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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 35, New Delhi, August 14, 2021

Marxist desperation to retrieve the lost ground in the backdrop of Hindutva narrative of RSS | Arun Srivastava

Friday 13 August 2021

by Arun Srivastava

The big brother of the Indian communist parties, the CPI(M), is in the process of reinventing its relevance and existence. While its Kerala unit has managed to maintain its identity by winning the assembly election and forming the government in the state, its Bengal unit is completely in disarray and groping in the bind.

It is said that the CPI(M) has become the victim of worst nature of personality clash between the Bengal Line and Kerala Line, the fact is the party has never followed the Marxist ideology. The clash of ego and game of one-upmanship have been major reasons for divide of the party. It used the clash of line merely as façade to conceal its failure to experiment the Marxist ideology in Indian situation as suggested by Stalin to the Indian delegation.

Of course the geo political realities of the two states are different but it is not so wide and diverse that an ideological uniformity could not have been practiced. We have been witness to the intense factional feud in Kerala between Achutanand and Pinayari and also how the Bengal Marxists digressed from the Marxist path.

Though Kerala has a strong left base, it is Bengal which is perceived as the red bastion of India. The primary reason was the left ruled the state at a stretch for 34 years. An impression had gained that CPI(M) cannot be defeated as the people of the state have indoctrinated in Marxist ideology. An impression gained that Bengalis are leftist. But it was not the reality.

The CPI(M) ruled put in order a well-oiled electoral machinery which ensured its victory. The party might have continued to rule the state behind the façade of being Marxist, if it had not committed historical blunder in handling the Singur and Nandigram agrarian issues. The two developments exposed the real image of the party. Obviously the expose was exploited by Mamata Banerjee with the help of the ultra Marxist cadres who were feeling alienated and betrayed in the CPI(M).

While senior state Congress leaders preferred to remain soft to the CPI(M) and left leaders, Mamata could come to identify the basic fault line that inflicted the left. She used it and succeeded to defeat the left. Her understanding of the crisis that gripped the CPI(M) and left front has been the primary reason for Bengal CPI(M) leaders treating her as their personal enemy. Significantly the CPI(M) leadership does not nurse acute hatred towards the Congress leaders, which in reality has been the class enemy of the Marxists, but they are not at all willing to withstand Mamata.

It is their personal animosity towards Mamata that made them to club the TMC of Mamata along with the BJP. Even in the 2021 assembly election they identified Mamata and BJP as their two major enemies. This evaluation was not done by applying the Marxist morals. It was guided purely by the whim of the CPI(M) leadership.

The people of Bengal reposed their faith in the leadership of Mamata Banerjee, struck a severe blow to the BJP in the electoral battle of 2021 and in the process also catapulted her as the most potent alternative face to Narendra Modi. This happened at a time when the country was witnessing an upsurge of the rightist forces led by the RSS and BJP, symbolised by existence of Modi in the political arena.

There is no denying that the vestige of Bengal Renaissance a movement by the Bengalis characterized by a social awakening in the field of art, culture and intellect which questioned the orthodox rituals and customs prevailing in the society, has played the crucial role in positioning the psyche of the people to abhor the rightist ideology and perception.

This has been reason that Marxist ruled the state for 34 years as the people were unwilling to repose their trust even in the liberal and centrist Congress. But the saddest aspect of the leftist rule has been the Marxist leadership abjectly failed to indoctrinate its rank of the Marxist teaching and ideology. They nevertheless did one thing, their electoral campaigns unwittingly chiselled the anti-rightist political orientation of the people.

This is not only the case with Bengal, in Bihar too the rightist forces could not succeed in making a major dent as the state had witnessed left organised agrarian struggle. Like Bengal in Bihar too the left failed to hold its ground as it did not indoctrinate its rank ideologically and politically and simply used the support base for electoral purposes. If the backward castes and poor in Bihar looked towards Mandal politics as the liberating ideology, the intermediate castes and Namashudras in Bengal were inspired by the same ideological factor. An insight into the success of the Operation Barga would reveal that this section of the rural population was the effective beneficiary of this scheme.

