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21 July, 2015

Left looking for way forward

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

After Communists seized power in Russia, Lenin, leader of the revolution, said, “The way to London and Paris is through Peking and Calcutta.”

The Chinese revolution a few decades later partially fulfilled the prophecy. India’s Communists, on whom fell the task of fulfilling the next part of the prophecy, now lie splintered into groups. While two groups are active in electoral politics, some others are engaged in armed struggles.

The Communist Party of India entered the electoral arena without giving up the objective of armed revolution. The parliamentary system enabled it to score successes in excess of what its strength warranted.

In 1952, with only 3.29 per cent of the votes polled, the CPI won 16 seats in the Lok Sabha and became the largest national opposition group. The Socialist Party, with a 10.59 per cent poll share, got only 12 seats as its votes were scattered widely, while the CPI’s were concentrated in a few states and big cities.

In 1957, the CPI seized power in Kerala state, securing a majority in the State Assembly with a minority of votes. A violent agitation launched by the opposition along with groups incensed by its land and education reform measures was used by the Centre as a pretext to dismiss its government.

In the wake of the Sino-Soviet rift, the CPI split into two. The intense rivalry between the two factions, which differed in their assessment of national and international situations, led the breakaway CPI (Marxist) into inveterate opposition to the Congress party and the remnant CPI supported even the Emergency regime of Indira Gandhi.

As the Soviet Union collapsed and China built up a formidable economy using capitalist methods, Communist parties around the world made ideological readjustments but the CPI-M and the CPI opted to brazen it out. The Left’s unassailable position in West Bengal and Tripura, where it had an unbroken run in power, and in Kerala, where it could come to power in alternate elections, helped to create an impression that all was well.

When the Congress party’s decline created political uncertainty at the national level CPI-M General Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet played a catalytic role in the formation of short-lived coalition governments at the Centre. In 2004, he brokered the formation of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. The Left supported it from outside to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party out of power.

Surjeet’s successor, Prakash Karat, broke the alliance with the Congress in protest against the Indo-US civil nuclear pact. The UPA survived and went on to secure another five-year term. Karat’s subsequent efforts to promote new non-Congress, non-BJP coalitions came to naught.

The Left has been on the decline since then. The ruthless manner in which CPI-M cadres and policemen sought to implement an ill-conceived plan to seize farmers’ land and turn it over to industrialists created a backlash which resulted in loss of power in West Bengal in 2011. This was followed by massive desertions, which damaged the prospects of recovery.

In Kerala, too, there have been desertions but the state party has been making up the loss with new members. The dismal failure of the party’s campaigns against the highly discredited Congress-led state government is indicative of its inherent weakness.

With communalism on the rise and neoliberal policies hitting the poor hard, India now needs a strong Left more than ever. As the largest Left party, it is the CPI-M which has to provide the leadership in this regard but it needs to reinvent itself to undertake the task.

This year the party got a new General Secretary in Sitaram Yechury. Its West Bengal and Kerala units got new Secretaries too. All three were part of the leadership which brought the party to the present sorry state. They are yet to demonstrate the ability to steer the party along a new course.

Yechury has a handicap. He has to work with a Politburo packed with members who did not want him as General Secretary.

The West Bengal unit has decided to readmit former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, 86, and the Kerala unit has decided to take back feisty former minister KR Gowri Amma, 94, both of whom were expelled years ago. Their reinstatement is nothing more than a fine gesture. Young blood and new ideas are needed to save the party. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 21, 2015.

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