This article provides a historical perspective on a rather unique chapter in the era of economic reforms in India—the case of the state of West Bengal. In 1991, the Government of India began to pursue a policy of economic liberalization, causing serious political challenges for the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPIM)-led Left Front coalition in West Bengal. Historically, the CPIM had strongly opposed economic reforms, but was compelled to undertake a policy ‘transition’ owing to the stagnating economy of the state. The transition, and the motivations behind it, was a topic debated often—especially once the party started courting private investment, pushed for large-scale industrialization, and eventually suffered a historic defeat in 2011 after 33 years in power—but rarely has a coherent historical narrative of what caused the transition been brought to the forefront. This article attempts to address that gap by examining the following question: what were the local political conditions that compelled the CPIM/Left Front take upon itself the task of engineering such a transition? While acknowledging the larger forces of globalization and Indian federalism, the analysis focuses on the rarely discussed local socio-economic priorities in West Bengal, and constructs a dual narrative of instrumental and political–ideological arguments.