Left Confused: Politics in West Bengal

The left was given massive mandates for seven successive terms in west Bengal. But, In the recent Municipal elections, the Left managed to win only 18 of the state’s 81 municipal councils. The left got much public support through the agrarian reforms of the 70’s. But, the benefits of the much famed land reforms weared off and they lost the support they had gained. Even sympathizers of the left find the horrors of Nandigram repulsive, writes Semu Bhatt in Southasia Online.

“For 33 years, the Left Front has been synonymous to West Bengal politics, with people having given it massive mandates for seven successive terms. However, on June 21st, when the Left Front entered into the 34th year of power in the state, the celebrations failed to hide the despair amongst the party members about a distinct possibility of the unthinkable – collapsing of the thus-far impregnable Leftist fort in the 2011 state assembly polls.”

“In the recent Municipal elections, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left plank managed to win only 18 of the state’s 81 municipal councils, 36 seats less than its 2005 tally.”

“What is alarming is the rate at which this slide has happened – after all, the Left had won the assembly polls of 2006 with a huge majority.”

“The Left front was built on the unwavering support it generated through major agrarian reforms starting late 70s – to an extent unseen in any other Indian state, and decentralization of power – much before the Indian Constitution encouraged it through 73rd and 74th Amendments. The Left Front enforced land ceiling and effected an equitable distribution of surplus land to small and landless farmers. It enumerated the sharecroppers and secured their rights to crop share and tilling tenure. With the government ensuring good irrigation facility and high quality seeds, West Bengal agriculture boomed. Unlike other agrarian success stories of India, the West Bengal green revolution was unique in the fact that it was based on a small farmer economy. This positively impacted poverty alleviation in the state. Approximately 60 per cent rural households in West Bengal benefited from the land reforms, earning a life-long loyalty of the farmers that kept the Leftists in power for so long.”

“The benefits of the much famed land reforms are wearing off and the second generation small farmers, who are increasingly finding agriculture an unviable option, are on a look out for jobs outside of it. To win back its farmer support base, the government has recently announced that it will buy land from willing farmers at much higher rate and redistribute it to the landless. By the look of it, however, this scheme appears more of an appeasement strategy to win back rural masses than an actual workable program.”

“While the Left fared much better than most of the Indian states in land reforms, it fared poorly in both, public and private industrial sectors. In 1947, West Bengal was one of the most industrialized states of India with a huge share of 24 per cent in total industrial production of the country. Due to a combination of factors – including lack of private interest and public investment, and freight equalization policy- West Bengal’s share had declined to 12 per cent by 1977 when Jyoti Basu came to power. In the following three decades, the state’s share further dipped to a dismal 4 per cent.”

“The vitality in rural economy had led to substantial growth in the unorganized small scale manufacturing in the state. Thus, the unorganized sector absorbed a lot of workforce, to the extent that number of workers employed in it in the state were, and are still, a lot higher than those employed in the organized sector. West Bengal, in fact, accounts for almost one-fifth of the unorganized sector workforce of India. This is the reason why despite the Left plank’s neglect of heavy industries for almost three decades, it continued to retain electorate support.”

“With both the primary and the unorganized sectors contribution to SDP and employment on decline, the Left Front was left to choose between ideology and industry. Little did it know – when it opted for fast track industrialization – that it is stepping into a minefield that would cripple its political fortune. Events in Singur and Nandigram were result of a very inept and insensitive handling of the land acquisition issue by the government. Even the strongest supporters of the Leftists were shocked by the police firing on women and children in Nandigram.”

“It is ironical that today in West Bengal the Left is considered pro-capital while TMC pro-poor. In line with this new perception, TMC has gained support from many leftist intellectuals, civil society groups, and even the Maoists. Disillusioned with the Left government’s support to the Centre in fighting red terror, Maoists sided with TMC calling it a progressive option in their fight against feudalism.”

“At the moment, the Left Front is in deep trouble facing popular anger and charges of rampant corruption and poor governance; as well as possibility of split in the Left plank with couple of smaller parties moving towards an alliance with TMC.”