Economic empowerment of the intermediate castes and poor took place but the process utterly lacked the element of political enabling. No effort was made by the Marxist leadership to make aware the common people of the Marxist teachings. Though Bengal acquired the image of red bastion, it was only on the paper. The weak ideological commitment of the cadres was evident when in 2011 thousands of these cadres deserted the left parties and joined the Trinmool Congress. Attempts were made to justify this by saying that they shifted their loyalty out of fear of reprisal. But this was absolutely untenable and lacked rationale. They shifted their loyalty for material gains and enjoy power.

Once again shift was noticed just before the 2019 Lok Sabha election when thousands of left cadres unable to face the tyranny and oppression of the TMC, joined the BJP. Their inability to withstand the alleged terror and repression let lose by the TMC underlined that at some level they were not ideologically well equipped to resist and fight. Once again the lust for power and government patronage were the motivating factors.

Ironically the Marxist leadership always resented the formation of the left and democratic front. Their main contention was the partners must refrain from criticising the Left Front government. They projected it as the Marxist device to bring about complete transformation of the state and turn into a socialist state. Their main focus was to project the Left Front as the ideal ruling apparatus than a weapon to empower the poor ideologically and politically. Any one opposing the Left Front government was depicted as anti-Marxist. Even the CPI(ML) liberation which criticised the Left Front was described as anarchist. The CPI(M) refused to have any kind of understanding with it. The averseness of the CPUI(M) towards the CPI(ML) was visible even during the 2021 assembly elections. It outright rejected the CPI(ML) suggestion to reconsider its policy of treating BJP and TMC on the same page.

The entire of focus of the left, especially the CPI(M), has been on electoral politics, precisely winning elections. Undeniably this has been the prime reason for crumbling of the left’s base. Yet another factor that hastened the decline of the left has been its inability to evolve the mechanism to counter neoliberalism. The ideological confusion gripping the party could be understood from the simple fact that the leadership miserably failed to comprehend the emergence of the BJP and its resorting to fascist machination. It put the Congress and BJP on the same page. In fact this clearly manifested the lack of understanding of the character of the Indian political structure and institution. It is quite shocking that how could a party that swears by Marxism, ignore the changing contour of the Indian politics.

It was the lack of ideological clarity that did not allow the left to look at the organisational decline it was undergoing since 2011. The result was it failed to meet the challenges. While the systematic economic slump and failure of Modi government to check the corona pandemic have put the RSS-BJP rule under scrutiny, the left continued with its theory of treating TMC and BJP on the same footing. Even the plea of the CPIML Liberation general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya that the Left Front should identify the BJP as “political enemy number one” and desist from clubbing it with Trinamul was outright swatted by the Bengal ideologue Biman Bose. What was quite interesting was even the CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury had gone further to say that siding with Trinamul would hand the entire anti-incumbency vote to the BJP. So, the campaign was built around assertions of a “Didi-Modi understanding”.

The CPI(M) has even evolved a theory ’Beejemul’ implying the combination of BJP and Trinmool. The use of slogans like ‘Beejemul’ and assertions that the BJP and Trinamul were two sides of the same coin created confusion during the time of the election. It was this stand of Bose and the state secretary Surya Kant Mishra that witnessed the CPI(M) failing even to win one seat. This has been the most deplorable and disappointing performance of the CPI(M). Significantly the leadership preferred to dump the “Beejemul” theory at the insistence of the central leadership of the CPI(M) with the Trinamul and the Congress moving together to share the opposition platform. The CPI(M) cannot think of missing the opportunity to be a part of this initiative and, probably, that’s the reason the Bengal unit is under pressure to formally distinguish between the BJP and Trinamul,

While the CPI(M) treated the TMC as the number one enemy, it did not find any wrong in aligning with the ISF, a communal organisation, without maintaining any façade of being progressive. The CPI(M) entered into alliance with ISF only to ensure the victory of a politburo member who was desperate to win an Assembly seat. It was not clear to the voters whether the left was trying to go after Mamata by splitting the minority vote or contesting the BJP’s communal agenda. Surprisingly while the Marxists were not clear their approach, the Muslims coalesced towards Trinamool. Bhattacharya’s suggestion to identify the BJP as the “primary enemy” had exposed the party’s ideological confusion.

