Both social and professional friends - from school mates to fellow politicians in Delhi to journalists and old colleagues - have often told me that I seem to be a fairly easy-going person until the discussion moves to the CPI(M). "At that point," a friend laughingly said, "even in a living room, you seem to be speaking like you are on a television debate."
The remark was meant as a jibe but got me thinking. It is true. My response to the CPI(M) is emotional and personal, It is one of the key reasons why I entered politics under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee, confident that only she and the Trinamool Congress could unseat the Communists in West Bengal. But nevertheless, my emotional and personal hostility to the CPI(M)'s politics is based on hard facts and data. It is the story of a tragedy that we have lived through in West Bengal from 1977 to 2011. (I was a teenager when the CPI(M) came to power.)
That is why, while I want my party, Trinamool, to win the 2016 assembly election - and I am confident that we will win - I also want the CPI(M) to lose badly so that Bengal doesn't have to ever suffer them again. These two goals may seem the same, but they are not. They speak for the mess we inherited in 2011. An economist friend studied the state of Bengal's economy just before the election that year and gave us a report. He handed me the document with the preface: "They are leaving you with the aftermath of a war zone, the economy and social fabric are both in tatters. The next government's mandate is not so much to revive Bengal as to reconstruct it."
Those words still ring in my ears. The CPI(M) took the vitality out of Bengal; for me and my generation, it sucked away the best years of our youth. My university - Calcutta University - and the rich intellectual atmosphere of the education institutions in the College Street area, including my alma mater, Scottish Church College, were wrecked.
I grant you that trouble had been building since the Naxalite violence in the late 1960s-early 1970s. But that was a law and order issue, not so much about the politicisation of education and its administration. It was under the CPI(M) that good, apolitical teachers and professors were hounded out of the University and the city, Colleges became recruiting grounds for the CPI(M) and the oppression by its youth wing was so evident that ordinary students were scared.
Vice-Chancellors and college principals cowered before the local CPI(M) strongman. The Education Secretary in the state secretariat, a professional civil servant, and the academics on College Street were forced to take orders from party bosses and their henchmen. The principle was not academic excellence, it was thought control. The control mechanism went down to the level of schools.
The budget for all such institutions was centralised, which put an unnecessary burden on the state exchequer and crowded out non-government funding, with long-term consequences. For the 34 years of CPI(M) rule, it meant that the party officials who controlled the purse-strings also controlled educational institutions, curriculum, transfers and postings- everything.
One instrument to control educational institutions was unionisation. The academic and teachers' community was divided ("sliced and diced" would be a better expression) by wholesale CPI(M) hijacking of bodies such as the All-Bengal Teachers' Association and the West Bengal College and University Teachers' Association. So busy was the Communist government with all this that hardly any new institutions of consequence were set up.
In the past five years, one doesn't have to be a Trinamool partisan to realise that the atmosphere of academic and intellectual freedom has improved dramatically on our campuses. 15 new universities and 46 new colleges have been set up. An incremental 2,500 primary, 3,500 middle and 1,815 high schools have been added. Above all, more than 50,000 teachers have been employed in schools and colleges - and nobody has asked questions about their voting preferences. That just doesn't matter.
Getting anguished about universities and their sabotage by the CPI(M) may seem an elitist pastime in a country of such poverty and grim inequalities. Yet, it was not as if the CPI(M)'s single-minded dictatorial streak was any different in rural Bengal. The same cynical and self-serving mindset applied - "Obey the CPI(M) or get pushed out".
I got a first-hand taste of this between 2005 and 2008 when I visited Singur (Hooghly district) and Nandigram (Midnapore). In both areas, the CPI(M)-led government decided to hand over vast tracts of multi-crop agricultural land to industrial groups to build factories. The manner in which land was sought to be acquired was a stunning display of muscle and cynicism, backed by the might of the state and the police.
In Nandigram, 14 farmers were shot and killed in police firing. Protesting farmers and their families were mercilessly beaten by CPI(M) hoodlums. In Singur, the then government claimed 95 per cent of farmers had voluntarily given up their land and accepted compensation. Actually, they had been brutalised and tortured, women had been raped, and signatures had been faked. I saw it firsthand and was witness to the valiant struggle in Singur led by Mamata Banerjee. I realised then that the CPI(M) leadership had lost its very humanity. It had become a curse on the people of Bengal.
Let's take just one example. Surya Kanta Mishra, then Minister of Health, set up six Sick Newborn Care Units (SNCUs) during his tenure. In the last five years, the government has set up 48 such SNCUs and also provides free medicines to the less fortunate.
Mishra's record had been so tarnished that any decent man would have retired from public life, unsure of what face to show.
Instead, Comrade Mishra is now General Secretary of the CPI(M) in Bengal and brazen enough to criticise the Trinamool government. As Abhishek Banerjee, Lok Sabha MP and leader of the Trinamool youth wing, recently said, "Wherever Surya Kanta Mishra decides to stand from this time, he would lose by 30,000 votes. Now he calls himself a former minister. Soon he would be calling himself a former MLA."
I cannot think of a better summary of the state of the CPI(M). This is like Nadir Shah coming back to Delhi and wanting to win a democratic election.(Derek O'Brien is leader, Parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.