ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Missed Goals

Government as Practice: Democratic Left in a Transforming India by Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2016; pp xx+273, ₹750, hardback.

Since the fall of the Left Front government in West Bengal in 2011 and the concomitant decline of the parliamentary strength of the left parties in India, there has been a profusion of academic studies that try to understand the slump in the fortunes of an once-influential political force. Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya’s book has come at a time when the Communist Party of India (Marxist)—CPI(M)-led Left Front is making a desperate attempt to stage a comeback in the state where it had ruled uninterruptedly for more than three decades. Going by the messy electoral alignment opted by the front, one doubts whether the serious questions raised by many, even those sympathetic to the Left Front, have had much impact on its judgment or modus operandi.

While studying the left, primarily the CPI(M), Bhattacharyya has kept his focus on West Bengal, delving into the making and unmaking of the Left Front government. In the process he has traversed the history of six decades of Bengal, especially the last three decades. This understanding has been condensed within five chapters. Chapter 1 on “inception,” outlines the post-independence history of the Indian left through its experiences in Bengal and traces the emergence of the CPI(M) as the most significant left force and leader of the Left Front, which finally wrested power in 1977. The chapter then goes on to discuss the consolidation of the front’s rule through its policies of land reforms and democratic decentralisation, laying down the theoretical framework of “government as practice.” The following two chapters contain an elaborate and critical analysis of land reforms and panchayati raj, the two most crucial and innovative policy interventions under the front. Bhattacharyya notes the successes as well as limitations of the Left Front’s endeavour in bringing about agrarian change and social reform.

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