After the results were out, Bhattacharya wrote an opinion piece in Telegraph stating, “The fundamental flaw of the CPI(M)’s West Bengal analysis was to treat it as just another state election delinked from the overwhelming national context.” He wrote that the Left didn’t understand that, “…it was not about settling scores with the TMC over Singur and Nandigram and for the 2011 defeat, it was about addressing the pressing present reality of West Bengal and India from a Left point of view.”

It is encouraging that the left leadership has been trying to rectify its past mistakes. Though they have fielded young faces in the election, the latest move has been on to entrust with the task of making effective intervention in the running and policy framing. The rectification programme “Post-election situation and our work”, examines several subjects such as the slide in the party’s support base, Trinamul’s success in defeating anti-incumbency and the need to develop a strong organisation up to the booth level.

This is for the first time that senior leaders have openly started expressing that old guards must make room for the younger leaders and all the political lines that have been adopted since 2006 have proved wrong. A general impression that has been gripping the party rank is the old leaders have lost touch with the ground realities. These old leaders had blamed the TMC of entering into a “got-up” game with the BJP. But the young leaders adopting a pragmatic approach outright reject their theory. These youth leaders say that “Beejemul” theory had inflicted massive damage to the party and this is more like of the nature of historic blunder as the party has been completely washed out.

The Beejemul theory has been the CPI(M)’s main campaign slogan for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which urged voters to defeat the BJP and stop Trinamul. Though the party lost the election, it continued to practice the same slogan in 2021 election. They confide that Beejemul theory has been the brainchild of Surya Kant Mishra and former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. On both the occasions a section of the leaders had sought to know that whether this was feasible and pragmatic theory, but they were made to shut up.

Along with the younger leaders even some seniors express surprise that notwithstanding the massive damage that was inflicted on the party for the wrong policies pursued by Buddhadeb Bhatacharjee government, the old leaders are reluctant to make amends. They continue to find virtue in the political line of government. They argue that Singur had been a setback for the Buddhadeb government but the CPM still wants to stick to the old formula. The party should break out of its old shell and re-assess the mood of the farming community before deciding which course to take on industrialisation. The old leaders continue to aspire to have their strangle hold on the party. The campaign of the Left in 2021 assembly election has been to harness the discontent of youths against the Trinamul government’s inability to generate enough jobs and the allegations of corruption in the recruitment process but the party never put the youth leaders on the front to lead the campaign against the Mamata government.

The leaders are also worried at the sustained decline of the traditional support base of the left. CPI(M)’s vote share was mere 4.70 per cent, less than a tenth that of Trinamul which, of course, contested 289 seats compared to the Marxists’ 139. They argue that having alliance with the Congress also proved to be counterproductive. Leadership’s desperate attempt to salvage the situation by nominating younger leaders also failed to catch the imagination of the people. In most of the constituencies these youth leaders finished a distant third.

A section of the CPI(M) leaders nurse the view that the party’s biggest mistake had been its desperate attempt to return to power by any means rather than admit the errors of left rule. They point out that instead of launching a rectification programme the party still has been pursuing the old mistakes. The functioning of the party provides the indication that it is not willing to learn the lessons of Nandigram and Singur even after a decade.

The state leadership lacks a proper perspective of the functioning of the party and also the reasons for its decline. The latest note prepared by the state leadership underlining the reasons for the defeat is full of contradiction. While it admits that the party’s support base has declined over the years, it also claims that it has done better in 2021 compared with the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. These leaders point out that the so called Bengal Line pursued by the state leadership has done huge damage to the party.

Significantly while the Kerala and Tripura units of the party have categorically identified the BJP as the main enemy, the Bengal unit follows entirely different line, which is of the suicidal nature. They also nurse the feeling that the Bengal party would not have denounced its theory of Beejemul, if the central leadership of the party had not agreed to be a part of the platform having TMC as the key player.

