Millennium Post

Dilemma of Indian left mounts

The history of communism in India is one of strategic miscalculations at the national level as a result of blinkered tactical manoeuvres in the states. The outcome is that while  the comrades have remained a marginal force at the centre, their main ideological adversary, viz. the BJP, has made major gains.

 Arguably, the roots of this fallout lie in the initial premise of their politics of seeing the Congress as the main enemy from the yeh azadi jhooti hai days of the immediate post-independence period. Since the Congress was by far the most formidable opponent in the decades after 1947, the anti-Congress line was understandable.

But this tactic was followed even after the Congress began to decline because the latter was the only opponent of the communists in the three states where the Left had any influence, viz. Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura.

However, while pursuing this policy, the communists chose to ignore what effect this single-minded, knee-jerk opposition to the Congress at the state level may have at the centre where another party, which did not have any presence in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, may raise its head.

The tussle in the CPI(M) between the two topmost leaders, general secretary Prakash Karat and politburo member Sitaram Yechury, relates to this tactical mistake which overlooked the big picture. While Karat’s anti-Congress policies are being blamed for facilitating the BJP’s rise, Yechury is apparently using this opportunity to run down his hardline party colleague who is said to want to keep Yechury out of the general secretary’s post and install a camp follower instead.

Yechury’s case has been strengthened by the fact that the CPI(M) under Karat has faltered on two counts. One is the party’s inability to form a so-called Left and democratic alternative to the Congress, and the other is the CPI(M)’s decline from 16 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 to nine in 2014. To add to Karat’s woes, the CPI(M) lost its three-decade-old stronghold in West Bengal to its arch-enemy, Mamata Banerjee, in 2011.

What is more, the travails of the CPI(M) as well as of the Left in general suggest that there is little hope in the near future of their recovery when the BJP’s pro-market outlook has given a boost to right-wing forces as never before in Indian politics.

Yet, in the 1960s, the communists apparently thought that in the event of the Congress’s decline, they will take its place. Indeed, this was the hope which M. Basavapunniah, a senior CPI(M) leader, expressed when he said that ‘we will not feel happy if this party (the Congress) goes down without the emergence of a viable democratic alternative’. Continuing, he said that ‘our concern for the Congress is because it affects our future. We want to take over a united and not a fragmented India’.
Nearly half a century later, the fond dream of the commissars of taking over the country will not only be seen as delusional, but also laughable because of the wide gulf between hope and reality. In presuming that the Congress’s decline will be automatically followed by the rise of the Left, the latter do not seem to have paid any attention to the possibility of a third alternative making its presence felt.

This tunnel vision is strange considering that another senior CPI(M) leader,  Promode Dasgupta, once said in a private conversation that ‘scratch a Hindu and he is RSS’. This was in the 1970s when few took the Jan Sangh – the BJP’s earlier avatar – seriously. But, at least one perceptive leader had seen its potential.

But, myopia was not the only flaw of the communists. What was even more damaging were the debilitating splits which they suffered with the undivided Communist Party breaking up in 1964 into CPI and CPI(M) and then the Naxalites breaking away from the CPI(M) in 1969.

Moreover, the reason for the1969 split was no less hurtful because the Naxalites represented the pro-Chinese faction of the CPI(M) – their slogan, China’s chairman is our chairman exemplified their outlook – which hardened the belief that the communists were essentially anti-national which had first gained credence during their ambivalence towards the 1962 border conflict with China.

Arguably, the Congress would have continued to fare well in the two states but for the Emergency. But, its defeat in 1977 helped the CPI(M) to return to power.

However, notwithstanding the presence at the helm of a widely respected personality like Jyoti Basu, the CPI(M)’s cadre raj alienated the people in West Bengal to such an extent that now there is little possibility of the party regaining power in the state. Instead, it is the BJP which is gaining ground, raising its share of vote from 6 per cent in 2009 to 16.8 per cent this year. The turn of events would have been unthinkable in, say, 2010 when the CPI(M) was in power and the BJP was nowhere in sight. IPA
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