Daya Varma


While the collapse of Soviet Union in 1989 did not shatter the Indian Communist movement, Prakash Karat, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPIM], has managed to accomplish this feat in just a few months;  the  burial was the just concluded 15th Parliamentary elections.


Instead of the scheduled meeting on May 18 of the potential prime ministers from the Third Front (Naveen Patnaik, Nitish Kumar, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa and Deve Gowda) to settle the rotating order of their office since the Indian Constitution allows only one Prime Minister at a time, Prakash Karat  met his Polit Bureau to figure out why CPM’s parliamentary membership reduced from 43 MPs in 2004 to 16 in 2009.


The veteran Communist Somnath Chatterjee (The Hindu, May 17) has suggested that Karat should resign to remedy the situation; this would be a graceful act. If CPM has any chance of recovery, Karat should be removed not only as the General Secretary but from all policy making bodies like the Central Committee along with Yechuri.  This is the minimum step needed for a wakeup call for the slumbering cadres. It would also provide a much needed corrective to the sole policy associated with Karat’s leadership: anti-Congressism and anti-BJPism as a comprehensive program for India.


The communist movement made its mark in India by following a positive program – its commitment to the equality of all its citizens, its national concerns, its anti-feudal struggles (the most significant of which were the armed resistance against the atrocities and anti-national policy of Nizam and Razakars and the Tebhaga peasant movement), Bengal famine relief and its unity-cum-struggle relationship with Congress. It is no surprise that the Communist Party of India emerged as the main opposition in 1952 elections; it has been going down ever since.


In one election in early 1970, CPIM contested 8 seats in Punjab and won all of them. There used to be a red village in Punjab. Now the Punjab legislature has no communists of any kind. CPIM’s Subhashini Ali had earlier won a parliamentary seat from UP’s industrial center Kanpur; now they do not even contest from there. Bihar used to send the bulk of CPI candidates into the provincial and federal legislatures; it drew a blank in 2009. CPI (ML) won a seat from Arrah in Bihar through its Indian People’s Front the very first time it contested an election; now it contests more seats just to lose from more places. Most importantly the citadel of the Left in West Bengal has been shaken in 2009 and its three decades of rule in that state is coming to an end.


Communists got a boost in the 2004 elections because of the misdeeds of BJP and the weakness of the Congress. In the 2009 elections, Congress was ready to assure that it would protect the people of India from the Hindutva mess that BJP had created and can still create. The CPI(M)-CPI combine wanted to get rid of both and in return got rid of themselves.


The rout of CPM in 2009 elections is primarily caused by its dogged hostility to Congress and its attempt to prop up the most opportunistic Third Front ever in the history of India’s parliamentary politics. The April issue of INSAF Bulletin pointed out that the CPM-propped Third Front had converted CPI and CPIM into a Communist Party (Electionist) that had no future. Unfortunately we proved correct.


Indian people are concerned about India. CPI(M) is only concerned about a pivotal place in Indian polity and not about India. The assessment by Karat and company almost until May 15, the last day before the ballot count, that their Third Front had a possibility of forming a government is a stark example of his ignorance about India and the mood of the Indian people. Even I, not living in India, had written to three friends on May 9, a week before results were announced,  about the  outcome of elections; my guess was as follows (May 9, 2009): Congress: 215; BJP: 110; CPM: 15; CPI: 5; Mayawati: 15; Mulayam Singh: 20; and Lalu Yadav: 15. So if I could guess where Congress stands and what is going to happen to CPIM, why could Karat not sense this outcome? This is because he is surrounded by yes men and women. While leaders of other parties went around meeting the masses, Karat shuttled back and forth between homes and offices of his future prime ministers – all of whom kept their various options open beyond the Third Front. Distancing from the Congress was also the reason for a poor performance by the three constituents of the Fourth Front – more so  by Lalu Yadav and Ram Bilas Paswan than by Mulayam Singh.


The CPIM-propped Third Front was doomed to failure from its very start. Through its Third Front, CPIM displayed prominently the most unprincipled characters in India’s political spectrum. It was a recipe for instability and chaos in India and an insult to the wisdom of the Indian people who time and again have expressed their deep sense of concern for India. Hypothetically speaking, if there was no Congress but only Karat’s Third Front and BJP, people would vote for BJP, which at least has some vision – good or bad. Does Karat know that even in the wake of anti-Indira Gandhi wave, many women from among the poorest in India voted for Indira Gandhi while their men folk voted against her? Would Karat ever realize that his passion against the Indo-US nuclear deal, aside from being founded on superficial understanding, was merely a fodder for elite  left intellectuals with no appeal to the people of India? Would Karat ever realize that his repeated needling of the Manmohan Singh government, while still lending support from “outside” was utterly annoying to the Indian masses? Would Karat ever recognize that CPIM failed to take advantage of the recruitment of many CPIM intellectuals in key advisory posts by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh in improving India’s internal and external policies?


