Bengal Verdict - Working class strikes back!
People of West Bengal, particularly the working class of the state voted decisively and conclusively against the BJP during the recently concluded assembly election. Political observers are of the opinion that this is a defeat of Modi - Amit Shah duopoly, who travelled by air to this state in the thick of election like daily passengers and who frantically tried to capture Bengal. It was also held as a befitting reply to the EC, which was shamelessly bent in favour of Modi and BJP dragging the polls for 8 phases amid raging second wave of COVID.
How would the working class, especially the vast Hindi speaking section, behave in the election was a talking point within the trade union circles. During the last Lok Sabha election, most of the constituencies in the industrial belt with an overwhelming Hindi speaking electorate voted in favour of the BJP. But, this time, in the just concluded assembly election, barring the tea garden sector in North Bengal, the vast majority of the working class voted against the BJP. Besides the toiling people, the urban middle class and business community, highly aggrieved on the issue of steep price rise of petrol - diesel - cooking gas, essential commodities and GST, voted decisively against the BJP in Kolkata and its surrounding districts.
The BJP maintained its influence among a section of the electorate that falls along the Jharkhand - Bihar border, but in the Asansol - Durgapur industrial area the Trinamool Congress (TMC) won 6 of the 9 seats while the BJP won only 3. Barabani and Asansol (North) constituencies are dominated by coal workers. In this constituency lies the Chittaranjan locomotive factory, the traditional unit where railway engines are manufactured. The Railway board gradually slashed its workers strength from 21 thousand to ten thousand over the years. More than three thousand posts are lying vacant, many are abolished forever. The Railway Board is planning to privatise this traditional unit and its first step is to corporatise this factory. The closed CPSU Hindustan Cables falls within this Barabani constituency. It is to be noted that in the last LS election, the BJP candidate Babul Supriyo promised to reopen Hindustan Cables and was elected from Asansol LS. Although he won from Asansol and got a berth in Modi's cabinet, the closed factory was never re- opened. More than 16 coal mines are facing closure. Moreover, Modi governments move to privatise the Coal industry have generated extreme anger and discontent among the coal workers in general and that was reflected during this election - workers voted emphatically against Modi's anti worker policies.
Kulti is an assembly constituency that falls within the border of Dhanbad (Jharkhand) and Bengal. The All India Forward Bloc has its traditional base in this area. But this time, denying FB of their just demand to contest from this seat, the CPIM asked Congress to contest from Kulti constituency. This decision annoyed the entire ranks of the FB and they decided not to vote for the Congress. The results had a telling effect. More than 4000 votes were polled in NOTA, and the BJP won this seat by a slender margin of 679 votes. The vote share for both the BJP and the TMC remained the same - 46 per cent. The BJP also won Asansol (South) seat and their vote share was 2 percent more than TMC.
Howrah, another district is dotted by sunset SMEs, struggling for its survival since demonetisation. Covid and Lockdown 1 had tremendous impact on these industries which are now found gasping for survival. This district is a mixed bag and has a sizable population of Hindi speaking people, particularly in some of the constituencies. The BJP increased its political activity and, in its bid, to 'capture' this district, encouraged defection from within the TMC. One after another, the TMC leaders crossed fences, and a communal campaign was organised with increased tempo. The grim industrial situation showed no signs of improvement. But, the electorate of Howrah, particularly the working people rose above the communal lines and voted against the BJP. The TMC won all the assembly constituencies in Howrah.
Hooghly is the adjoining district of Howrah, which has a vast tract of fertile multi-crop agricultural land, and Singur falls in this district. There are a number of Jute mills, dotted with a few textile mills in this district. And just before the election, four jute mills workers faced suspension of work due to shortage of raw jute. Dunlop Tyre factory and Hindustan Motors are two traditional manufacturing units lying closed for many years. Few years before, the BJP engineered communal clashes at Bhadreswar, a jute mill dominated area and some places were quite vulnerable since that incident. There are 18 assembly segments in this district and TMC captured 14 segments, while for the first time, neither Left nor Congress could secure a single seat in this district.
Chapdani - Pandua - Bhadreswar - Konnagar - Bansberia is a vast stretch dominated by industrial workers, where TMC won decisively.
