The question is whether the Congress is genuinely against the BJP’s policies or whether it only differentiates itself for electoral gain.
In the ranks of the Left, there is unanimity that the government headed by Narendra Modi and the BJP poses a significant threat to the future of India. The policy slate of the government, which favours an extreme form of liberalisation, is trouble in itself. But add to that the social and political intimidation unleashed by the BJP, and you have a situation of great concern. The assassination of political adversaries as well as the violence against ordinary people for their dietary habits, for the way they love, for the way they interact with each other, produces a political and social world of fear and danger.
No party of the Left or any Left-wing sympathiser is cavalier about what this BJP government is doing to the fabric of the country. The red flag of caution flies high.
If indeed there is agreement as to the danger of the Modi government, why has the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] decided not to wholeheartedly join an electoral alliance with the Congress? That is the question raised in the media after the CPI(M)’s Central Committee met last week.
Political – not personal – line
For the past decade, the media has assumed that the only way to understand the CPI(M) is to see its political debate through a personal framework. On the one side is former CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, the ‘hard-liner’ who is unwilling to align with the Congress. It is Karat, the view goes, who brought down the first UPA government.
Sitaram Yechury, the current CPI(M) general secretary, is portrayed as the leader of the other side of this factional dispute. Yechury, it is suggested, is captive to the West Bengal branch of the CPI(M), which seeks an electoral link with the Congress party against the Trinamool Congress. Karat vs Yechury, scream the headlines.
Such a view of politics makes sense for a party such as the BJP or the Congress that has little internal democracy. At gatherings, the leadership arrives with all decisions made, which are then announced to the assembled gathering. If a faction does not like the announcement, a split occurs either at the organisational or electoral level. Parties of this sort, which are essentially patron-client affairs, are held together not merely by ideology but by the distribution of spoils.
The CPI(M) is a party of a different kind. The million members of the party are organised in branches and districts, which hold active and vibrant debates about how to assess the times and how to best build the strength of the working class and the peasantry.
These discussions are then carried on by the leadership of the party into its highest decision-making body, the Central Committee (CC). The CC reflects the overall thinking of the party members. By debate and democratic action, the CC produces its best assessment of the current situation and then a tactical view of how to go forward.
Strengthen the Left
The current view of the CPI(M) is that the BJP is a grave threat to the country and that is must be defeated. The key way forward is to build the confidence of the working-class and the peasantry through mass actions, as well as to unify all the streams of the Left through joint struggles. The Left pole in the country must be strengthened.
Indeed, over the past several years, the communist movement has appeared on the streets in a variety of struggles – most of them unreported by the corporate media. The only time the corporate media pays attention to the CPI(M) is when it wishes to mock the party with its Karat vs Yechury soap opera.
The media said little about the world’s largest strike, which took place in 2016, when 180 million workers put down their tools. It said little about the farmers’ agitation in Sikar (Rajasthan) or about the ASHA/Anganwadi workers’ struggle this month. These agitations are part of the strategy to build the confidence of the workers and peasants, whose political vehicle is naturally the Left.
Rightward march of the Congress
Each time the BJP puts forward a policy, the Congress says it was the first to raise the issue. The gap on economic policy in between the BJP and the Congress is almost nil. Thus far, the Congress has said little about its own compromises with communalism, and its own responsibility for the corruption that laid the groundwork for Modi’s triumph in 2014.
The Congress, which moved Rightward over the past several decades, has not halted this shift to the Right, nor decided to move towards the left.
There is no call for the Congress to reverse course, to abandon its own commitments to policies that generate high inequality and poverty. Liberals who are uncomfortable with the direction of the country would be best served to put their energy into making the Congress a less hapless force, and a more social democratic one.
It is gratifying that so many people see the Left as the saviour of the country. This is why they are upset, perhaps, at the lack of an alliance with the Congress. They recognise that the Congress itself does not have the backbone to confront the BJP.
The question to ask is not why the Left keeps its distance from the Congress. The real question is whether the Congress is genuinely against the BJP’s policies and attitude, or whether it only differentiates itself from the BJP for electoral gain. If the latter, then the Left is right to be cautious.
Vijay Prashad is chief editor of LeftWord Books and the author of No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism.