Kolkata's Communists Face EvictionBy
For the first time, Rajesh Babani won't vote for West Bengal's communists, joining a revolt that may end the rule of the world's longest-serving elected Marxist government. The reason: His two sons can't find jobs.
"Almost everyone around here is searching for work," says Babani, 43, as he leans against the wall of a teashop painted with the Left Front's hammer-and-sickle motifs in a slum in Kolkata, the state capital. Babani, who works only 100 days a year as a roadsweeper, will vote in elections that started on Apr. 18. Polls say the state will be won by the All India Trinamool Congress party, an ally of the ruling Congress coalition in Delhi.
Elections in West Bengal and four other regions could oust three state governments, sending a message to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Indian National Congress Party that voters are angry about jobs, food prices, and corruption. With 130 million people set to join the workforce in the next decade, the nation must boost labor-intensive manufacturing to avoid public unrest. "A volatile mass of young people out of work will pose major problems for social stability," said Jahangir Aziz, an economist at JPMorgan Chase (JPM) in Mumbai. Manufacturing contributed just 16 percent of India's gross domestic product in 2009, compared with 42 percent in China, U.N. data show.
After taking power in 1977, the communists handed out land to 1.5 million farmers and imposed controls on industry. Later the communists did an about-face, announced tax breaks to lure companies, and bought farmland for industry. Yet farmers, often organized by Trinamool Congress, rejected the deals. The clashes that started in 2007 killed 14 people. The communists were accused of deploying gangs to disperse protesters; they deny instigating the violence.
In the communists' headquarters, where portraits of Joseph Stalin and Ho Chi Minh hang, State Secretary Biman Bose bats away claims that the party abandoned farmers. "We are both pro-business and pro-poor," he says. Voters like Rajesh Babani have more basic concerns. "All I want is the opportunity to work," he says.
The bottom line: The likely demise of Marxist rule in West Bengal state may send a signal that voters of every party are tired of India's stalled politics.