Socio-cultural changes in rural West Bengal
The emergence of broad rural support in West Bengal for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) is here studied through the history (1960 to present) of two villages in Burdwan district. The focus is on the relationship between the dynamics of village politics and political and ideological changes of the larger polity. Village politics constitutes an important realm of informal rules for political action and public participation where popular perceptions of wider political events and cultural changes are created. The communist mobilization of the late 1960s followed from an informal alliance formed between sections of the educated (and politicized) middle-class peasantry and certain groups (castes) of poor. The middle-class peasantry drew inspiration from Bengal's high-status and literary but radicalized tradition. However, the establishment and dynamics of the alliance, at the local level, can only be understood within the normative framework of the village. The poor appeared previously as marginal to public exercise of village affairs, but were nonetheless able to manipulate resources available to them (numbers, assertion, norms) and thus achieve some leverage vis-a-vis village leaders dependent on man-support or "moral economy" sentiments for legitimacy. The interests of these groups of poor, particularly of the social or cultural kind since the material resources available were very limited, became crucial in the bonds village leaders sought to create to retain their support. Following on this practice, also the CPM's local party leadership, in the 1980s and 1990s, consistently confirmed social aspirations and status considerations. This leads to the conclusions that not only do communist movements too depend on considerations of social status, honours, and symbolic displays of respect but that the scope for change and the manner in which the communist movement can function at the local level derive from popular perceptions, formed and enacted in villages.