Conversion of Parliamentarism to

Social Fascism:

An Indian Experience


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Panchayat System: Spreading corruption and illusion to grass roots

Mr. Anil Biswas, the State Secretary of the CPI(M), writes like an obstinate reformist, after 25 years of the ‘Left’ front that:

"A fundamental transformation in the agrarian sector is not possible without the extension of democracy to the grassroots through the Panchayati Raj. With its three tiers – Gram Panchayat at the village level, Panchayat Samiti at the block level, and Zilla Parishad at the district level – the Panchayat system has become the main agent of the state government budget, …"145 By this time the sixth Panchayat elections are over, leaving behind a trail of barbarity, bloods and gagging all voices of the opposition to the CPI(M) within and without the ‘Left’ Front.

The parliamentarism of the CPI(M) held high hopes of spreading to the grass roots through all conceivable means in order to solidify its base and control the rural administration by way of projecting the panchayats as an extension of democracy. What the victory in the legislative assemblies could not perfectly do has been brought about through the Panchayats in West Bengal.

The dirty parliamentarism, expressed by Mr. Anil Biswas as, "A fundamental transformation in the agrarian sector" has been materialized by setting the illusion of people’s panchayats as centers of alternative power, by making panchayats become the centers of distribution of small money, odd jobs, contracts and sundry other favours to consolidate the power base of the CPM and other parties at the grass roots.

Under British rule, Lord Ripon toyed with the idea of so-called decentralization in 1892. In the post 1947 period, under the auspices of American advisors, some development programmes were initiated in India. In West Bengal the first Panchayat Act in 1956 endorsed a two-tier panchayat. In 1973 when the S. S. Ray ministry was in power the current Panchayat Act came into force and it prescribed the current 3-tier Panchayat system. When in June 1978 the elections for the Panchayats were held, the then CPM leader and ‘Left’ Front Chairman Mr. Pramode Dasgupta formulated four basic policies (1) Develop Panchayats into a political organization (2) Panchayat should be the arena of struggle against vested interests (3) Dwarf the power of rural bureaucrats (4) Change the existing class relations.146

Now after 26 years of ‘Left’ experience in the Panchayat, what we encounter in the real life experience is just the reverse of the avowed policies in the most naked form. The first flush of enthusiasm over the Panchayat system, with the participation of a section of peasantry and the ‘Operation barga’ programme, along with some localized development programmes fizzled out with the unfolding years. The Panchayats turned out to be the center of vested interests. The ‘Left’ Front uninterruptedly preaches that the twin impact of land reforms and panchayats has caused a great leap in the production of food crops. But various studies have clearly shown that it is inputs like HYV seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, tractors, shallow (mini pumps), submersible pumps, i.e. the implementation of ‘Green Revolution’ policy, that has been the major cause for the temporary rise in food crops.

Panchayats are highlighted as institutions of participatory democracy. In reality panchayats now function in an obviously bureaucratic fashion. It is in the Act that gram sansads must meet every November and May to recommend action plans and scrutinize the work done. "Ten percent of all villagers must be present at these meetings to form the quorum, but this is seldom achieved," says Ichhapur Gram Panchayat pradhan Prabhati Goswami.147

Corruption and Panchayats

Soon after the Panchayat elections stung by bitter criticism and exposure of corruption by the media and other political parties, the CPM ultimately called a two-day state committee meeting in end May 2003 regarding monitoring of panchayat funds. The CPM state committee emphasized the need to enforce discipline among panchayat functionaries belonging to the CPM.(The Statesman, 31st May, 2003) But how can the CPM check the rot of plunging into the sea of corruption while being a major party in the corruption breeding institutions?

Apathy or indifference is the major reason why the rural people generally stay away from gram sansad and gram sabha meetings. A BDO in Bishnupur subdivision says that mass participation is lacking in the panchayats because of political squabbling at the village level.148 CPM General Secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet deftly claimed that "This participatory democracy involving the entire rural masses of West Bengal has shaken the vested interests to the core and instilled fear in them …"149 This is nothing but pure and simple distortion of facts. As the CPI(M) has been controlling an overwhelming majority in the Panchayats as well as state legislative assembly, it is naturally the main villain.

In fact all political parties including the TMC, BJP, Congress (I) try to run the Panchayats as their fiefdoms, riding roughshod over the people and their opponents. "This distancing of the people from the panchayats is why meetings of the gram sabha and the gram sansad rarely have quorums even after they were made mandatory in an amendment to the panchayat Act in 2001. This is why the panchayat bodies get away with not submitting accounts or utilization certificates year after year. With declining people’s involvement, it becomes easier for corrupt pradhans to carry on, if they enjoy the confidence of the majority party."150 In Fact the panchayat raj is the other name of CPM raj. People’s participation in the panchayat functioning is nominal.

The village people considerd the panchayats as local offices of the state governments. In the Gram Sabha meetings people seldom attend. "In the month of November 2002 the total participation of the voters in gram sansad meetings was a meager 11 percent in West Bengal. This proves that out of each 10 voters 9 do not bother about budget of the village panchayat, audit report, development plans. They do not consider that their presence will at all influence the functioning of the panchayat."151

In most cases the decisions of the party are passed through the panchayats and thus panchayats have turned into centers of basically CPM bureaucrats. For the illusion that panchayats can alter the landscape of rural West Bengal many people knock at the doors of the panchayat for economic gains. The CPM cries hoarse that it has ensured 33% participation of women in the panchayats. The indifference of women voters to the gram sansad meetings belies the claim of rising political consciousness of the rural women. In November 2002 at the gram sansad meetings only 2% women could be present.152 This dismisses the claim that women are proactive in the grassroots ‘democracy’ in rural Bengal. Surya Kanta Mishra, the minister for panchayat and village development as well as CPM C.C. member gave the fantastic call "It is imperative to make the meetings of gram sansad as the centers of class struggle of two sides."153

What has actually turned out is the reverse. Panchayats are now the centers of looting money and corrupting people at the grassroots. The CPI(M) literature also casually admits that "There is no room for complacency despite the fact that the meetings of gram sansad are going well. Still now most of the members’ participation cannot be ensured. It is a failure for not involving the people of all walks of life. In some places the escape route from the legal way of quorum is taken recourse to by conducting ‘adjourned’ meetings due to non-materialization of quorum. In many meetings there is absence of vibrancy…"154

In fact, like the parliament or legislative assembly, the panchayats are meant for crushing class struggle. The state government juggled statistics to show that decentralization has indeed been carried out at the grass roots level and the poor man was empowered. A survey conducted in 6,019 villages in Midnapore and Burdwan districts – the strongholds of the CPI(M) – reveals that 53.8 percent of the panchayat members are landowners owning in excess of six acres of land, or teachers and ‘social workers’. Farm labourers constitute only 8.3 percent of the members. The same scenario emerges from Hooghly and Bankura. Poor panchayat members with primary level education constitute just 5 percent.154a

The unprecedented rise in CPM terror and clashes leading to a good number of deaths, apparently for democracy through panchayats do not stem from any clash of principles or class struggle. This current panchayat elections have shattered the illusion of democracy. The number of seats won uncontested by the ‘Left’ Front was 338 in 1978, 332 in 1983 and 1,716 in 1993. It had risen to 4,200 in 1988 but dipped to 600 in 1998 but jumped to 6,800 in 2003. The ‘Marxist’ CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharja also had to ask in writing to his "party men to abide by democratic norms and not to prevent opposition candidates from filing nominations for panchayat polls."155

This was a clear proof that the CPI(M) was in an obstinate mood to win panchayat polls by hook or by crook. The CPM itself won uncontested in 31 Zilla Parishad seats, which never happened in the past. The opposition, on the last days of withdrawal, claimed that at least in 832 places the CPM made forced withdrawals.156 The Left Front constituent, the R.S.P., too claimed CPM high handedness, and their two ministers were manhandled by CPM goons just before the polls. The R.S.P. alone was locked in a straight fights with the Big Brother CPI(M) in 4,500 seats, so also Forward Block, another L.F. partner entered into straight fights with the CPI(M) in as many as 1,000 seats. The CPI too could not reach a deal on about 150 seats.157 More than that, upto the poll date at least 47 people were murdered in inter-party clashes.158

The trail of murder continued even after the polls. The relevant and crucial question is why the CPM had to resort to such fascist tactics of terrorizing even the ‘Left’ Front partners leading to such an unprecedented blood bath in rural West Bengal? The ‘Left’ Front Election Manifesto issued on 11 May, 2003 boastfully stated that "West Bengal has played the role of an advanced bastion for protest, resistance and democracy uninterruptedly for 26 years amidst this countrywide crisis and encountering danger to democracy and secularism…. The wheel of ‘Left’ Front’s victory is on course basing on the struggles for land and democracy…"159

Through huge bloodshed, terrorization, looting and destruction of property, rape of women etc, what West Bengal witnessed during the Panchayat polls is in no sense related to the just struggle for ‘land and democracy’, let alone the tall claim that the ‘Left’ Front has played the pivotal role in protest and other resistance movements of the common people. There is the steady erosion of the CPM vote bank. In 1978, the CPM had captured 61.03 percent and in the last elections to the panchayats the percentage was 49.72.160 This sounded alarm for the CPI(M).

