A few days back, three North-eastern states of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya had their legislative assembly elections held. Of these Tripura attracts particular attention, as there an at- a- stretch 25 year long rule of the CPI(M), a party often highlighted as brand leftist, is terminated by a sweeping victory of the BJP, a branded rightist and rabid communal party. Along with IPFT (Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura), a parochial divisive tribal organization, BJP could reach 43 out of 60 seats, while CPI(M) is now reduced to 16. In Meghalaya a Congress-led Alliance ruling for two terms is replaced by another Alliance in which the NPP, a regional party, had 19 seats in a 59 member assembly, BJP 2 seats and three other regional outfits helping the total reach the required figure. In Nagaland , NDPP, again a regional party (18 in 60 seats),BJP (12 seats) and other regional party and independent candidates (4 seats together) formed the government (34 in 60 member assembly). Congress, a trusted bourgeois party which once had the tightest grip over the north-eastern states, now has come down to 0 in Tripura and Nagaland, while in Meghalaya Congress, after reigning for ten years, remains the largest single party, not strong enough to form the government. It holds the government only in Mizoram now.
In the north-eastern states, the BJP is already in governmental power in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, risen with the help of sectarian parochial forces of those states. Immediately after the results of the recent elections were out, a section of media got busy to show how remarkable the BJP win was. But contrary to the hullabaloo, in Meghalaya and Nagaland the BJP had to ride on regional parties to get hold of power. Tripura gives a rather clear verdict in its favour. There, sneaking in with their typically communal, divisive politics and alluring voters with assurance of ‘development’ with the help of their being in the central government, the shrewd, patiently working RSS- BJP leaders could win 35 seats from zero, in a state held for years under the surveillance of a formidable, often vicious, sharp eyed and long-nosed network of CPI(M) in cities, towns and villages, plains and hills. CPI(M) looked rather dumbfounded. It tried to console people, or may be their own ranks, with the 45% votes they have polled and officially assigned the BJP victory to unleashed terror and flood of money, while in gossips accused tribals of falling prey to freebies and false promises and non-tribals to divisive communal politics. Be that as it may, the writing was clear and remarkable or not, the BJP win was shocking for those who still bore the minimum feeling of respect and hope in leftist politics. Their apprehensions become true from the events following, including vandalizing statues of the great leader Lenin in Tripura. A careful probe is thus essential.
North Eastern states share same problems of exploitation, neglect, lack of development
But before going on with elections any further, we may need a digression. The three states Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya where elections were held recently, as also four other north eastern states of India namely Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram, all suffer from a common set of handicaps and problems. First, they all belong to capitalist India which is being ruled by a ruthlessly exploitative, venomously oppressive and cunningly deceptive decadent capitalist class. Gruelling economic exploitation that is giving birth to spiralling price rise, fast mounting unemployment, ever-vanishing prospects of a safe and decent livelihood, dangerous curb of democratic even trade union rights to silence opposition are among the characteristics. Over and above that, cruel cultural ethical degeneration that breeds corruption, and daily, even hourly crimes, more so upon women and children add insecurity to every step of life all over the country. Adding fuel to the fire, these north-eastern states have their own common problems too. For decades together they have been eulogized as ‘paradise’ and neglected as ‘step-child’. All these states are further characterized among other things, by scanty industry, agriculture stagnating virtually on age-old methods, with transport-communication menacingly poor, the onus for which is transferred on inaccessible hill and forest-laden territories. As a result, all these states are languishing, to a more or less extent, under unbearable poverty, extreme unemployment, geographic isolation and miserable want of revenue generation. Results are multiple and horrible as a whole. These states have to depend on the grants-in-aid from the ‘mainland’, that is the Union government. It prompts the opportunist, self-seeking power crazy political leaders and local bourgeoisie to lean heavily upon the force in power at the Centre. When there is a change at the Centre, these forces in the north-east, too, change like weather-cocks shifting allegiance instantaneously. As found this time, even leaders and activists of Congress chose to join BJP en masse as they found the prospect with Congress bleak. And as soon as they gain power, these abjectly opportunist politicians use the grants for people to fill up their own coffers! After all, they being branded representatives of people, may think it their right to embezzle grants meant for people! With no power, nor intention of controlling unemployment, the vast masses of youth are dragged silently into drug addiction, drug trafficking and other unethical means of livelihood. The region has many ethnic tribes of varying culture and habits. This again is used as a fertile ground for the rulers, including the aspiring local or regional bourgeoisie, to reap the harvest on chauvinism, parochialism, divisiveness even separatism. Suffering people and futureless youth, all fuming from discontent, instead of fighting united against the cause of their miseries, are allured into the vicious cycle of fratricidal killings. And the pathetic part of the story is that it is the same rulers or their henchmen who relentlessly fleece people, cunningly foment division in people at one moment, at another moment unleash the brute state terror by deploying army upon people to quell the unrest in the name of fighting terror. So people of these north-eastern states tend to live on a double-edged razor of a powerful, heartless, vindictive capitalist state, based on exploitation- discrimination-oppression.