Destination West Bengal (a Travel Guide)

Major Cities

  • Kolkata (Bengali:কলকাতা)(formerly Calcutta) — is the capital of West Bengal and one of the largest cities in India. Kolkata is an ‘in your face’ city that shocks and charms the unsuspecting visitor. Abject poverty mix inexplicably with crumbling British Raj-era gems, sprawling gardens and historical colleges. Long known as the cultural capital of India, Kolkata continues to spawn generations of poets, writers, film producers and Nobel Prize winners. If your trip only allows for a visit of one or two of India’s metropolitan cities, than definitely consider placing Kolkata on your itinerary. Love it or hate it, you definitely won’t forget the city on the Hooghly.
  • Asansol — is a city in Rarh in India. It is the second largest urban agglomeration in West Bengal and is an important mining and industrial centre.
  • Darjeeling — a beautiful hill station and center of a major tea growing area. Originally just a cluster of villages that was administered intermittently by Nepal and Sikkim, Darjeeling grew in prominence during the mid 19th century when, because of its climate, the British first established a hill station there after leasing it from the Chogyal of Sikkim and later discovered that the area was particularly well suited for tea plantations. In 1849, the British annexed the area and Darjeeling became a part of British India. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was opened in 1881 (it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the town became the de-facto summer capital of India during the days when the Raj was governed from Calcutta.
  • Durgapur (Bengali: দুর্গাপুর) is an industrial metropolis in the state of West Bengal in India about 160 km from Kolkata. It was a dream child of the great visionary Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, the second chief minister of the state. The well laid out industrial township was designed by Joseph Allen Stein and Benjamin Polk It is home to the largest industrial unit in the state, Durgapur Steel Plant, one of the integrated steel plants of Steel Authority of India Limited. Alloy Steels Plant of SAIL is also located here. There are a number of power plants, chemical and engineering industries. Some metallurgical units have come up in recent years. It also has National Institute of Technology, Durgapur, one of the NITs of the country.
  • Falta — is a city in West Bengal, India (SEZ).
  • Gadiara — is a small town in Howrah District of West Bengal, India. In the 18th century, the British build a fort at this place to guard the entrance by the river against river pirates. However the fort is now in ruins. It is situated at the confluence of the Hoogly and Rupnarayan Rivers. A good place for a day’s outing.
  • Haldia — is a developing port city in Southwest Bengal in India. Due to the decrease in water level, the old Calcutta port was unable to ensure the entry of the larger ships in to its dock. The cost of rehandling the materials in to smaller ships sharply increases the cost of import-export for the traders of Eastern India. Similarly, for trading with the Eastern countries like Japan, China India needs a good port in the eastern region apart from Vishakhapatnam. So, Haldia port was decided to established on the bank of river Haldi but very close to Bay of Bengal.
  • Howrah — Kolkata’s twin city. It is second largest city in the state. Howrah Station has the largest railway complex in West Bengal.
  • Ranaghat — is a small town beside the river Churni in Rarh of West Bengal. The name Ranaghat comes from the name of a Dakat Rana. This is the great character of Bandemataram by Bankim Ch. Chatthapdhay.
  • Sagardwip — is in West Bengal. A lovely destination combining pilgrimage and fun, situated on an island in the Sunderban, holds the charms of a completely unspoilt beach on the estuary of the mighty Ganga.
  • Santiniketan —a town of Rabindranath Tagore’s university.
  • Siliguri (Bengali: শিলিগুড়ি Shiliguṛi) is a Metropolis city in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is located in the Siliguri Corridor or Chicken’s Neck — a very narrow strip of land linking mainland India to its north eastern states. It is also the transit point for air, road and rail traffic to the neighboring countries of Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. The town hosts over 200,000 domestic and 15,000 foreign visitors annually. It is the commercial nerve center ofNorth Bengal. Siliguri is situated in Darjeeling district, and though it is the district’s largest city, the district headquarters is located at Darjeeling. Siliguri is a unique city as 15 out of 47 wards of Siliguri Municipal Corporation falls in neighbouring Jalpaiguri district. The Indian army, Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Shashatra Seema Bal (SSB) and the Assam Rifles have bases around the city. The Bagdogra Airport is located within the Indian Air Force (IAF) cantonment area. Siliguri has an Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOC) oil depot near the southern edge of the town. Siliguri is the third largest city of West Bengal afterKolkata & Asansol, and third largest urban agglomeration after Kolkata & Asansol.
  • Diamond Harbour — is a small town in South 24 Parganas District of West Bengalin India. It is situated on the banks of the river Hoogly. This name has been given by the British. The old name was Hajipur.

