A MATTER OF ECONOMICS
Can Communism be Indian?
Dr R. Balashankar
The decline of the Left in India couldn’t have been more loudly announced than by the uncharacteristic disdain and derision that accompanied the coverage in the media of the CPI(M) Party Congress at Kozhikode last week.
Usually, gushing appreciation and exuberant platitude mark every polemical Left pronouncement. The CPI(M), because of the fraternity in the press has always succeeded in getting more than its share of publicity. But this time the party hogged attention only for the wrong reasons.
From a political perspective, the CPI(M) meet this time was more significant in many ways. For the first time it declared not to back Congress even to keep BJP out of power. Further, it decided to develop an Indian communist model without imitating the Soviet or the Chinese models. This is a major shift from the party’s stated position so far. This will need a high degree of conviction, patience and strategic persuasion on the leadership’s part to carry through, which going by its past history, the party has often lacked. It has a symbiotic relationship with the Congress and its own affiliates—NGOs, professional and academic bodies—who prosper by such associations are unlikely to comply with. As a beginning, it is a major leap, which surprisingly the media either chose to overlook or ignore.
The pro-Congress sentiments in the media could be one reason. Or else they might have concluded that the party was not strong enough to make its policy change a major event. The CPI(M) also decided to focus more on the Left unity than the formation of a third front, a more sensible approach. What instead made news was that the party had decided to stay status quoist. It did not anoint a new team, it is a party of the tired old arm chair text book revolutionaries. And it has not been able to come to terms with the brave new world of globalisation. This was the general trend of criticism in the press. Much of the criticism was about what the party is not than what it actually is. I think, the party has at last identified its problems. It has decided to invest in itself.
The decisions the party took at the 20th Congress have come perhaps a few decades late. Yet, they are relevant in any context if it is looking for a national role other than that of a power broker. In a sense, the CPI(M) has returned to its roots in more ways than one. Its legislative strength today is almost what it used to be in the early seventies. Its openly anti-Congress stance will not make any difference to the BJP prospects in the country. The BJP is stronger in areas where the CPI(M) has no presence, but at least in Kerala the BJP is in a position to tilt the balance, to help or damage the CPI(M). If there is a communal party to be stopped it is Congress. It is mainly the Hindu lower middle class that supports the BJP and CPI(M).The CPI(M)’s overdrive to attract minority voters with its provocatively anti-Hindu approach donning the veil of secularism has not paid off either in Kerala or Bengal. In fact, in Kerala a few prominent minority leaders the party promoted left it midway for greener Congress pastures. Political expediency should convince the party that blind anti-BJPism is only killing it and arresting its options.
On all three occasions when the CPI(M) took a stridently anti-Congress stand, in 1967, 1977 and in 1989 the party gained electorally. Its gain in 2004 again was mainly on anti-Congress third front plank, which they forfeited by supporting the UPA. The price paid for this in 2009 was too heavy. If the party continued to support UPA, as some argue, would the results have been different?
The CPI lost its political moorings and electoral presence constantly playing second fiddle to Congress. By the time it realised its folly, it was too late and its communist pretentions notwithstanding it is seen more or less as a Congress bogeyman in the Left circuit. Often the CPI(M) too in the company of the CPI has fallen prey to parliamentary infatuations. Congress, as EMS Namboodiripad would say is a bourgeois party corrupt to the core. EMS knew that the CPI(M) has grown only when it took a convincing anti-Congress stand. He made it equally strident on Muslim communalism, after the 1969 Malappuram (creation of a district for Mullahs) fiasco. The Congress is its only adversary in Bengal( of late Trinamul Congress has taken this position here), Tripura and Kerala, the Left strongholds.Every time it sides with the Congress citing the national compulsions, it is cheating its cadre and compromising its credibility. Call it pragmatism or political sagacity, the two crucial decisions on the part of the CPI(M), if sincerely executed will mark a new beginning in Communist history.
One impediment in carrying anti-Congress stand to its logical climax is the cozy power sharing arrangement in the north some of its affiliates have cultivated. with the Congress, The ambitious left academics who got themselves ensconced in positions helping Congress with its much needed pamphleteering will resist. The challenge before the party now is to break new grounds, make itself attractive and convincing to the post-liberalisation voter fed up with the false aspirations capitalism promoted and communism that offered nothing but poverty and chaos.
Karat and his politburo will face stiff resistance from the JNU czars who have made profitable and meaningful arrangement with the establishment mouthing paeans of mass struggle. Remember this is the group that wanted the CPI(M) to share power in the UPA-I and the same lot wept and described it “historic blunder” when the party decided against Jyoti Basu becoming prime minister with Congress support. It is likely that this group will force the leadership to retract. A common feature of this brand is that by instinct they are career politicians.
More difficult is the pursuit of developing an Indian model. The success of last month's all India trade union strike seems to have played a role in the CPI(M) formulation. The preparation for the strike where the BMS, CITU, Kisan Sangh, AITUC and other trade unions worked closely made the leaders realise the depth of anger in the masses and the desire for change. Here Gurdas Dasgupta famously announced that henceforth Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Vande Matram will form part of the war cry of the working class. The CPI(M) conclave also departed this time from its usual BJP bashing session, concentrating more on real issues concerning the party.
It has only taken baby steps towards formulating an Indian communist model. It is easier if they look up the rich literature the Communist leaders produced trying to understand the Indian situation.But they were so obsessed with the foreign experiences that they threw their own findings in the dust bin. As long as EMS was at the helm, he never allowed the CPI(M) get closer to the Congress.
Many communist leaders like Namboodiripad, SA Dange, K Damodaran, Beni Deshpande tried interpreting Communism in the Indian context. Even in the present lot M A Baby, P Govinda Pillai, S Ramachandran Pillai have made half-hearted efforts to anchor Communism on Indian soil.These efforts failed because the two communist parties were officially aligned to either of the two communist blocs of Soviet Union and China. As long as the international communism held sway, any Indianisation of the Communists remained a far cry. More immediately, it is the emerging world economic scene that has prompted the Indian comrades to look afresh inward. No doubt, this is a major political development.