Marxist-in-name CPI(M) ran the government like a bourgeois party, earned people’s wrath
It is in this background, that the elections of three states: Tripura-Nagaland-Meghalaya, took place. Of these, Tripura presents a special case of CPI(M) rule for over the last 25 years at a stretch. In this state, quite understandably, all the evils of capitalist rule mentioned above are operative with full steam. Added to those there are the typical problems of north-eastern states referred above. No government, including the latest 25-year long CPI(M)-led one, made any perceptible effort towards development of agriculture, building up of infrastructural groundwork including transport-communication facilities, development of minimum decent medical care or education, utilization of natural resources to build industries other than rickety brickfields and tea industry etc. This has simply resulted in extreme poverty, low capital formation, bitter ever-rising unemployment with existing employment turned contractual and low wage. It can not be expected that with Indian capitalism prevailing, Tripura would be able to keep itself free from its tentacles, its maladies. But since it was being governed by a force that claimed itself as Marxists, at least leftists, would it be unnatural for people there, as also elsewhere to expect that a CPI(M) –led government would have some vital differences with the governments run by bourgeois parties? Was it not an incumbent duty of such a government to educate people and make them conscious of the fact that a change in government in a capitalist set-up like ours would not bring about an end to their sufferings? At the same time could it not be expected that a party claiming to be leftist, would try from its seat of governmental power to control corruption as far as possible? Could it not be expected from them for a pro-people governance, to restrain anti-people bureaucracy of the capitalist state machine to the extent possible? Should not such a government take measures one after another to bring as far relief as possible to common toiling people from their back-breaking poverty and utter backwardness accumulated over the years? In that case, if necessary, should not it have mobilized people’s opinion and developed movements to put pressure upon the Union government and wrest demands? And above all, should it not be the main concern of such a government to see that toiling people’s legitimate democratic movements are developed and strengthened and under no circumstances be curbed by the government ? But leave aside fulfilling these expectations of people from a government said to be leftist, the CPI(M)-led government ran exactly the way a bourgeois government would have.
Like any other bourgeois party in power, the CPI(M) adopted the policy of running the government by maintaining and riding on the utterly corrupt and extremely coercive police-administration-bureaucracy and showing total indifference to people’s problems and sufferings stemming from the capitalist system. The grants-in-aid became the source to milk to ensure staying in power abusing the public money. The seat of power had become the centre for distributing privilege-favour-concessions and asking for support in return. Naturally it attracted a formidable strata of privilege-seekers who made the best of it. These privilege seekers, turned power crazy being favoured with licence, permit, supplies for running real estate business as well as liberty to carry on with impunity and protected by the party and administration. Within the structural pattern of CPI(M), they became all powerful at all levels of life and place, from towns to villages, institutions to individual families. They fleeced common people, harassed them, intimidated them and coerced them only to generate wrath among the latter.
Tribals of Tripura as elsewhere in north-eastern states were by and large the most oppressed among the oppressed by the capitalist system, turning from poor to poorer. It was required to develop continuous movement centring round their just demands as well as making them conscious of the class division and class rule of this society. Instead, initially the CPI(M) let loose one section of the tribal people against another, and even used force to get rid of the tribal outfit which had once lined up with the Congress during its brief rule. Then it took to distributing favour and harping on narrow sectarian tribal mentality to win them over by populism and thereby develop a vote-bank in them . Along with these, there was rampant corruption and terrifying total control of party over even individual’s life and livelihood. As it had been with West Bengal under the prolonged CPI(M)- led rule, in Tripura, too, common people seemed to have lost freedom living constantly under threat and intimidation from the party. As a dangerous consequence of these policies, on one hand common tribal people became extremely resentful and apprehensive about the CPI(M) rule in Tripura and on the other hand there developed a rift between tribals and non-tribals which instead of waning was deepened day by day. Among the tribals themselves, there developed the privilege-seeking lot who always remained prone to switching over to any side which would offer greater privileges; the disgruntled ready to respond to slogans like chalo paltai (‘Let us change’).
