The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-dominated government in the Indian state of West Bengal has finally met its end after an uninterrupted reign of 35 years. It was the longest surviving democratically elected Communist regime. After coming to power, it did institute a major programme of land reforms in the state. However, beyond this early contribution they flung loose reins to obstreperous labour unions, thereby contributing to the de-industrialization of the state and to a secular decline in law and order. Under their watch, the state’s share of manufacturing output tumbled from 13 percent to 3 percent.
Worse still, they proceeded to politicize every possible institution, ranging from the civil service to the police. Not content with their ideological penetration of these entities, they also tampered with school and university curricula, they appointed university administrators on the basis of their political affiliations and they contributed to the flight of an entire generation of talented, young Bengalis to other parts of the country.
In this election, fiery, populist leader, Mamata Banerjee—working with the Trinamool Congress in conjunction with other parties—secured 225 of the state’s 294 seats. Following this rout, the Communists and their allies now have a mere 63 seats. But despite the overwhelming majority that Banerjee and her allies now command in the state’s legislative assembly, it won’t prove smooth sailing for the new government.
More than a generation of individuals and groups who were the acolytes of the Communists are well-ensconced in key positions within the bureaucracy and other institutions of the state. Despite the loss of their long-standing patrons, they won’t take kindly to the new political landscape. Instead, they can be counted on to stir up trouble for the new government in the weeks and months ahead. Though the Communist bastion has finally been breached, their members won’t go gently into the good night.