The Communist Party of India, at its Hyderabad session, laid stress on two ideas: one, Communist unity; two, third alternative. Neither of the two is possible without the involvement of the CPI (M). The party immediately declared that Communist unity was not on its agenda. However, it showed the green flag for the third alternative. The political resolution the CPI (M) adopted at Coimbatore included the third alternative in its task list. General Secretary Prakash Karat said work on it would begin immediately after the conference.
Third Alternative is not a new idea. A government without the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party has been the Communists’ long-cherished desire. At one stage Harkishen Singh Surjeet’s efforts in that regard as party general secretary appeared to be succeeding. But the alternatives that emerged were short-lived. They survived even for a short while only because the Congress or the BJP supported them from outside.
The Communist parties claim that what is now envisaged is a third alternative, not a third front as in the past, and that this is not related to elections at all. Howsoever hard party theoreticians may try it will not be possible to build up the third alternative, being cobbled together hurriedly after the bugles have sounded for the elections, into a path leading to revolution. It cannot have any objective beyond securing at the Centre a government more amenable to their influence.
There is no party in the country today which has enough popular support to secure an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. Everybody knows that this situation arose because of the continuous decline in the strength of the Congress. It has another reason, too, which we do not ordinarily remember. This is the failure of the Communist movement to develop into a national alternative. The undivided CPI had widespread influence in the country at the time of the first general elections. It became the main Opposition in the first Lok Sabha with 18 seats from seven States. Andhra contributed the largest number (seven) of seats. It retained the position in 1957 with 27 seats from eight States. It got four seats from Bombay and three from Andhra at that time. It was aided by the support of the peasant and labour movements and progressive-minded individuals. Later the party split and the influence of the two splinters shrank geographically.
Today the Communist parties can win Lok Sabha seats on their own strength only in three States. In all three places, the Left has upper hand primarily because of the strength of the CPI (M). In West Bengal and Tripura that party has the capacity even to come to power without the help of other parties. This has created in its rank and file as well as in the other Left parties the impression that its stand before and after the split was correct. This impression and the circumstances in which the CPI (M) took its stand deserve close scrutiny.
Looking beyond the smokescreen raised by polemics, it can be seen that what happened here was a reflection of the schism in the international Communist movement. It was as natural for those who took China’s side to take an anti-Congress stance as it was for those who opted for those who stood with the Soviet Union to take a pro-Congress position. The friendship with the Congress made the CPI an associate of the Emergency regime. When the people swept aside that government, the CPI absolved itself of the sin by confessing before the CPI (M).
The firm anti-Congress stand no doubt helped the CPI (M) to make big strides in Bengal and Kerala. But these regional gains were made by sacrificing the opportunity to grow into a national alternative. While Communist influence got limited to Bengalis and Malayalis, parties which were not in existence when the CPI was the main Opposition overtook the Left and forged ahead among other sections of the people.
It was the anti-Congressism that the BJP and the CPI (M) shared which made possible the V. P. Singh government, which stands out among the non-Congress regimes. In the prevailing circumstances the backdoor alliance between them was a necessity. But it is difficult to regard the rise of the Sangh Parivar and the Yadav parties during that period was inevitable. The contribution that the CPI (M) one-point programme of anti-Congressism made to the rise of religious and caste powers was by no means small. In paving the way for the rise of Hindutva forces, did not the CPI (M) commit a political crime no less grave than the CPI did in propping up the Congress?
The basis of the positions taken by the two parties in the division in the international movement has also collapsed. The Soviet Union’s fall and China’s switch to the path of capitalist development have exposed the weaknesses in the ideological stance taken by the two countries as well as their backers.
Since neither the Congress nor the BJP is in a position to secure an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, coalition rule at the Centre is inevitable. Last time these parties together secured 275 seats in the 545-member house. They can be kept out of power only if both decline further. That certainly is a possibility. But if either or both of them decline, the benefit will go not to the Left but to small national and regional parties. It was the ability to keep them together that elevated Surjit to the level of kingmaker at one time. When they were ready to join hands with the BJP he lost that position. It must not be forgotten that it was the same anti-Congressism that had compelled the CPI (M) to enter into a clandestine relationship with the BJP that persuaded small parties with secular traditions to cooperate openly with it.
If the Communist parties give up thoughts of making small gains in the elections and sincerely desire to work for national level advancement of the Left, what must come on their agenda first is not third alternative but Left alternative. An alternative concept that rejects Communist unity contains no nobler idea than electoral gain.
Based on Malayalam article appearing in “Nerkkazhcha” column of Kerala Kaumudi dated April 3, 2008