Could Deng Xiaoping be reborn in W Bengal?

Kolkata, August 28:

Is Buddhadeb Bhattacharya the Deng Xiaoping of Indian politics? The West Bengal chief minister’s ‘reform or perish’ line has caused a flutter in Indian communist circles. Many of his comrades in both his home state and in New Delhi are upset because his pro-market prescriptions run counter to their long-cherished ideological convictions. Their stand is that the economic reforms favoured by the Manmohan Singh government, with an emphasis on privatisation and curtailment of subsidies, are a direct assault on the Left’s ‘socialistic’ principles. They also see the reforms as steps being taken under pressure from the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the two institutions which the Indian communists associate with the ‘neo-imperialistic’ policies of the capitalistic world led by the US.

The Left also believes that last year’s defeat of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in India and of the Chandrababu Naidu government in Andhra Pradesh were the result of their pro-reforms policies, which supposedly angered the poor. This is one of their arguments against the pursuit of a similar line by the Manmohan Singh government. Bhattacharya, however, seems to think differently. Like Deng Xiaoping in China whose slogan was ‘to get rich is glorious’, he doesn’t see the capitalists as ‘class enemies’ or consider their profit motive to be despicable. Instead, he has realised that his state, rendered bankrupt by what he admits to be the ideological mistakes of his predecessors, needs private investment to emerge from its present economic slump. His contention is that foreign direct investment and disinvestment and even the sale of the loss-making public sector units are essential for development. He has also been exceptionally strong in his criticism of militant trade union tactics, to which he ascribes the decline of West Bengal as a leading industrial state during the last three decades of communist rule. He spares no words in saying that the comrades had once encouraged

‘irresponsible’ trade union practices. These were the kind of tactics that led to the flight of capital from West Bengal soon after the communists took over.

In trying to reverse the process, Bhattacharya has been welcoming investors, both domestic and foreign. Till recently, the communists in the state and in New Delhi watched is ‘deviation’ from socialism with growing horror. But now they have begun speaking up. First off the mark was the Communist Party of India’s Gurudas Dasgupta, who played a leading role in the labour agitation in the Honda in Gurgaon recently. Complaining that Manmohan Singh and others had ‘found that the easiest way to invite FDI was by the objective negation of labour laws’, Dasgupta said, “the same scenario prevails in West Bengal too”.

Although the New Delhi-based leaders of Bhattacharya’s party, the CPI-M, say that FDI is acceptable if it brings new technology, increases productivity and provides employment, their opposition to most of the initiatives taken by the present government on privatisation, disinvestments as well as labour and banking reforms has given the impression that the CPI-M is opposed to the very process of economic reforms. Irrespective of whether he can succeed in doing so, it is obvious that Bhattacharya has decided to strike out on his own to rescue his state from industrial stagnation.