24 Parganas (South) is a highly diversified district. Agriculture, fishery, forest (Sunderban is in this area), tourism -- these are the main props of the district’s economy. Jute industry, Indian Oil, Bata factory are also some of the important industries here. Falta, an industrial zone emerged as an export processing zone during the LF regime, built upon 280 acres of land. 193 acres were taken from Kolkata Port Trust and the rest 87 acres were acquired from the farmers of that area. Though it was a central government’s initiative, the Left Front played an important role in establishing this industrial zone. Farmers were forcibly evicted from their land and they lost their livelihood. The LF government was the architect of this EPZ and in the year 2003, it was declared as a SEZ. Bengali speaking minorities are the main social force in this area. In this assembly segment, the TMC won by more than 50 percent of the polled votes. CPIM and Congress got 17 percent and 7 percent votes respectively. Only the SC reserved Bishnupur constituency went in favour of BJP. It is to be noted that the BJP has made deep inroads among the SC and the OBCs scoring more than 47 percent votes in this area.
Out of 33 assembly constituencies in North 24 Parganas, 14 seats fall within the industrial area. People of different language, caste, creed and religion inhabit in this region. Few years back, the RSS goons organised a communal violence here. There are many heavy industries, small and medium factories, some PSU's too. Many jute mills, Ordnance factories, Kanchrapara Railway workshop, Ceramic, IT, HAL, Hosiery and small leather factories are some of the important industries in this area. Only one assembly seat, the Bhatpara constituency voted for the BJP and the rest for the TMC.
The most encouraging part is that all attempts to divide the vast working people along religious lines, instigation of divisive communal campaign by the top most leadership in this industrial belt of Asansol, Durgapur, Howrah, Hooghly, North and South 24 parganas, were rejected emphatically by the working people. Privatisation and disinvestment of public sectors, selling all the public assets to a handful of cronies, the plight of the migrant workers', anti-worker measures and policies, country-wide industrial strike against the Modi government -- all these added to raise the anti- BJP consciousness among the workers in general.
North Bengal stands as an aberration in this anti- BJP scenario. In this region, identity-based politics has struck roots for the last couple of years and the tea garden industry is the only organised industry in this area. Nearly 4.5 lakh workers are engaged in this industry. For the last 6-7 years, from the joint platform of most of the trade unions of tea gardens, a vigorous movement was launched demanding minimum wages for tea garden workers, and for the permanent ownership or patta of their homestead land. But the state government did not fulfil these just demands. The united trade union movement failed to achieve the desired result. The BJP cunningly utilised this failure, and promised Rs 350 as minimum wages and land patta if they come to power. This was a game changer and tea garden workers voted for BJP en masse. In the hills, the BJP thrived upon the inner contradiction and split of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. In Darjeeling District, the BJP won two out of five seats, namely Kurseong & Darjeeling. The Kalimpong seat went in favour of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (Benoy Tamang group). The GNLF supported the BJP. The internal rivalry within two warring factions of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha helped the BJP a lot.
The two assembly segments in the plains of Darjeeling district, Matigara - Naxalbari, and Phansidewa are dominated by tea garden workers. In 2011 and 2016, the Congress won both these seats, but this time they were pushed to the third position. The BJP started organising their work in a planned manner in these areas, and the RSS meticulously built up their network, which bore fruit in this election.
In Alipurduar district, the BJP won in 5 assembly segments. Adivasi and Gorkha tea workers are predominantly employed in tea gardens of these areas. The BJP won in three seats - Madarihat, Kumargram and Kalchini. Malbazar and Nagrakata assembly segments of Jalpaiguri district are tea garden areas. The TMC won in Malbazar, while Nagrakata went in favour of BJP.
The majority assembly segments of Coochbehar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, and Darjeeling voted in favour of the BJP. The ascendance of BJP is inversely proportional to the decline of Left forces. The fascist forces are increasingly gaining their foothold in North Bengal.
West Bengal dealt a blow to the fascist BJP in the assembly election, which was desperate to capture Bengal. People of Bengal demolished BJP's double engine and Sonar Bangla rhetoric. They stood tall and above all communal designs and voted against this barbaric central rule, in favour of secularism and working class unity. It is the task of the revolutionary left to consolidate the positive gains and strengthen the working class movement against the despotic rule in the future.