Has CPI(M) become an elitist party, thanks to overwhelming support from irrelevant left intellectuals? It is not “its inability to get its message across”, as Jayati Ghosh suggests in her otherwise fatuous article in Asian Age (May 17); it is because CPIM has no message to give. The crudeness with which Buddhadev Bhattacharjee handled the Nandigram and Singur affairs threatens to end three-decade of Left rule in West Bengal. Karat’s desire to hit the limelight by floating the Third Front will drown not only CPI(M) but CPI as well given its  slavish leadership in the figure of  Bardhan.


The history of the communist movement reveals that it never recovers from a debacle. The once mighty communist parties of Italy, France and Indonesia, not to speak of the Communist Party of Soviet Union, have become history.   I had sent my projection of the election outcome  to a few friends. One of them, Ranabir Samaddar of the Calcutta Research Group wrote back to say he wished I was wrong and then went on to add: “This is the end of the road for the two CPs (CPIM and CPI). The Indian version of the velvet revolution is going to be far more interesting and critical than the East European version…   What will be more interesting is the journey of Trinamul Congress (of Mamata Banerjee) from now on.”


Is Ranabir Samaddar correct that the end of the Road for the two communist parties has come? Or can CPI(M) and CPI recover?  It is a painful question. The end of CPIM and CPI is in reality the end of the communist movement in India as a major political entity. Therefore every attempt should be made for recovery of CPIM and CPI.


India is fast changing despite or because of neoliberalism and globalization. It is already in the equation of major industrial countries of the world. Dr. Manmohan Singh said a while ago that poverty will be eradicated in ten years, for the first five of which he is likely to be at the helm. His estimate may be unrealistic but he is not a demagogue. The Zamindari abolition and the nationalization of the banks changed India’s countryside leading to a new awakening in poor and middle peasants  A substantial eradication of poverty would alter Indian polity in two important ways.


One, it would push regionalism in the background. It is very likely that as India becomes more prosperous it also becomes more homogenous and in turn weakens the factors which give rise to regional political formation. Therefore by the time of the next elections in 2014 regional parties will have less of a clout than they had in 2004 and 2009. Parties like RJD of Lalu Yaday, BSP of Mayawati, SP of Mulayam Singh are transitory political formations; they are the political expression of the abolition of the Zamindari system by the Congress government. BJP is not a transitory party; it is the historic and principal enemy of Indian democracy and progress. Anyone who lumps Congress and BJP as one and the same, can never succeed because it reflects political bankruptcy and not political wisdom and proves to the people of India that parties which give this slogan are not cognizant of the real alignment of forces.  In the 2009 elections, Rahul Gandhi’s repeated claim that Congress is for the poor and for the advance of India while BJP is for the rich and against India achieved what he wanted. He refrained from focusing his attack on any other political formation.


Two, the main base of BJP is the middle class and the poor influenced by middleclass rhetoric and cultural backwardness. As poverty declines, democratic pluralistic and secular consciousness increases. India might become like Canada, UK,  Germany and US where racist and sectarian politics has lost its appeal to the majority. Consequently BJP and its stalwarts like Narendra Modi, Arun Shourie, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma Swaraj would also become irrelevant (Advani is already finished). BJP is somewhat aware of it and tries to extricate itself at times from its pungent anti-minority stand; however, that is the very reason for its existence and it cannot wipe out its birthmarks. Consequently, BJP too will get weakened in time.


Given these two possible scenarios, there is a room for the communist parties to emerge as champions of India’s progress and democracy. If they can, there is a future for the communist movement. Otherwise communist movement too will become history. In concrete, the communist movement means CPIM and CPI or those who replace them. An overhaul of the leadership, a merger of CPIM and CPI and frank rejection of the 1964 thesis of CPIM are key requirements if communist movement has to have any chance in the future. Let Naxalites and their offspring play the role of extreme left. There is a room for that as well but it is likely to steadily diminish in future.


“the sing-over from ignorant, insolent slandering to blind and servile idol-worship comes very naturally and easily to the Indian intellectuals with our traditional outlook determined by the caste-ridden and Brahmin-dominated feudal society.” (PC Joshi Taken from “For a Mass Policy, Adhunik Pushtak Bhandar, Allahabad 1951, p.15.)  

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