Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi


India’s communist parties might not be a decisive factor in the outcome of forthcoming parliamentary elections in 2014 but their indifference to dangers of communalism and their inability to distinguish between Congress and BJP could be a disastrous and unprecedented mistake.


The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) just concluded its 20th Congress at Kozhikode, Kerala, 4 years after its 19th Congress was held in Coimbatore; despite several years of political reversals, its leadership remained unchanged as the Congress re-elected Prakash Karat as General Secretary. Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India (CPI), which held its 21st Congress in Patna, Bihar was at least able to replace its erstwhile General Secretary, A.B. Bardhan, by Sudhakar Reddy.  It was noted that Bardhan was a “fraternal delegate” at the CPM Congress.  What was left unsaid was why these two parties, which now share almost identical perspectives, are still unable to unite into a single party.


Both Congresses noted that capitalism is in crisis, as they have done in all past Congresses; none commented or reflected on why socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe became extinct while capitalism continues to dominate the world economic scenario, China has become a quintessentially capitalist country with a one-party government, with the ruling Communist party serving more as a fig leaf than as a symbol of socialism, and with countries such as Vietnam and Cuba increasingly implementing what might be considered to be neo-liberal policies.


Both Congresses concluded that the crux of the economic crises and the root cause of the problem faced by the people in India is neo-liberalism; what this criticism means or actually implies for the Indian economy and polity is not clear.  Do the Communist parties want a return to the license-permit Raj of yesteryear that led the big business houses of the time to emerge as monopolies as was pointed out in the Hazari Committee Report of 1967? Do they want to resurrect a system that used to be criticized as bureaucratic capitalism by the left?


While CPI did discuss mass poverty in the country, CPM was oblivious to it. More significantly neither of the two Congresses pointed to the danger of communalism and the inroads that Hindutvawadis have made into civil society, nor did they reflect on the causes of the electoral disaster which reduced the Left’s share of the number of seats in the Parliament from 60 to 24, and led to the defeat of Left Front governments in West Bengal and Kerala.


Mr. Karat reportedly told the newsmagazine Frontline that the political resolution of the CPI (M) envisaged an electoral strategy that sought to isolate the communal BJP and defeat the neoliberal Congress. Considering what happened in the disastrous 2009 elections where the same strategy led to an ignominious rout of the Left, Karat seems to be oblivious to Marx’s dictum of history repeating itself, the first as tragedy the second as farce.


In a column in The News International, 21 April 2012, Praful Bidwai comments:


“The Left, especially the CPM – the world’s biggest Communist party outside China – stands at a fork in history. If it regains relevance by relating to the masses’ struggles for a life with dignity and justice, it could have a bright future. Today, the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party are both losing ground, and no national-level alternative has emerged. This favours the Left. But if the Left remains stuck in jaded ways of thinking, it will lose appeal until its decline becomes irreversible. That’s the road to extinction taken by a majority of the world’s CPs after the collapse of the Soviet Union.”


While Bidwai is correct in his assessment that the influence of Congress and BJP is declining, he does not mention that this decline is obviously due to the increase in the influence of regional parties, which is precisely the reason also for a decline in the influence of communist parties. Indeed this was the case in West Bengal where the CPM-led Left Front lost to a regional party after ruling the state for a record 34 years. Another communist party, CPI (ML), lost all its assembly seats in Bihar with the rise of the Janata Dal of Nitish Kumar. Almost for the first time, no communist party won a single seat in the UP assembly.


Indeed, as far as electoral politics is concerned, the appeal for a political platform as the galvanizing force for appealing to the public has been gradually replaced by various other considerations, most importantly caste-based consolidation. For example in the recent elections in UP, Congress presented a much more progressive platform for the emancipation of the province from poverty than did the Samajwadi Party but the latter reaped a big victory through its caste-based appeal. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, a dalit-based party, was a big loser in the number of seats although not so much in the number of votes polled.


To continue to underestimate and undermine the danger posed by the steady Hinduization of Indian society is a gross error. To treat Congress and BJP alike is, as a writer once put it, worse than a crime it is a blunder, which CPM has been committing over the last few years. Politics is a practical question.  The only concrete force capable of preventing India from becoming a Hindu Rashtra in the foreseeable future is Congress and the slogan of defeating Congress and isolating BJP translates into assuring the victory of BJP.  In their eagerness to prove they were right in adopting the thoroughly ill-advised course to attack UPA on the issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal and join hands with BJP to bring down the UPA-1 government in 2009, the CPM leadership, in particular Karat, has adopted the posture attributed to the Bourbon monarchy in pre-revolutionary France: “they learnt nothing and they forgot nothing!” One can only hope that the rank and file is more alert to the deeply regressive, communal danger that would be posed by a second round of BJP rule, especially to left and democratic forces, and are able to persuade their leadership to change course.


Any significant advance in progressive and democratic politics in India depends on the ability of the left parties, which still have some support, to come out of their traditional bureaucratic functioning, abandon their tired rhetoric and their preoccupation with fighting left and right deviation, and neoliberalism and deal with the real politics of India, both regional and national.  Throughout its history, the Communist Party, both in its united days and now in its two party incarnation, has made many mistakes but none would be bigger than to become an instrument of bringing the BJP to power.

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