When I was in school, we would frequently ask , ” Did you make the football team?” and the reply used to be, “I was left out”! from all those who didn’t. They of course punned on the common usage those days for the outside-left position amongst the attackers.
In those days, in the ’60s, and for the next few decades the Cold War raged. The entire world was pretty much split into two blocs : the West (primarily the US, UK, France) and those who supported their versions of democracy, and the Communist bloc ( principally the erstwhile USSR with its satellite countries, North Viet Nam, and China).
In India too, while the Indian National Congress held sway for most of the time in most of the states, Kerala in the deep South ( for a few years) and West Bengal and Tripura in the East, bordering the erstwhile East Pakistan, (for many more) stood out for being Communist-ruled States. Indeed, West Bengal and Tripura were ruled by the Left for over 25 years!
In 1962, when the Indo-China conflict took place, the Communists in India by and large were accused of supporting China! This topic came to the fore recently when China tried to flex their muscles once more, especially in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh.
But what has become of the Communist Parties, (popularly called the Left parties) in the India of 2020? In 2004, they had their best ever tally of 59 seats in the Lok Sabha. This crashed to 12 in 2014; worse was to follow – they got just 5 seats in the Lok Sabha in the last General Elections in 2019.
How did this happen? Some answers for this -especially pertaining to West Bengal- can be found in this article in The Telegraph in the series, “Lest We Forget”. It described all that went wrong during the Left regime in West Bengal. In all fairness, it also describes what they did relatively well, even if those were designed to benefit the Party more than the people at large.
Industry went down the drain and there was a mass migration of Bengalis to less volatile parts of the country. I was reminded of our years in the industrial town of Durgapur during 1968-72. That was perhaps the worst years of industrial relations. Calls of “Cholbe Na, Cholbe Na” ( roughly translates to : Won’t Let It Work/Can’t Continue) rent the air almost every day. No month went by without either a gherao or a bandh. Tiring of professionals, they experimented with an Army General followed by a trade unionist, to head the huge public-sector Steel Plant there- but neither seemed to work!
Talking of points raised in the Telegraph article, in the last few decades I have myself seen hospitals here in Bengaluru literally flooded with patients from West Bengal. I fear many of them may have got looted by middle men and God knows who. Most of them looked totally lost.
Also, seeking employment and greener pastures for their professions, thousands, if not lakhs, have come here from West Bengal. The other day, a friend who did the same, said dryly, ” Re-naming Bangalore as Bengal- uru is really in our honour!”
But coming back to the Left, look what is happening around the world. The Soviet Union came to an end in 1991, and Russia today no longer adheres to the Communist maxims with the ferocity it once did. Likewise, today ironically Communist China is perhaps the second biggest “capitalist” economy in many senses. The Government/Party there, unlike in India, doesn’t have to deal with protests for almost every thing ranging from acquiring land for industry to modifying archaic rules relating to labour. The Party seems to do just what they want!
The Communist leaders in India are perhaps caught in this trap. They hold old views which perhaps don’t resonate with the youth of today. In any case, their own children do not seem to have subscribed to their ideology. Many say that Jyotida (Jyoti Basu, former Chief Minister of West Bengal) ) set West Bengal and three generations backwards by abolishing education in English, but his son went to the best English-medium school in Kolkata and became an industrialist. His grand daughter did her graduation in England, is an expert in different cuisines and writes cookbooks. So it looks like sauce for the goose ( the proletariat ! ) may not be sauce for the gander!