partner BJP, the other secondary reason being the engagement of the ULFA in the “talks” and muting their struggle to an extent, there by scoring over the divided opposition.

While spectacular reverses are not something new to India’s “democracy” and its electoral system, it is the repeat of such feats time and again that baffles many pundits. Post Independence, India has witnessed big wins and even well entrenched political parties vanishing in the hustings as dramatic as they arrive on the scene. Right from the period of Congress loosing elections after Indira Gandhi’s experimentation with Internal Emergency, and the hotchpotch opposition combine of Janatha Party also suffered a serious drubbing.

Tamil Nadu- Looters change guards

The story of Tamil Nadu has always been a Tweedledum or a Tweedledee between DMK and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) sometimes Congress coalescing with either of these parties. What remains constant is the hoodwinking act of these parties with their populist rhetoric to deny the poor from fundamental needs and rights.

While the electronic media and the press wants to give this result in Tamil Nadu a calculated spin, as just an anti-incumbency issue, one of the primary reasons of the defeat was the fief like regime of kin & clan of DMK which also did its undoing. The high sounding sermons of the out going Chief Minister Karunanidhi on governance and development did not hold water, as his rule was conspicuous and synonym with corruption. Though one must notice that his second son M.K. Stalin was being groomed as an administrator with clean reputation, but it was Karunanidhi’s first son Azhagiri who rose to the notoriety of a street thug and that too a corrupt one which was constant pain for Karunanidhi, the grand old man of Tamil Nadu’s elite.

The corruption that haunted DMK right through the elections had two faces one which was home grown and the other which troubled it from outside (i.e. from its Ministers in UPA at the Centre) of course complimenting each other. The 2G scam of the Mobile Telephony Spectrum contracts in which both the DMK nominees at the centre A Raja and M. Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi are accused of large scale bribery and graft to the tune of Rs.176,379 crore (US$ 39.16 billion) had a debilitating effect during this elections.

While making billions in Mega Scams such as the 2G spectrum at the center, and of course their was no dearth for ill gotten wealth in Tamil Nadu which they ran as their own fiefdom, they created a well orchestrated media (most of the electronic and print media is owned by the larger family of Karunanidhi ) blitz to show that they are pro-poor. They doled out state funds to build a constituency for their votes. As an election promise of 2006, DMK doled out 16 million color TV sets free, at a cost of 39,600 million Indian rupees for the State government. In the elections of 2006, the DMK promised free electricity, waiving off of co-operative loans given to farmers, free gas stoves to all women, had a train load of 36 such State donations if voted to power. This year, the DMK election manifesto had free laptops for school children and rice at a subsidized price of 02 Indian rupees along with other promises. And it was an open secret “cash for vote” was at its peek during the elections.

Freebies or films couldn’t save the state government led by DMK chief Karunanidhi” lampooned ‘’ a web journal

While Karunanidhi wanted to cover up his regime’s corrupt misdeeds by giving away freebies during the elections like Television sets and other consumables which was worth a minute of fraction of what his kith & clan had amassed during DMK’s rule, he was upstaged by Jayalalitha who also promised the goodies to the electorate, thanks to the Election Commission which could not digest this blatant corrupt practice this time brought in stringent rules to thwart the misuse of office and the state machinery, despite the efforts of the election commission, many malpractices and breach of election laws did take place.

While one do not see much of an analysis of this Tamil Nadu elections in the light of the struggle of Tamils in Sri Lanka, especially after the defeat of the rebellion led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In the earlier rounds of assembly or parliamentary elections the plight of the Tamils in the Island would be an election issue on which all Tamil parties would raise their decibel levels to the maximum. From Karunanidhi to Vaiko, Jaayalaitha to Cho Ramaswamy , Krishnaswamy to Vijayakanth all the principle actors would milk the Sri Lankan Tamil cow to the maximum and reap benefits. Of course even this time round the War Crimes issue of Sri Lanka did do rounds in the elections but found a very muted response from the people for the fact that all political parties stand exposed on this issue varying from one degree or the other. All the parties of the establishment did anything concrete to Stop the slaughter of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

