THE Bengal Left Front has released the election manifesto for the forthcoming Panchayat elections. The three-tier Panchayat bodies operate at the levels of the villages (Gram Panchayat), Panchayat Samity (covering the rural blocks that are made up of dozens of villages) and the Zillah Parishad (representing the districts).
The present manifesto is overwhelmingly dominated by political imperatives. Such has been the laudable progress made in the development of the rural areas in terns of economy, society, and culture, that the earlier narration of the multifarious achievements of the Bengal Left Front is described in a manner that highlights the direction of the growth of the villages.
The Panchayat system of Bengal has attracted national and international attention. Teams of experts from all over the world – socialist as well as capitalist (the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez holding aloft an outsized watermelon during his visits to a rural farmland, and Canadian agricultural experts, and German farm owners staring with wonderment at the impressive and bustling participation of women in several all- women-run Panchayats in south and central Bengal respectively specialising in production of export-quality rice and wheat. These visits provide lasting images of those who savoured at first hand, the Panchayat-led village development schemes and programmes to try to understand the dynamics of rural development in Bengal.
The three-tier Panchayat system has put in place through an organised process a democratic decentralisation of fiscal, financial, and administrative powers, and an extensive political empowerment of the rural poor, massing them under the banner of the CPI(M) and the All India Kisan Sabha. The manifesto has called for more devolution of powers from the central to the state governments so that it results in the further empowerment of the people at the grassroots’ level.
As agricultural production has flourished along with agro-based cottage industries, there has been over the years an accumulation of a vast amount of purchasing power (to the tune of Rs 30,000 crore) in the hands of the rural folks -- men and women - kisans (peasants), the bidi (cigarillo) and handicrafts workers, agricultural labourers (khet mazdoors), sharecroppers (adhiyaars and bargadars) casual and migrant workers, the workers in the unorganised sectors including truck and tractor drivers, mechanics, lathe machine operators, and even headload carriers and brick-kiln workers, domestic workers, mostly women.
Prior to 1977 (when the Bengal Left Front was swept to office riding the crest of a vast popular wave) the rural people had been literally at the bottom of social and economic scale eking out a miserable living, overwhelmingly hegemonised by the superior landed elements like the zamindars (the traditional landlords having political power and social prowess,) and jotdars (or rich peasants) and their patrons in the Congress and later by the political fronts of the Hindu and Muslim religious fundamentalist outfits.
The redistributive land reforms by which more than 95 per cent of the rural land plots now belong to the rural poor has also served to change the correlation of class forces. The three-tier Panchayati raj, according to peasant activist and AIKS leader, Benoy Konar and the Bengal Left Front government’s Panchayat minister Dr Surjya Kanta Mishra, is the instrument of both political and economic changes in the vast and populous countryside of Bengal.
Elucidating in brief the basic achievements of the Panchayati raj under Left Front governance, Dr Surjya Mishra tells us that according to the report for the financial year 2007-2008 of the central government, 11.25 lakhs of acres of land have been re-distributed in West Bengal amongst 29.5 lakhs of people. This is one-fifth of the total land redistributed in the country. In the year 2007, we have provided nearly 47,000 kisan families with patta rights of khas (vested in the government) land.
Of the families who have benefited from land reforms in the country from independence, 54 per cent belong to West Bengal. The total number of bargadars, pattadaars, and receivers of homestead plots number almost half-a-crore in total. Two-thirds of the beneficiaries belong to the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and minority communities.
Agricultural production has increased through land reforms, extension of irrigation, use of higher quality and improved variety of seeds, and the utilisation of chemical and bio-fertilisers. Over the past 17 years, the rate of annual increase of food crops production (1.2 per cent) has slipped below the rate of increase of the country’s population (1.9 per cent). We hear the footfalls of famine in the country.
On the other hand, in this period, the rate of growth of agricultural production in West Bengal is at an all-time high and stands at twice the rate of the population growth. West Bengal tops the country in production of rice, jute, betel leaf, vegetables, pineapple, and fish. The state holds the second position in production of potato, and litchi. We export flowers and fruits produced in West Bengal. The opposition is not able to live with and acknowledge this sea-change in West Bengal.
