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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 15, New Delhi, March 27, 2021

Left Politics in Contemporary India: Undercurrent of Dange-Line | Pratip Chattopadhyay

Friday 26 March 2021


by Pratip Chattopadhyay*


Out of five state assemblies that are going to polls in mid 2021, Kerala and West Bengal will be the sites for recovering, recrafting and contemporarising left politics in national scene in India. Important trend this time is left parties are daring to contest the elections alone. While in Kerala they have been running a coalition successfully named Left Democratic Front(LDF), in West Bengal they have crafted a Sangyukta Morcha (some sort of an United Front) comprising the left, Indian National Congress and a small Muslim group named Indian Secular Front(ISF). It was Comrade S.A.Dange who voiced in favour of United Front tactics to resist the right reactionary fascist force, the spirit of which underlies the contemporary alliance tactics of left parties led by Communist Party of India(Marxist) CPI (M).


The two latest nationwide agitations against BJP led NDA government’s decisions on Citizenship Amendment and Farm Laws have reflected the growing dissatisfaction against the central government. In the first post-Covid state assembly elections in Bihar BJP-JD(U) combine won narrowly against the mahagathbandhan or the grand alliance of opposition parties led by Rashtriya Janata Dal(RJD) and its youth leader Tejashwi Yadav which comprised both the Congress and left parties. Most interesting aspect of Bihar assembly poll result was securing of 12(twelve) seats by CPI(ML-L) along with 3(three) by CPI(M) and 2(two) by CPI. This grand alliance came together to resist the onslaught of BJP’s right reactionary politics in the corridors of state politics in India. In Kerala which goes to poll during April-May 2021, the left parties are going to poll with traditionally maintained LDF with two small entrants this time namely LJD, JD(S) and KC(M) to fight against both Indian National Congress led UDF and BJP. In West Bengal the left parties led by CPI(M) has coalesced with Congress as in 2016 assembly polls but with more maturity on seat adjustment this time and included a Muslim minority faction named ISF and gave a tag of Sangyukta Morcha to this alliance. However CPI(ML-L) and SUCI-C have remained outside of this alliance belittling the post 2014 promise of forging a broader left unity between Left Front, SUCI-C and CPI(ML-L) that was reflected in some rallies in the state for some time. The crux of the matter is that left parties in India are becoming cosy with alliance politics, to come together even with Indian National Congress and likeminded forces to resist and defeat the onward march of BJP’s right reactionary fascist politics and policies. This was voiced openly long back in 1970s by Sripad Amrit Dange appealing for comparative preference of Indira Gandhi’s leadership as against Janata Dal for which Dange was misinterpreted and humiliated by leftists themselves. But as Karl Marx said ‘History repeats itself, first time as a tragedy and second time as a farce’, one can see that voicing for united front approach at a particular moment of Indian political history brought tragedy for Dange by being forced to get dissociated with CPI and to be with UCPI, but the same approach is being taken today by left parties particularly CPI(M) but without any solid theoretical and practical reference to Lenin, George Dimitrov and S.A. Dange for which the left approach, particularly in West Bengal, is seen as a farce.

Left politics in Contemporary India:

The All India Kisan Sabha(AIKS), the frontal organisation of CPI(M) successfully organised one of the important peaceful protest march from Nahik to Mumbai to gherao Maharashtra legislative assembly in 2018 which was named a Kisan Long March. Next in line is the farmer potest during November-December 2020 in Delhi-Haryana border in which AIKS and its’ general secretary Hannan Mollah played a crucial role as prominent member of the farmer group that continued series of discussions with the government on farm laws. This shows that the left political parties are coalescing with the social groups that comprises members from all political background with a single agendum to resist the fascist right reactionary policies of the present BJP led NDA government. At the same time in electoral battle left political parties from 2009 elections onwards are fighting with some alliance as was reflected in the anti-Congress anti-BJP formation prior to 2009 Lok Sabha elections. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections the left political parties went in disarray electorally and in 2019 Lok Sabha election they were routed to a mere five MPs. Between 2014 and 2019 the left political parties allied with Congress in 2016 West Bengal assembly elections but failed to continue the alliance in 2019 Lok Sabha elections on the basis of disagreement on seat adjustment at the state level. Learning from their mistakes to go along alone in electoral battlefields given their dip in popularity in Bihar assembly elections they teamed up with RJD and Congress and the results reflected the efficacy of an electoral alliance to resist the ascendency of BJP to a large extent. Dipankar Bhattacharyay, general secretary of CPI(ML-L) openly advocated that the task of left parties at hand is to treat BJP as the single most important danger and support all forces that stands against BJP in state assemblies and to be prepare to offer support to it even if an alliance with that party is not possible due to the concrete condition of the specific state. The left parties in West Bengal turned a deaf ear to such a proposal and continue to attack both the Trinamul Congress which is in power and the BJP which is aspiring to be in power. As a result CPI(ML-L) is fighting alone in twelve constituencies in West Bengal and calls for support to Sangyukta Morcha candidates in all other constituencies. The left front led by CPI(M) in its Sangyukta Morcha form has tried to be ‘secular’ by inducting the Muslim faction called ISF which reportedly has no symbol of its own recognised by the Election Commission of India and has hardly any influence in any pocket in West Bengal even among Muslim constituencies. So this alliance with ISF in order to broaden its secular credentials was unwarranted and would hardly have any influence on its vote percentages. The C-voter opinion polls reflects that in West Bengal the Sangyukta Morcha alliance will secure even lesser number of seats than the left-Congress combine in 2016 assembly polls. By stitching a "strategic alliance" with six other parties for the ensuing Assembly elections in Assam, Congress is trying to unite all opposition votes against BJP in that state after the saffron party wrested power from it in 2016. Congress first Congress first got Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF, its rival since 2005, all three left parties(CPI, CPI(M) and CPI(ML) and another small regional force on board to form the "grand alliance" and then managed to bring back Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), which had broken its eight-year-long alliance with Congress in 2014 and joined hands with BJP just before the Assembly elections in 2016. What is getting reflected is the dual face of both the left parties and Congress. While the left cannot achieve a sustain coalition with CPI(ML-L) across the country, the Congress could not weather the left across the country as well. So the contemporary left politics is both for and against coalition reflecting a dual standard.