Even if we leave apart the mastery of the CPM leadership in the art of rigging, this erosion of vote bank has signalled something that obviously spurred the CPM on to the path of violence in order to cling to power by using muscle power with the assistance of the administration. It is a stark reality that in West Bengal, any movement for land or any other just demands of the rural poor by the CPM is clearly non-existent. The CPM is now more interested, as its documents prove, in the implementation of a new agricultural policy oriented to market. What emphatically comes to the fore is the pertinent question, the key to the treasury’s locker. Panchayats are no longer looked upon merely as a means to lay new roads, dig ponds, create man days, unearth surplus land for distribution among the landless or record the names of bargadars. They have turned into moneymaking machines. The state government spends 50 percent of its budget allocation through the panchayats. Uday Basu questions in the Statesman.161 "Who can resist the lure of lucre, especially, when the bait is being dangled before men who have spent their livelihood in poverty and hunger?"

What we add is that when politicization in the truly Marxist orientation is non-existent, when electoral politics is the major concern and when militant peasant struggle is dismissed by the CPM bosses, the CPM panchayat leaders and their near ones automatically jump to the bait of money. So in the panchayat poll campaigns defalcation of funds by panchayat members at all stages remain the crucial charge against each other cc Rs. 50,000. Multiply it by five. This is a huge lot of money in any village in West Bengal. And that is up for grabs." writes one journal.162

In the villages, the pradhan and the upa-pradhan decide which road is to be built, which health center needs repair, how many tube wells are to be sunk and more importantly which contractors are to be entrusted with these jobs. The CPI state secretary Manju Mazumdar said just before the recent panchayat polls: "The Zilla parishads handle anything between Rs. 200 and Rs. 400 cores a year. For the panchayat samitis it is around 50 lakhs each year. More than a political fight, the panchayat polls are turning out to be violent battles for money."163

Not only the CPM all the parliamentary political parties are involved in this game of money and power. Even rivalry over money sources is evident in the CPM factions. Sasan in Barasat in the 24 Parganas (North) is a case in point. Sasan in Barasat II block is dominated by the faction led by Mr. Amitabha Nandy, a member of the CPM district committee, opponent of the state transport minister, Mr. Subhas Chakraborty. There are several fisheries in the area and who can wrest control of the fisheries will be in power in Sasan, Kaifhul and Kirtipur villages.164

Corruption in panchayat functioning has been the order of the day. When it comes to paying income tax, the states 3-tier panchayati raj has proved to be habitual defaulters in depositing amounts accrued from tax deducted at source of the employees.165 In any ease this greed for money led to factional fights in the CPM too, during elections. Parliamentarism, specially the projection of panchayats as the repository of people’s power has been deliberately and diabolically placed before the people to divert them from the path of establishing real alternative power centers smashing the class rule of power holders in the villages.

The overwhelming greed for power, money and the artificially created illusion that parliament, assembly or panchayat will help solve the gigantic problems in an unequal society are all the offshoots of rabid parliamentarism of the revisionist CPM, CPI and other parties. Even person like Prabhat Dutta, the CPM’s propagandist, singing the glory of the panchayat system in West Bengal tacitly admitted, "There is an increasing trend of bureaucratization in the panchayats. Panchayat offices with the passage of time are turning into government offices…. Like in the cities, in the villages also self-centeredness is sprouting. All this cannot be put to a stop. The village people have the right to watch the T.V. The problem is emerging when the colour of consciousness is undergoing a change."

Buddhadeb held out the threat "If trouble is created, I shall crush the heads" during the panchayat polls.166 And what we witnessed during the panchayat polls, was the crushing of all democratic norms and the ugly head of social-fascism. Fuming at the incident of the heckling of Mr. Biswanth Chowdhury, an RSP minister of the "Left" Front by the CPM cadres just before an election meeting at Hilli in South Dinajpur on 26 April, 2003, the RSP state secretary MR. Debabrata Bandyopadhyay told "It is incredible that CPI(M) cadre are not even sparing a minister, belonging to our party…"167

Mr. Bandyopadhyay cited examples of CPI(M)’s "coercion against his partymen" who were forced to withdraw from the contest at several gram panchayats in several districts. Smarting under the humiliation at the hands of CPM goon’s the RSP leader Biswanath Chowdhury even toyed with the idea of boycotting the Panchayat polls.(Times of India, 27 April, 2003) The State PWD minister Mr. Amar Chowdhury even wrote to the Chief Minister on 12 May, 2003, narrating his case of heckling by CPM-backed goons that "This incident shows that there is death of democracy in the state."168

The relations between the CPM, the Big Brother and the RSP like constituents nosedived but as those small parties had sensed the losing of opportunities of parliamentary power and the attendant benefits, they declared trouce even after so much humiliation and started licking their wounds.