The state tops the country, for the financial year 2006-2007, with regard to issuance of job cards for 100 days’ guaranteed job per year to families who have been provided with jobs. Under the centrally sponsored ‘Sahay’ scheme, people who are unable to do physical labour are being provided with cooked food. Is there any other state in the country that has Panchayats running more than 20,000 child and secondary education centres? Which state in the country can be proud of winning so many prizes in the ‘Environmentally Clean’ Nirmal Gram’ category? The population of West Bengal’s award-winning Panchayats comprise 40 per cent of the populace of the whole country.
Which other state in India, asks Biman Basu, state secretary of the Bengal unit of the CPI(M) can be proud of having 60 lakh members of 7.34 lakh self-help groups? These groups are presently being organised as Sanghas based on the Panchayats and Mahasanghas based on Panchayat samities. A Mahasangha of a block in Tamluk has created business worth seven crore rupees in one year. The three past decades have witnessed poverty removed most from the rural areas of West Bengal. However, a lot more has to be done. 4612 villages were identified as backward and special developmental programmes have been taken up for them.
LEFT FRONT PROGRAMME
The Left Front would like to place before the electorate a programme that would further strengthen and help accelerate the pro-people, especially pro-poor activities of the Panchayats and provide a sustained rural growth.
1. The LF needs more decentralisation from the central government to the state government. There is urgent need for more self-governance for the national interest to provide more self-governance to the Panchayats. The Left Front needs more powers to the Panchayats in order to empower the people further.
2. The struggle for making self-governance a surety at each level of the Panchayat in each sector will be sharpened. The Left Front is determined to have a reordering the financial and administrative powers in such manner that would make sure that decision-making and implementation, which is possible at the lower levels, do not get transferred to the remnants of the upper echelons of the rural society.
3. Importance will be attached to strengthen the base of acceleration, efficiency, honesty, transparency, compassion, and accountability in functioning and a training programme will be arranged in continuous manner on modernisation an utilisation of appropriate technology. The basic aim of all this would be to place the people in the leading role and to attach to the mainstream of class struggle the struggle for empowerment of the weakest section of the people.
4. The Left front will initiate a political programme to achieve the targets set above A drive will be taken to involve in the process all the people of the area irrespective of political affiliation.
5. The Left Front will employ its full strength and goodwill for the implementation on a priority basis food security for all, shelter or all, total literacy, supply of potable water for all, and total health campaign. Special initiative will be st in motion on such important issues as providing social security to people who no longer able to toil physically, to involve girls and women of financially handicapped families into the process of learning and education to plug the source of illiteracy, spread education among the minority communities, and involve every adult worker in the literacy programme
6. The Left Front have to accomplish within the next five years, a target of setting up 10 lakhs of self help group (that are largely run by women).as well as organisation of training programmes for qualitative improvement of the products and setting up a stronger marketing mechanism.
7. Priorities will continued to be attached to animal resources development, agricultural development including fisheries, diversification, spread and increase of intensity of irrigation and agriculture through conservation of water and soil, use of bio fertilisers and other biotechnology etc. The cooperative movement must be extended to free kisans from loan sharks’ loans.
8. The gaps that yet persist in issues concerning the development and maintenance of rural road network, electrification, communication, and markets shall be filled up. An initiative will be taken to set up a few examples of rural urbanisation, while developing municipal services in villages.
9. Small and medium industries shall be set in rural areas, and there will be diversification and modernisation of cottage industries.
10. The ongoing programmes and schemes for development and social security of khet mazdoors, workers of the unorganised sector, members of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, minorities, women, and children will be reviewed and the drives shall be made wider and more integrated.
11. In implementing the programmes the special priority attached to the backward districts, blocks and 4612 villages shall continue and the progress made will be regularly assessed.
The appeal of the West Bengal Left Front before the electorate on the eve of the Seventh Panchayat General Election is –
Defeat the unprincipled and so-called ‘grand alliance’ of the forces of reaction that represent imperialist globalisation and liberalisation, communalism, separatism and divisiveness
Build up a grand alliance of all working people, and of all democratic-minded, secular, and patriotic people, irrespective of religion and caste, and ensure a big win for Left Front nominated candidates in each constituency
Develop a better and an improved Panchayati system, with a class outlook, based on the development of villages, and founded on the complete unity and empowerment of the working people, on agricultural growth, on industrialisation, on human resources development, on self-help, and on generation of more employment