The spectacular defeat of DMK should also be seen in the light of the pent up anger in relation to its subservient attitude to the Congress on the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils. Apart from wringing hands, writing poetry and playing to the gallery by giving rhetorical speeches against the Sri Lankan regime, Karunanidhi and his party DMK did nothing practical to stop the genocide in Sri Lanka. In a way their alliance with the Congress was seen as a treachery to the cause of Tamils in Sri Lanka, the pernicious role of Congress during the war when thousands of innocent civilians were getting killed will be remembered by the youth of Tamil Nadu for a long time to come. Nothing saved DMK and Congress alliance this time, not even the glossy Television Sets, the promise of cheap Rice, old age pensions and other legal and illegal goodies.

Jayalalitha & the “Left”

As many skeletons are falling from the closet of the last stages of the war against LTTE, the role of the Indian state and its connivance is increasingly becoming clear. The movement to bring the War Criminals to books in Sri Lanka is gaining ground in an enormous speed in all the southern states where Tamils are a significant population. This even manifested in the post election victory speech of Jayalalitha, the incoming Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, when she said “ declare Rajapakshe a war criminal”.

It is not that the incoming Chief Minister is an apostle of good virtues, it is less than a decade that Jayalalitha too faced serious corruption charges had to quit the post of the Chief Minister after the Supreme Court ruling in 2001, she is dubbed as the Imelda Marcos of India who had amassed unaccounted wealth and property. What is more unsettling is her autocratic and feudal style of functioning, it surprising that her party romped home given the fact, that she was seen as one of the most autocratic Chief Ministers that Tamil Nadu has seen, her abuse of power went to insane heights when she jailed the entire State Government Employees who struck work for their legitimate demands, of course which resulted in her loosing the elections subsequently.

One can comment at length on the short memory of the people for having chosen equally dishonest Jayalalitha’s AIADMK again, but how on earth does the so called”left “ parties such as the CPI(M) and the CPI coat tail AIADMK in these elections? They had called Jayalalitha’s AIADMK by names earlier, as Hindu communal and anti-workers party for jailing en-mass the State Govt. Employees during her last stint. Their practice of smelling rose in the heap of dung, goes with their Stalinist theory of searching for “progressive bourgeoisie”.

While the leadership of the CPI and CPI(M) may be desperate to rejoice the results in Tamil Nadu, they got nine and ten seats in the assembly respectively, but given the enormous class discontent and the struggles against the price rises and attacks on the living standards growing by the day, their honey moon with the AIADMK will be very short lived. It is also pertinent to note that given the loss of their rule in West Bengal and Kerala the Left at least in the short term would like to be seen as the champions of the poor and hence they would like to regain their lasting image of being pro-people by launching agitations in the states where they have Trade Union strength, of which Tamil Nadu is one.

Kerala- Termites at work

In a breathtaking contest of unprecedented intensity, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) won the 2011 elections to the Kerala Legislative Assembly by the most slender margin in the history of the state. If we keep aside the 1965 elections (which resulted in a hung assembly, due to the four-way splintering of votes following splits in both the CPI and the Congress), the 2011 elections were the most closely fought in the history of Kerala.

The UDF won 72 seats, while the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) won 68 seats. CPI(M) emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly with 45 seats and a 28.18 percent vote share. The Congress, in spite of leading the winning coalition, is reduced to second place with 38 seats and a 26.4 % share in total votes.

The CPI(M)’s tally of seats is the third highest in its history. The two other occasions were, when it won more seats were in 1967 (when it led a seven-party alliance of all major non-Congress parties) and in 2006, when there was a huge sentiment against the incumbent Congress government. Kerala’s history of voting out incumbent governments is well known. The only time a ruling coalition managed to retain power was in 1977, when all major non-CPI (M) parties – CPI, Congress, Muslim League and Kerala Congress – were united against it and won 111 seats.

The Congress did not even dream of a victory this time, but it fell in their lap, thanks to Pinarayi’s faction which worked overtime for this self-defeat, especially in Kannur district (Pinarayi’s Home district) where all the five Left candidates lost. Though very simplistic, no political dispensation has ever been voted back to power for a second consecutive term in Kerala, even this time the trend did not change.

