History of an Excel Sheet: Congress & the Left
Microsoft Excel based Spreadsheets have a long chequered history. A Harvard Business School student, Dan Bricklin, had to do some data analysis for his case study. He had two choices; (a) do it by hand, (b) use a clumsy mainframe computer programme.
By 1978, he developed a programme that envisioned “an electronic blackboard” and an “electronic chalk”. By the time Microsoft jumped in and coded and launched what it called MS Excel in 1985, it had grown into a graphic interface with the spreadsheet. By 2013, Excel 15.0 had a fancy affiliation with other programmes like PowerView and FlashFill and “50 other functions”.
Mark Twain had prophetically said, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics." As a novelist of great repute, he had preordained the birth of MS Excel. For, on an Excel sheet data can be manipulated to extrapolate any output, and also the outputs exact opposite.
Last December, I had a meeting in Kolkata with a Congress Party leader, who usually led through the television airwaves. This leading light of the 231-year-old party was Om Prakash Mishra. Like all televangelists, he had it all down pat. When asked about the basis for a proposed tie-up with the Left Front in West Bengal, his mood was garnished with a Tablet that he had switched on.
Mishra told me that he has constituency-based data for all the 294 Legislative Assembly seats on his Tablet for the 2011 poll. And the math was simple: if you added up the votes polled by then the main opposition to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government, the Left Front, with the votes polled by the Congress Party candidates, the incipient coalition would win 175 seats. Just for the record, Congress Party was tied to the apron strings of Mamata Bannerjee in that watershed election.
Ironically, this made sense rather perniciously. In the 2011 election, when the CPI (M)-led LF had lost power after being at the helm for 34 years in the state, the blame was squarely put at the door of Prakash Karat, then the general secretary. The reason they gave for practicing this “low” politics was this: Karat had withdrawn support from the UPA-I on the issue of the Civilian Nuclear Agreement with the USA, thus paving the way for a joint front of the TMC and the Congress Party.
In other words, the leaders of the party’s West Bengal unit, like Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Biman Bose, and Nirupam Sen were aghast that Karat could go against the Indo-US deal. There was this “little” detail that they missed: if the CPI (M)-led Left Front joined hands with the UPA-I in getting the deal signed, one of the main planks of Leftism/communism – anti-imperialism – would have vanished from the agenda. And what would have been left is the detritus of the party – the exact fate it has finally reached.
The politics of Excel sheet became the sheet-anchor of the Congress Party and Left Front coalition this time, what many saner CPI (M) leaders thought as a clever ploy, packaged as a tie-up that had emerged as the “bottom-up” demand of the electorate. So, the rather stately Prakash Karat was considered out of step with the Janta; and he had to be bypassed to take the case to the Central Committee of the party.
Sitaram Yechury, the incumbent general secretary, has shed oodles of weight especially from his face looking sharper – a tough job, any nutritionist will tell you. But Yechury could not shed the West Bengal unit’s melodramatic instincts. The dramatis personae of this presentation convinced him and his cohort that a new “political-tactical” line that would erase the long decades of anti-Congressism in the state, and joining hands instead with a party that was almost routinely called an organisation of “bourgeois-landlords”.
Unfortunately, for these Bengal unit leaders, people in the state have a longer memories than what they thought the janta was capable of remembering. Some of them were much less cynical than the leaders in search of power and had actually read Karl Marx and Historical Materialism. They voted. The rest is history.
Now is the time for some straight-talk. The 21st Party Congress of the CPI(M) had specifically held that there would not be any truck with the Congress Party. For that matter, the Party Congress had even held that there will be no spurious attempts at forming alliances with groupings of the regional parties also, in the name of fighting communalism, unless there is programmatic understanding witnessed on the ground through joint mobilisations etc.
The Yechury-led Central Committee of the CPI (M) decided to even ignore these directives of the Party Congress – an anathema to most communist parties – and undertook what could have been called the “Samson Option”. For those who remembered the hero of the Greek tragedy, rewritten from the Hebrew Bible, a narrative into poetic English by John Milton, Samson of immense strength was chained to the pillar of a Temple, decided to pull down the structure not just to kill himself, but also his captors – the philistines.
That currently is the state of the Left Front of West Bengal. Its leaders chose to destroy themselves, and in the process, deal a seemingly deathly blow to the largest communist party in the country. For the philistines of the already moribund Congress Party, the excel sheets and its authors have found their rightful place—in the dustbin of history.
(The author is an independent journalist. Views expressed are strictly personal.)