A.K Gopalan’s initial fear about the Trap of Corruption in Parliamentary politics and the present whole-sale corruption

Mr. A.K.Gopalan, the founder member of the CPI(M),the leader of the opposition in Parliament in 1952, stated as initial fear "I found myself in an environment calculated to ruin a man. First class travel, comfortable chambers in parliament, surfeit of money, magnificent quarters, and a life free of heavy responsibility. All circumstances favorable to a life of pleasure. Is anything more necessary to turn a man’s head? …… Communists like me who had suffered for want of shelter for a night’s sleep, for want of money to pay for our tea and bus fare, and who were scoffed at by the elite of society, were particularly liable to be spoilt by this sudden onset of luxury." (A.K.Gopalan, In the Cause of the People, Sangam Books, Orient Longman, 1973, New Delhi, pp 181-82)

The irony of histoy is that Mr. A.K.Gopalan, with the passage of time, got habituated with the luxaries of parliamentarism and became the leader of the gang of hypocrats, using the names of Marx and Lenin in the Parliamentary arena.

The post 1977 period confirmed the extent of corruption that engulfed the whole CPM structure. Nepotism, elite privilege, taking lump sum money from land sharks, realtors, privileged life-style of the party leaders and placements of their kins in lucrative jobs, defalcation of millions of rupees allocated for various projects at various levels, etc. perfectly ensure the moral standards of this parliamentary ruling class party on a par with the Congress and such other rotton reactionary parties. Mr. Jyoti Basu’s own son Chandan Basu skyrocketed to a millionaire in the last two decades from a petty staffer of a company earning a few hundred per month. Mr. Jyoti Basu, the CPM PB member and CM of West Bengal had to send an SOS in order to save his son Chandan "to the BJP prime minister’s son-in-law to halt the raid on his office and which request was prombly acted upon…"(Editor, in the Letter column, The Statesman, 6 March 2003)

This is the way how the Income Tax Department was prevented by the nexus of the CPM and BJP to save the great "Marxist’s" son! One after another scandal involved this corrupt Left Front government. The illegal transfer of Waqf property has risen three times between 1977 and 1995. While between 1947 and 1976 such illegal transfers were recorded at 159 cases, under the "Left" Front in the above-mentioned period it stood at a staggering 495 cases and the so-called commission comprising three top CPM leaders inclusive of CPM minister for Waqf property has already gathered dust allowing the land sharks to do roaring business with impunity.(Sambad Pratidin, 28 April, 2003) All such instances cited above are a tip of an iceberg. Unchecked parliamentarism begets corruption and corruption sustains such despicable parliamentarism having, the sole motto of clinging to power as a ruling class party. Social fascism is a natural result of this degeneration.


145. Anil Biswas, West Bengal Towards an Alternative Form of Governance in the Indian Union, The Marxist, April – June 2002, p. 22

146. Cited in Prabhat Dutta, Grame Khamatar bikendrikaran: Paschimbanger Abhigyyata In Marxbadi Path, February 2003, p. 8

147. The Times of India, April 128, 2003

148. Ibid

149. Harkishan Sing Surjeet, Panchayat Polls In Bengal, People’s Democracy, April 28- May 4, 2003

150. The Telegraph, 7 May 2003

151. Mansendu Kundu, Panchayati Raj na Parti Raj, Desh, 4 May, 2003, p. 32.

152. Mansendu Kundu, Ibid. p. 34

153. Quoted in Prabhat Dutta, Ibid. p. 14

154. Prabhat Dutta, Ibid p. 15

154a. Raghab Bandyopadhyay, Agrarian Backdrop of Bengal Violence, Economic and Political Weekly, February 3-10, 2001.

155. The Statesman, 16 April 2003

156. Ananda Bazar Patrika, 24 April, 2003

157. The Telegraph, 11 May 2003

158. The Statesman, May 12, 2003

159. Nirbachani Istahar, Paschimbanga Panchayat nirbachan (Election Manifesto, West Bengal 6th Panchayat election), Bamfront

Committee, West Bengal, p. 7.

160. Raghab Bandyopadhya, Agrarian Blackdrop. Ibid. p. 440

161 The Statesman, 11 May, 2003

162. Aloke Banerjee, Money makes the votes go round, Times of India, 11 May 2003

163. Aloke Banejee, Ibid

164. The Statesman, 8 May 2003

165. The Statesman 8 May, 2003

166. Sambad Pratidin, 27 April 2003

167. The Sunday Statesman, 27 April 2003

168. The Statesman, 13 May, 2003


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