Essence of Dange-line:

Sripad Amrit Dange influenced by the-then Soviet approach towards Indian government and also going by the mass appeal of leadership of Indira Gandhi, before the 1972 Lok Sabha elections stated that between Indira and Jana Sangh, I prefer Indira. This is a statement which was misinterpreted as pro-Congress stance diluting the autonomous presence of left. On the contrary this statement actually refers to a united front approach when there is a necessity to resist the rightist reactionary political force. This approach is based on a Marxist unity-struggle-unity dialectic model whereby left’s unity with Congress will be punctuated by phases of struggles whenever Congress will drift away from pro-poor policies. The Dange model of united front approach treats Congress as a secular force and requires teaming up with all secular forces of the country against right reactionary politics. Dange-line requires identifying fascist right reactionary politics as the imminent danger and to make united front an all-weather approach. Dange was well aware about differences among communists but the goal of resisting right reactionary force must unite them all. Dange-line in contemporary times must be seen as a policy option for secular forces in the country to team up against right reactionary BJP treating it as an imminent single most political danger. Dipankar Bhattacharyay, in the context of West Bengal forcefully stated what actually the essence of Dange-line although he belongs to a communist faction theoretically against the parliamentary communism of CPI group of Dange. According to Bhattacharya, left forces must declare BJP as the imminent danger and rally in favour of TMC in West Bengal against BJP. This call was turned a deaf ear by the left front political parties under the leadership of CPI(M). Although CPI(M) led Left Front thought it prudent to broaden its alliance base by inducting ISF in its Sangyukta Morcha reflecting its eagerness for forging coalition or united front even with Congress if situation demands so but could not foresee the eventuality of division of votes between Sangyukta Morcha and TMC will eventually give BJP more mileage in the ensuing election. So the essence of Dange-line has still not be grasped fully by left political parties led by CPI(M).

Contemporary Left politics in India: Days Ahead

Left and Indian National Congress, the two mainstay of Dange-line presently are in the backseat in Indian electoral political scenario and are struggling to revamp their electoral, social and political clout. Indian National Congress is in disarray with leadership crisis. The left political parties led by CPI(M) has a stable leadership but remain in disarray over a correct balanced political line. Going by its renewed social and political presence in various movements and meetings, it can be said they have slowly understood the purpose of Dange-line that to resist right reactionary offensive teaming up is necessary than bowling alone. But they have not considered Dange-line as an option for a national balanced secular left-liberal line of united front. So presently their political line has undercurrent of Dange-line but has not totally reflected Dange-line. It is of paramount importance that both left politcal parties and Indian National Congress must resolve their differences particularly in Kerala if they want to resist meaningfully BJP across the country. Otherwise Congress-communist alliances in states like Assam, Bihar and West Bengal will fall flat and come under scrutiny due to Congress-Communist electoral battle in Kerala. Going against the Sangyukta Morcha alliance stand in West Bengal, Congress partners like NCP and RJD have openly declared their support to Trinamul Congress. But in the brigade ground meeting in Kolkata on 28th February 2021, CPI(M) general secretary Comrade Sitaram Yechury stated that if there is a hung parliament and people ask about the role of left parties in West Bengal, the answer from the left parties would be to ask these curious people to ask the same of TMC leader Mamata Banerjee ho will very well manage the hung situation by asking the support of BJP! This evasiveness of CPI(M) on their task due to lack of theoretical and practical reading of examples of united front tactics in parliamentary democracy of which a ready reference is Comrade S.A. Dange and his unity-struggle-unity united front approach with Congress and other secular political outfits to resist rightist reactionary political forces in India. In the coming days, for the new generation of left leadership as seen by the candidature to young faces in West Bengal, a renewed attention must be drawn to Dange and his political line of united front and debates and discussions on this line must be made open for new generation of leadership in left political parties rather than shelving the name and political line of Comrade S.A. Dange from the political historiography of left politics in India.

*(Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Kalyani, West Bengal )

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