Every psephologist predicted that Left & Democratic Front (LDF) led by the CPI(M) would win the just concluded elections hands down, but the opposite happened. The United democratic Front (UDF) led by Congress won by a whisker, the UDF 72 and LDF 68 tally speaks it all. But what it doesn’t say is the reasons for the defeat of LDF though by a slender margin.

Those who have followed the Kerala political scenario would very well remember the self destruction of CPI(M) and its various warring factions which were at work like termites boring the edifice. In fact political cartoonists of Kerala face a dearth for ideas after the debacle of LDF which has made both Pinarayi Vijayan and V S Achuthanandan the leaders of the two principal factions within CPI(M) to embrace each other but who were at each others throats until the other day.

The power struggle between Pinarayi the State secretary of the CPI(M) and VS went to its pinnacle when the central leadership of the CPI(M) had to intervene and suspend both of them from being members of the politburo of the party, later to avoid the controversy which could have vertically split the party, the central leadership did a compromise turn- around by installing Pinarayi back into politburo and allow VS to continue as the chief minister of Kerala.

Unlike the Left Front in West Bengal the LDF was still popular in Kerala, especially since its last stint in power under the chief minister-ship of V S Achuthanandan. VS was at loggerheads with his own party chieftains on the issue of Pinarayi’s SNC Lavlin corruption scandal issue, under pressure from below especially outside the party ranks, he seemingly took an uncompromising stand on all corruption issues be it of the left or of the Congress.

As in 2006, this time too, the CPI(M) central leadership headed by Prakash Karat siding with Pinarayi’s faction declined to give VS a ticket to contest the election, but had to retract both times after hundreds took to the streets in his support. Many commentators say that “UDF wins Kerala but looses to V S Achuthanandan”

West Bengal : An ostrich got beheaded !

What a fall! The stunning defeat of the communist parties combine called the Left Front (LF) will go down in the history as the defining moment. From a tally of 235 seats in 2006 to the present 62, and the CPI(M)’s own 40 is even below the Congress’s 42, it will have to face the ignominy of being pushed to the third place in the current assembly.

While at a superficial level this will sound as the end of an era of the “left” in the country in general and West Bengal in particular, but viewed dialectically it has cleared the dead weight of the opportunistic political legacy of Stalinist parties such as the CPI(M) and CPI in the country.

In its statement the West Bengal state committee of CPI(M) said “The CPI(M) and the Left Front have experienced unexpectedly bad result in the elections”, is that so ? A cursory look at the results since the 2006 assembly elections will speak the irrefutable truth that the CPI(M) leadership chose to ignore to their own detriment.

Etching on the wall; they chose not to see!

Former Left Front finance minister Ashok Mitra, the on and off critic of CPI(M) these days, who was drafted to come to the rescue of the Left Front to sign a statement in its support, observed in The Telegraph article recently: “The Left Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has not merely lost the poll in West Bengal, it has been made mincemeat of.”

The writing on the wall became stark and clear very soon after the 2006 elections when the heady Left Front abandoned it own rhetoric of being against capitalism and embraced unabashedly neo-liberal capitalism in an aggressive manner. For the sake of clarity, let’s just step back for a moment, what happened in 2006 with the Left Front getting 235 out of 294 seats which even surprised many in their own ranks. The left together got more than half, they had almost fifty one percent of the votes and this was in a sense the beginning of the end which very many people didn’t anticipate.

In 2009 general elections to the Indian parliament the number of MPs belonging to the left came crashing down from thirty five to fifteen the number of MPs belonging to Trinamool Congress (TMC) which was just one held by Mamata Banerjee, went up to 19. That trend of successive defeats to the CPI(M) and the rest of the left front got reinforced in 2010’s municipal elections. But the point to note, is that if you examine both the Lok Sabha (The Indian Central Parliament) 2009 elections results on to the state assembly results of 2006, then left front still got a third, roughly 99 out of 235.

A very interesting detail of this election results are, that all the stalwarts of the CPI(M) have suffered humiliating defeats including Buddhadev Bhattacharya the chief minister the darling of neo- liberal Capital, and what is even more significant is of the left candidates who withstood the rout and won the elections, notably Abdul Razzak Mollah, he was the land and land reform minister and was known for his opposition to the manner in which fertile farmland was acquired for industry in Singur and Nandigram. He was marginalized in the party by the likes of Nirupam Sen, Buddhadev Bhattacharya.

The Hindu,considered as a very pro- CPI(M) paper made this very hesitant comment “the CPI(M) in particular was up against enemies within — ones who saw the party as a route to self-aggrandizement. Little remains of the left bastions, wherever they were. The Left Front’s much hoped-for turnaround, since it had been stung by the first of a string of reversals that began with the local bodies polls in May 2008, did not materialize”

The Economic Times, the paper of the big business had this wailing statement to make on the out come of the West Bengal elections of 2011 “It was under Bhattacharjee that winds of change began to blow in West Bengal , but ironically it swept away the Left Front that was in power since 1977. With his exit, perhaps posterity will debate whether the state lost a golden opportunity to regain its place as a front line industrialized state”

Our defeat has nothing to do with us

But the leadership of the CPI(M) went on to ignore the trends that were setting in and went on with the usual high decibel rhetoric. It has become a matter of ridicule now as to how the leadership of the CPI(M) is giving a very different spin on this rout.

Biman Bose known for his guffaws said just before the results, when everyone in the “party” knew what was coming, that they would still gain a comfortable majority and those who were predicting their decline would have to “swallow their own spit.” Even more humorous is the fact that, even after the elections, the leadership including Prakash Karat in Delhi were crowing that their votes had increased by 11 lakh votes in absolute terms. Of course, the minor detail that was not very significant for them to highlight was the TMC alliance had increased its votes much more. This time a significantly more number of people came to vote is something to be noted, as many as 4.8 million more votes polled this time as compared to 2009.

What next?

What is certain from these elections, given the absence of any democratic radical choice the voters are forced by default to choose from the same rotten lot of corrupt bourgeois political parties. If you look at the populist slogans and posturing of Mamata Banerjee, she has always tried to outsmart the left in her rhetoric, Maa-Maati-Manush (Mother- Land-People) is a primal slogan that in a country of abysmal disparities any left party worth the salt would love to propagate, instead the CPI(M) leadership chose to ridicule Mamata Banerjee on this.

While today Mamata is firmly in the camp of the right and the reactionary, the CPI(M) and the Left in general should soul search that how many Mamatas they have driven or scared away from their own ranks and the fringes, because of the utter bureaucratic structures of their parties to the parties like Trinamool.

One of the most important points to be noted in these election results is the fact given the opportunity the people across India have opted to vote corrupt and autocratic regimes out, time and again.

There is no doubt that the forces of big business and reaction will trumpet and rejoice this decimation of CPI(M) and its left front allies as the end of the left, radical and Marxist politics in the country.

The continuation of Capitalism and Landlordism, with the mixed baggage of confusion posed by the jargon of “socialist”attached to many of these bourgeois formations has been a dampener if not an impediment for the commoners to move in the direction of revolutionary change. Thanks to the Stalinist and Maoist left which has swung the pendulum from utter opportunism to individual terror tactics making the word ‘Revolution’ dreaded and far removed from the psyche of the impoverished toilers.

But the real left & radical forces were increasingly emptying out of these so called “Communist” & “Marxist” parties. While the CPI(M) and the CPI were happy posing to the Television talk shows, on the feasibility and possibility of building “third fronts” and “left and democratic” fronts, pitched battles were being waged by the dispossessed against POSCO, VEDANTA, TATA,JINDAL, STERLITE and other MNC’s who were looting the resources and making the ordinary peasants, adivasis and Dalilths denied of any & all livelihood opportunities.

A genuine and new left is bound to emerge out of these mass struggles in the country both in urban as well as rural areas, the point is that given the dead weight of the Stalinist left loosing its over-importance, an authentic, utterly democratic socialist alternative must be built to take on the gang of neo-liberal offenders who are increasingly getting more and more jingoistic and militaristic to thwart the mases from taking their destiny into their own hands.

Jagadish Chandra