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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 June 2007, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Bengal left celebrates 30 years
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Women celebrate 30 years of left wing rule at the rally
Thousands of people in the state celebrated
The ruling left coalition in the Indian state of West Bengal has completed a country record of 30 years of uninterrupted power.

Thousands of its supporters waved red flags and sang revolutionary songs as they marched to Calcutta's Netaji Stadium to hear their leaders speak.

They celebrated the government's land, agricultural and industrial reforms.

But hundreds of opposition supporters also gathered at the nearby Shahid Minar, waving black flags.

Members of the Trinamul Congress Party condemned the "nightmare of three decades of left oppression".

But most experts say the opposition is unlikely to remove the state's long-serving government in the immediate future.

'Doubly impressive'

"They have several years left in power because the opposition here is confused and divided," political economist Abhirup Sarkar wrote in a leading Bengali daily.

Very rarely has an elected government - and certainly not an elected left government - survived for so long anywhere in the world.

The celebrations were attended by 93-year-old former Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, who holds the record as India's longest serving chief minister.

Opposition Trinamul Congress supporters in Calcutta
Opposition supporters carried an effigy of the chief minister

"What makes the left's achievement doubly impressive is that this is a coalition and not a one-party government," said political analyst Ashok Mukopadhyay.

"We are going to break a world record, so we will celebrate this occasion in style," said Bengal Left Front chairman Biman Bose.

"But this time, we have to deliver on industry and employment, so we may have to take a few unpleasant decisions for the good of our people."

The communist-led coalition was returned to power for a seventh term last year, pushing a reformist programme to rejuvenate Bengal's ailing industrial sector and generate greater employment.

Violent protests

They say they have made a series of impressive achievements over the last three decades, including land reforms (more than 1m hectares of land redistributed amongst poor peasants) and agriculture (annual output has risen several times).

Farmers in West Bengal
Farmers once supported the government, but many now do not

They have also drawn attention to their efforts to develop more self-government for rural parts of the state, as well as their push to receive more outside industrial investment.

The country's biggest steel plant coming is being built in the state.

But as they tried to acquire land for investors planning to set up these big plants, the state government ran into violent protests from farmers whose land was acquired from the rich through a vigorous reform programme pursued by the left after they first came to power.

"This is a classic case of one-time beneficiaries turning victims, of vote-banks turning hostile," says Sabyasachi Basu Ray Choudhury, who teaches politics and government at Calcutta's Rabindra Bharati University.

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