Historical Places

  • Bishnupur — (also spelt as Vishnupur) is a town in Rarh in India famous for its terracota temples.
  • Gour-Pandua — is an historical city in Malda district of West Bengal. The area saw three eras of glory – the Buddhist Palas, the Hindu Senas and the Muslim Nawabs. The Senas, the last Hindu kings of Bengal, were displaced by the Muslims in the beginning of the 13th century. They ruled till the Battle of Palashi in 1757. There is no trace of any shrine or structure of the Buddhist or Hindu periods. Even those of the Muslim period are virtually in ruin.
  • Murshidabad — in Birbhum-Murshidabad of West Bengal was once the capital of Bangla, Bihar and Orissa. The last capital city of independent Bengal was named after Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, the Dewan of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. It is situated on the banks of the Bhagirathi. A city of splendors and famous for its silk, was made capital of Bengal in 1717. The British shifted the capital to Kolkata in 1773.
  • Cooch Behar — is a city and administrative district of the North Bengal region of West Bengal earlier part of “Kamta” kingdom.
  • Tamluk or Tamralipta — is the district headquarters of Purba Medinipur district of West Bengal, India. Though there is some controversy, scholars have generally agreed that present day Tamluk is the site of the ancient city variously known as Tamralipta or Tamralipti. The present town is located on the banks of the Rupnarayan River close to the Bay of Bengal.

Beaches

  • Bakkhali — is seaside resort located in South Twenty-four Parganas district of West Bengal.
  • Digha — is one of the most popular vacation destinations in West Bengal, particularly for people from Kolkata.
  • Junput — is about 9 km from Contai town and is 40 km away from Digha by bus. From Kolkata side you have to drive to Contai and then take a left turn towards Junput. It is basically a small fishing village. There is no beach as such in Junput.
  • Mandarmani — the nearest train station is at Contai and the nearest airport is at Kolkata. Note that at the moment there is no proper road for the last 6km into Mandarmani, which forces you to drive along the beach, something that the locals encourage, but has a seriously adverse affect on the local ecology, not to mention the atmosphere of the beaches. But while driving on the beaches you need to follow the driving track or you risk getting caught in loose mud.
  • Shankarpur — is near Digha and the place can be reached by taking any bus going to Digha. You need to getoff at a place called Ramnagar between Contai (Kanthi) and Digha. The sea beach is a 15 minute ride by a car from Choddomile. You need to book a car to pick you up from Choddomile. Ask the hotel to do the car booking. Otherwise, you can go straight to the Digha Bus stand (a further 25-30 minute ride) and then hire a cab from there.

Wildlife Sanctuaries

  • Bibhuti Bhushan Wildlife Sanctuary (Parmadon) — is just over three hours drive from Kolkata and is popular for deer, snakes and varied species of birds. Located on the banks of Ichhamati River, you can take a lazy country boat ride through the forest or a refreshing jungle stroll watching the friendly deer prance around. Enjoy homely food at the tourist lodge of West Bengal forest department at Parmadon.
  • Jhargram — is the Sub-Divisional town of Jhargram Sub-Division situated in the western part of Paschim Medinipur District of West Bengal. Beyond the Gangetic plains of West Bengal, INDIA. Jhargram offers the most exotic beauties of undulating topography culminating in hill ranges of Belpahari, Kankrajhor in the North to the serene beauties of meandering Subarnarekha river in the South.
  • Jaldapara — is situated in the foothills of eastern Himalayas. The river Torsha flows through this rain forest sanctuary which is mostly covered with tall grasses, the sanctuary encompasses a luxuriant vegetation and a rich variety of wildife. The Malangi River also flows nearby from east to west. Riding elephants is the only way to move inside this forest.
  • Gorumara National Park — is located in is known as the Dooars. It lies in the Himalayan foothills and has great natural beauty. The park is located on the bank of rivers Murti and Raidak and has vegetation of riverine grasslands interspersed with savannah woodlands. Much of the forest is moist deciduous and sal (shorea robusta) is the most common and valuable tree. Teak, simul, siris, khair are also found here.
  • Sundarbans National Park (Bengali: সুন্দরবন জাতীয় উদ্যান Shundorbôn Jatio Uddan) — is aNational Park, Tiger Reserve, UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve located in the Sundarbans delta in the Indian state of West Bengal. This region is densely covered bymangrove forests, and is one of the largest reserves for the Bengal tiger. It is also home to a variety of bird, reptile and invertebrate species, including the salt-water crocodile.