Naturally such a rule gave birth to widespread discontent and wrath. The arrogance and highhandedness from power prevented the CPIM) leadership to recognize the reality or circumvent it. After the election the vanquished CPI(M) leaders alleged that money flowed in the election like anything; there has also been video going viral about BJP leaders simply flying currency notes to people. The CPI(M) leaders also allege that terror of muscle power was unbridled. The problem is these days after every election, the vanquished among the parliamentary parties bring allegations of, say, money and terror playing havoc, freebies and false promises alluring people, divisive traits having been fanned up, while the victors look the other way. Victors in one election may turn out to be complainants in another, without ever recognizing their own ‘sins’ in the past. People of West Bengal cannot forget how, years after years, on the eve of any election, white clothes were silently gifted to village women implying that any attempt to go against the well-wishing gift-donors would make them widows to put on the white clothes after election. Was it not terror? Was it or is it ever admitted? Then again, the night before the Day it required the opposition to keep a close vigil around the village to prevent groups of activists, obviously aided and abetted by musclemen in the payroll of a major prospective party, invade the villages with money, liquor and even food to make otherwise hostile poor people to vote for them in exchange of these. Was it not toying with poor people with carrot in hand, sticks left at the gate of the village? Is it not the process to be found in any state of the country? In fact, it is being found that election today has come totally in the grip of a nexus of money-muscle-media- administration powers working at the behest of the ruling class, the monopolists, which engineers, manipulates and thus ultimately determines elections. From all the reports pouring in, it appears that the nexus was operative in Tripura which was already seething with a suppressed anger against the ruling CPI(M). The BJP, with its organization looked after by the RSS took full advantage of the situation to make inroad into people; the ruling class finding CPI(M) a sinking ship came out to stand firmly behind the BJP in Tripura.
A question that may haunt any seriously thinking person is how could a party known as leftists run the government in a way nowhere different from what any bourgeois party would do, how could it carry on implementing policies that only helped the vested interests, the rich and the monopolists and turned out to be so anti-people as to make them hostile. As indicated above, it is this reason that made the path clear for an arch rightist force like BJP to throw CPI(M) out of power. Here it needs to be mentioned that with all its leftist, even Marxist jargons and signboards, the CPI(M) as a social democratic party stands as a compromising force between labour and capital, betraying people in the long run. Since the days of Marx or Lenin the social democrats, whatever might have been their signboards, have truthfully played this compromising role, as contrasting to genuine communists. And today when capitalism has reached its totally decadent stage the social democrats can not exist without playing subservient to the ruling class, the monopolists, from their single purpose of aspiring for power and pelf. Had it been a genuine communist party, CPI(M) could not have acted the way it did. Inevitably this anti-people, pro-rich social democratic politics gave birth to people’s resentment and placed CPI(M) at par with any other bourgeois party, questioned, discredited and rejected for its misrule. The choice before people was in no way between a leftist and a rightist party.
Politics marred with opportunism has given birth to chauvinism- divisiveness and plagues people’s life
As mentioned, tormented with the devastating exploitation of capitalism coupled with particular problems of the north-eastern states , people of these states had been seething with wrath and discontent since long, virtually through the whole period after independence. They silently waited for leadership to give vent to their views and aspirations. In Tripura, as shown above, instead of giving correct leadership, the arrogant and high-handed CPI(M) leadership unleashed a reign of power-crazy privilege seekers who posed loyalty to earn as much as they can from the government and based on that unleashed reign of terror and insecurity. BJP apparently made use of the situation, won over the disgruntled as well as the privilege seekers. But in other north-eastern states there were no progressive or leftist parties. Rather, as mentioned, the aspirant local bourgeoisie and the vested interests played cunningly to build up parochial, even divisive forces. These sprang up from nowhere on this or that demand, misled people into parochial, divisive even separatist movements and then either to die down or be extinguished by the brute force of military. As a result no kind of democratic movement based on people’s genuine demands developed in these states, including Nagaland and Meghalaya. These were , in their turn, left completely in a vacuum to be filled in by the rightists or left at the mercy of major bourgeois parties or the regional forces. Congress as the most trusted representative of the Indian monopolists once ruled uninterrupted. But its anti-people pro-monopolist policies isolated it from people and the regional forces took the stage. Both under the Congress and under the regional forces people faced the same ordeal. In both the states of Nagaland and Meghalaya health facilities have become miserably poor. A 2015-16 report of the Ministry of Labour and Employment reveals the pathetic condition of unemployment scene. Parallel to the mounting unemployment, school and college drop-outs are on the rise. In consequence, as indicated above, in Nagaland youth are menacingly falling victim to drug abuse. In Meghalaya too, drug-peddling and drug use among youth pose a great challenge. Not only that, pressing unemployment is drawing youth towards militancy, which reportedly is becoming an employment option. Different warring parochial outfits of Nagaland used to get hold of these youth and engage them in fratricidal clashes.
