CPM is facing existential crisis but it’s worried about dogma-driven approach to Congress rather than survival. That’s the debate at party’s 3-day meeting.
New Delhi: There is an apocryphal story about the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, a Left bastion traditionally.
A boy was once caught stealing food from the Periyar hostel mess. A general body meeting was convened. The discussion started with the incident of theft, but soon turned to the circumstances that forced the teenager to steal.
As one Comrade after another started lashing out at the then-Narasimha Rao government for its “neo-liberal” policies — the principal reason for the theft, apparently — the boy stood still, looking petrified. The discussion went on for over three hours until dinner time. Finally, food was packed for the boy and some money collected for him, before he was given a warm send-off.
That was in the 1990s. Not much seems to have changed in the Left, though. The penchant for ideological debates, howsoever cut off from the reality on the ground, has survived their evolution from student leaders into full-fledged politicians, and also the vicissitudes in their political fortune.
Or so it seems from the agenda of the three-day meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), its apex decision-making body, starting in the national capital Saturday. The committee is slated to discuss what appears to be a matter of semantics: Whether “no alliance” means “no understanding” too.
The April resolution
The 22nd congress of the CPI(M) had a five-day-long discussion in Hyderabad in April, which was marked by differences of opinion on the party’s tactical line to defeat the BJP.
The draft political resolution had stated that there would “no understanding or electoral alliance with the Congress”. The Kerala group, led by former party general secretary Prakash Karat, stoutly advocated this line, while his successor Sitaram Yechury was against such a straightjacketed approach. Yechury’s line prevailed, as a majority of 786 delegates favoured it.
The political resolution that was finally adopted read: “It is imperative to defeat the BJP government in order to isolate the Hindutva communal forces and reverse the anti-people economic policies… by rallying all the secular and democratic forces… But this has to be done without having a political alliance with the Congress party.”
By leaving out “understanding” from the sentence, the party was understood to have kept the option of an informal tie-up with the Congress open.
But just when the party leadership was looking at its options for alliances/understanding, the Karat-led faction has raised the red flag.
At the Politburo meeting last month, the faction argued that “without having a political alliance” excluded any “understanding” too. The Central Committee of the CPI(M) will be discussing what those words really mean over the next three days.
Politburo member Mohammad Salim told ThePrint: “The party congress decided the political line. The Central Committee will decide the electoral-tactical line, which has to be in consonance with that line.”
He refused to discuss whether an understanding with the Congress would be in sync with the party’s resolution.
The resolution adopted at the party congress said the political representatives of the big bourgeoisie at present in our country are the BJP and the Congress. “We cannot have a tactical line which treats them as allies or partners in a united front… But it is the BJP which is in power today, and given its basic link to the RSS, it is the main threat. So, there cannot be a line of treating both the BJP and the Congress as equal dangers,” it said.
Yet, the Karat-led group from Kerala would have nothing to do with the Congress, the CPI(M)’s principal adversary in the state.
Not the first ‘understanding’
Any potential understanding won’t be the first that the CPI(M) would have had with the Congress.
Salim should know better. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, he was the CPI(M) candidate from Calcutta North East and was pitted against six-term MP Ajit Kumar Panja from the Trinamool Congress. One evening, a senior CPI(M) leader got a call from a Congress leader in Delhi: “What kind of candidate would suit Salim?” The Left leader recommended a woman who was urbane and suave. A few days later, the Congress declared the candidature of Bengali and Hindi film actor Moushumi Chatterjee. Salim went on to win the election, although his margin of victory over Panja was larger than the total votes Chatterjee secured.
“It’s more a case of a bee in one’s bonnet,” another Politburo member told ThePrint, referring to the Karat-led group’s opposition to any understanding with the Congress.
The CPI(M)’s vote share came down to 3.28 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, from 5.33 per cent in 2009, 5.66 per cent in 2004 and 5.40 per cent in 1999.
It is in power only in Kerala, with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress dislodging it in West Bengal and the BJP from Tripura — its two other traditional strongholds. The Left has been relegated to third position in West Bengal by the BJP. It has been squeezed out from its other pockets of influence in Bihar, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and other states.
It’s an existential crisis for the CPI(M), but the party is still more concerned about its dogma-driven approach to a bourgeois party such as the Congress than its own survival.
Political observers attribute at least three blunders on the part of the CPI(M) that resulted in wasted opportunities for pan-India growth and expansion: The ‘historic blunder’ of 1996 when it decided against Jyoti Basu’s elevation as prime minister; the one in 2004, when it decided to support the UPA from outside instead of joining the government; and in 2008, when it withdrew from the government over the issue of Indo-US nuclear deal.
The CPI(M) doesn’t seem to have learnt its lessons, though.