27 Years of Left Front Government in West Bengal

Published in People’s Democracy, April 03, 2005

ON the occasion of the 18th Party Congress of the CPI (M), I would like to highlight some of the important activities of the Left Front government in West Bengal.

Let us have a look at the past. The Congress party ruled West Bengal for 27 years. Our Party and some other Left and democratic parties were in opposition. Before 1952, the Communist Party had only two representatives in the West Bengal legislative assembly. Gradually, the strength of our Party grew as the communist movement gained momentum. We stood by the people when they agitated against the government on several issues.

The Communist Party championed the rights of peasants, workers, employees of government and non-government sectors, women, students, teachers, refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan, SC, ST and other economically backward people, the poor and the oppressed. The Congress government pursued anti-people policies and resorted to lathicharge and firing to suppress mass movements. The political opponents of the Congress government were subjected to oppression in various ways. Time and again, we suffered imprisonment without trial. The conscious people of West Bengal appreciated the role of the Communist Party in strengthening democratic movements.

After the split of the former party, the CPI (M) addressed itself to the task of intensifying mass movements. In 1967 and 1969, the Congress party was defeated in state assembly elections and two United Front governments with the CPI (M) as the major partner were formed. In those two elections, our Party won the largest number of seats among non-Congress parties, yet we conceded the post of chief minister to the Bangla Congress leader, Ajoy Mukherjee.

But those two UF governments could not function for more than 22 months because of internal dissensions and conspiracies hatched against them by some reactionary political forces and vested interests. In the elections to the state assembly in 1971, the CPI (M) became the single largest party. In 1972, the Congress party formed the government in West Bengal through the rigged elections to the state assembly. After the elections, West Bengal passed through a dark phase of its history. Democratic rights of the people were severely curtailed and anarchy prevailed in all vital sectors of activity. Thousands of our comrades and supporters were injured and killed. Many others were put in jail without trial or on concocted charges.

Our supporters and workers were evicted from their houses and driven out of their areas. Our offices were ransacked and destroyed. In fact, a one-party semi-fascist regime was forced on the people of West Bengal. In 1975, Indira Gandhi declared a state of Emergency in India. During that period the agony of the people became intense.

The significant change in the political scenario came with the defeat of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha elections in 1977. Subsequently, the elections to the West Bengal assembly were held. The unity among most of the Left parties became a reality. The CPI, however, joined the Left Front later.

In the state assembly elections in 1977, the Left Front won a massive victory and the Congress party was routed. The first Left Front government was formed on June 21, 1977. After taking the oath of office as chief minister, I said that our government would not be run from the Writers’ Buildings alone; it would maintain a close touch with the representative organisations of the people. We laid emphasis on alleviating the hardship of the people by implementing public welfare schemes and programmes. We asserted that better governance and adequate relief would be provided to the people. Our government took prompt steps to ensure democratic rights and civil liberty to all sections of the community.

Since 1977 the Left Front government has been elected for six consecutive terms and has been endeavouring earnestly to accelerate the pace of development in West Bengal. Through the implementation of land reform measures and the introduction of the three-tier Panchayati Raj system the Left Front government has been able to achieve a major breakthrough in agriculture and allied sectors. West Bengal has created a new record in the vesting and distribution of surplus land. So far 15 lakh bargadars (sharecroppers) have been recorded. The rights of agricultural workers have been ensured.

The administration has been decentralised down to the village level. Till March, 2004, the production of foodgrains reached 159.54 lakh tonnes from 89.77 lakh tonnes in 1977. The significant rise in the agricultural production and the growing purchasing power of the people living in villages indicate the progress of West Bengal in the rural sector. The requisite social base has been created for the rapid industrialisation of the state.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the state’s industrial sector had been plagued by serious difficulties because of the central government’s licensing policy and the freight equalisation scheme for coal, iron and steel. We strongly protested against those two polices. The government of India ultimately made policy changes on those two issues under both external and internal pressures. In September 1994, the state government issued a statement reiterating its industrial policy. The statement emphasised, “we are all for new technology and investment in selective spheres where they help our economy and which are of mutual interest. The goal of self-reliance, however, is as needed today as earlier. We have the state sector, the private sector and also the joint sector. All these have a role to play”.

After the reiteration, the industrial investment in the state started increasing. Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd. (HPL) was commissioned in April 2000. It may be recalled that the state government had to wait for 11 years to obtain the letter of intent from the government of India. HPL and its downstream industries have been effectively functioning for the last five years. At present, the number of downstream units of Haldia is 684. These units employ about 31,770 persons. Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation PTA Plant at Haldia and other important industrial units have been operating with considerable success. It is worth mentioning that iron and steel, chemicals, leather and cement industries have been growing steadily in West Bengal. The recent spurt of industrial investment has raised new hopes among our people. I am sure that more modern industries will be set up in the state in the near future.

West Bengal has been making steady progress in sectors such as cottage and small-scale industries, fisheries, social forestry, education and culture. The percentage of literacy in the state increased from 57.70 in 1991 to 69.22 in 2001. New schools, colleges and universities have been set up. The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences and the West Bengal University of Technology are recent additions to the field of higher education in the state. The number of engineering colleges in West Bengal has now increased to 52 from 10 in 1997. The state government run hospitals cater to the healthcare needs of more than 70 per cent of patients.

Steps are being taken to develop the infrastructure sector. Power situation in the state is now comfortable with the addition of installed capacity. So far as the rural electrification is concerned, the state government intends to bring all villages under electrification by 2006-2007. A number of bridges and flyovers have been built in the state. Efforts are going on to strengthen and expand the road network. New townships are coming up while facilities in the social sector are being augmented.

The construction of flyovers in Kolkata with Japanese cooperation in some of these projects, and the provision of other amenities has brought about a distinct improvement in the metropolis. Many other urban areas are also being provided with new facilities.

In West Bengal, the percentage of people living below the poverty line has now come down to 26 from 52 in 1978. Unemployment, which is very acute all over the country, is also a matter of major concern for us in West Bengal. For several years the Left Front government, despite its constraints, has been trying to tackle this problem by encouraging self-employment schemes and facilitating activities in the labour intensive medium and small-scale industries.

The sixth Left Front government has been placing emphasis on the rapid growth of information technology. At present, 210 IT units operate and employ about 24,000 IT professionals in the state. Many leading foreign and domestic companies such as IBM, Computer Associates, Wipro, TCS, Cognizant Technology and PWC have set up units in the state. The new town in Kolkata will be next IT hub after Bidhannagar (Salt Lake).

The expansion of the agri-business sector is a significant development. Five Agri Export Zones for five important crops have been set up. New food processing units are being established. Appropriate infrastructure is being developed.

It is a matter of comfort that some misgivings about the state government in certain quarters are being dispelled. So there are distinct possibilities of opening up further avenues of development. The state government is conscious that there is no room for complacence. It is constantly engaged in identifying its weakness and adopting corrective measures.

The people’s verdict went overwhelmingly in favour of the Left Front candidates in the successive elections to the urban local bodies and panchayats in the state. In the Lok Sabha elections, too, the front performed creditably in West Bengal.

West Bengal has been maintaining political stability and peace for the last 27 years. The democratic-minded people of the state with their strong commitment to national integration are determined to preserve communal harmony. I am confident that the Left Front government will continue to act according to its well-defined objectives and priorities.