Meghalaya has added problems. The state is rocked by land grabbing for coal mining and trading, which latter are also creating environmental nuisance downstream in Assam. During the last Congress rule foundation stones were laid for two medical colleges with no single brick being laid in the next five years. Shillong was once the capital of the entire northeastern region, the undivided Assam, But with no functional airport and partial railway connections, the state remains still difficult to reach. With communication in such a mess, one can imagine the condition of industrial and agricultural scenes.
In both the states the economic social condition being under such severe stress adding to exorbitant price rise and high cost of living, terrible corruption in the political-business- administrative circles and piercing unemployment, people had been fuming for valid reasons. BJP rose to power using this general anti-Congress sentiment, but without caring for any norm or values in choosing its partners. Meghalaya was being ruled by Congress for the last two terms; the party has emerged as the single largest party even in this election. But with meagre two representatives, BJP joined hands with a regional party NPP and with support from similar smaller forces has moved to the seat of power. Conrad Sangma, chosen the chief minister of Meghalaya belongs to the NPP, termed B team of BJP. It was formed by late PA Sangma in 2013 on the eve of the Presidential elections which he himself contested coming out of the Congress. In Nagaland, too, it is the regional forces that have come to the rescue of the BJP to help its way to power. So it was simply the question of anyhow reaching the power, coming into combination with any regional party, joining hands with any opportunist aspirant individuals.
Assam, an important state of the north-eastern region, had seen the unfortunate emergence of rank chauvinist forces like AASU and AGP, which since the late seventies of the last century, launched bitterest fratricidal onslaught on Bengali-speaking linguistic and religious minority people on the slogan of clandestine infiltration of millions of Bangladeshis into Assam endangering language, religion, culture and political rights of the Assamese speaking people. In this regard it may be mentioned here that in 2016 BJP came to power in Assam using this infiltration issue in alliance with the chauvinist forces. And after coming to power, using this issue BJP is creating anti-Muslim mindset in people in the north-eastern states , with a view to extending and tightening its grip over the region.
United, sustained democratic movement is the imminent task people face
The above brief account highlights that the entire north-eastern India is under the shadow cast by the absence of , rather weakness of genuine leftist ideology and people’s movements on the strength of that. The social democrats like CPI(M), known as leftists, ran a government in Tripura without practising any shade of leftism , rather in the way as any other rank bourgeois party would have done. This gave rise to tremendous resentment and discontent in common people there. RSS-BJP took advantage of that. On the other hand , in Assam where they were present with a strength to assert some influence, the CPI(M)- CPI refrained from fighting the chauvinism that had been raising its ugly head since 1979. Without combating it on ideological –political plane to ensure unity and fraternity of both Bengali and Assamese speaking people, they even made opportunistic electoral alliances with such forces for petty parliamentary gains, ignoring concrete proposals from the SUCI(C) to move ahead as a combination of left parties. Naturally this role of social democrats could pay dividend not just to the chauvinist forces , but in effect, with no viable alternative to the masses, the rabid rightist force of BJP romped through to the seat of power holding hands of the chauvinists and then bring out its own agenda of communalism. The present BJP win in north-eastern India is in no way a victory of the party by winning over the toiling people even with its brand of politics. Rather it is a sheer manifestation of opportunist politics in its own kind.
Rise of BJP in the north-eastern states casts ominous spell; the situation created all over the country is going to infect also the northeast. To thwart the impending danger, left and democratic forces need to forge unity and develop people’s democratic movements. Incorporated in that task, is the task of waging all-out ideological-political struggle against the thousand and one confusions BJP is trying to create. At the same time on the strength of genuine leftism people must be organized and united for sustained struggle. Such unity of toiling people cannot be materialized without correctly handling the question of unity of tribals and non-tribals, or between different ethnic or racial communities, making them conscious that the prime task for their survival lies in the fight against the common enemy, the capitalist system breeding all evils. Sustained democratic movements need also to embrace the specific demands of the north-east against extreme exploitation and oppression people here have to pass through, against utter neglect that the region had to suffer for decades together whoever may have been in the governmental power, against shameless political opportunism and treachery of their own people who have incited all kinds of chauvinism, parochialism and made fortune for themselves. Rise of BJP in north-eastern states have made these tasks still more urgent, have made them the need of the hour.