The CPI(M) leadership ought to realise that a left and democratic front was the need of the time and it must bring all such parties and forces together on a common forum to launch a movement against the BJP. There is also no denying the fact any such movement must have the centrist and liberal forces, like Congress and TMC, as its proactive participants and allies.

Front chairman Biman Bose said, “The situation in Bengal and Bihar are different. Here, both Trinamool and BJP are harmful for the state. The Left will fight against both Trinamool and BJP. I don’t know what Dipankar Bhattacharya has said or what his party’s standpoint is. But in Bengal, we consider Trinamool no less dangerous than BJP. These two parties have all along been into competitive communalism. “

Similarly, Yechury rejected Bhattacharya’s proposal and said, “The kind of violence Trinamool has resorted to and the corruption that they are running, people’s anger has been collectivised against the ruling party. Siding with Trinamool would potentially mean to hand all the anti-incumbency votes to BJP.”

The ostrich like behaviour of the left, especially the CPI(M) leadership has been quite intriguing. After losing the electoral battle of 2011 in Bengal the party has not come to stand straight. During these years the leadership has not been able to deal with the challenges. In fact the role of the Left during the pandemic and the lockdown has prompted many to suspect its Marxist credentials. It is a known fact that the Marxists did not stand by the migrant labourers who were fleeing the cities and migrating to their native places for security. The left could have at least set up assistance centres to help them. Nearly 700 labourers had lost their lives while fleeing the cities. The left could have created pressure on the Modi government to arrange for their transportation.

Besides some scattered and stray protests nothing was visible on the ground. The leaders had withdrawn to their cozy nests. They were not to be seen when Delhi was witnessing the worst kind of communal violence. The task of protest was left to some student leaders. Even when JNU and Jamia were witnessing worst nature of police repression and reprisal they were not to be seen on the streets. Probably the fear of the Modi’s tyranny has gripped them to such an extent that failed to muster courage to hit the streets.

The fact of the matter is infusion of youth in the leadership should have happened years ago. But the leadership never encouraged it. What has been quite revealing is the ideological and political course of the party is being guided and shaped by the so called “ youth” leaders who have never led a popular mass movement in their entire career. Leadership gap has been quite perceptible. There has been huge gap between Pramod Dasgupta’s protégé Biman Bose and Md Salim and Sujan Chakraborty. The same is the case with between these leaders and the youth leaders like Minakshi , Aishe Ghosh, Srijan Bhattacharya and others who were fielded in the recent election. It is a known fact that young leaders could project the plight and discontent of the youths in a more meaningful manner. The Left understands the need to create jobs but many think it is short of ideas as it still upholds the model that the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government had proposed for Singur and Nandigram.

It leadership is still to come out of its old mind set and realise the futility of the line advocated by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Unfortunately the CPI(M) still wants to stick to the old formula. The party should break out of its old shell and re-assess the mood of the rural people and adopt a pragmatic approach to the rural economic development.

The attitude and approach of the leftist leaders, especially of the CPI(M) made it absolutely clear that the so called veterans do not have a proper understanding of the political-economy and character of the state. They ought to undergo a thorough process of evaluation and realisation of the prevailing ground realities. They ought to know the changes that were taking place in the rural India. Mere seniority should not be the defining criteria.

While these leaders were keen to describe TMC and BJP as the two sides of the same coin, they have been maintaining a passive silence on the BJP-RSS destroying the democratic structure of the country and regimenting India as a fascist country. Their short sightedness was also visible in their reluctance to perceive the victory of TMC as the defeat of fascism.

I don’t hold the brief for TMC, but to look at the TMC as a fascist force would virtually amount to giving a clean chit to the BJP. Eminent economist and communist Prabhat Patnaik, professor emeritus with JNU, observed; “It goes without saying that I was thoroughly elated by the BJP’s defeat, which was a huge blow to the fascist project in the country that had appeared almost unstoppable at one point. I was sorry that the Left Front’s vote share went down and the Congress-Left alliance did not win a single seat, but that was a price to be paid for the defeat of fascism in West Bengal with its enormous national implications. There is a big difference between the BJP and the TMC. While the latter at the grassroots level has a large number of hoodlums, the BJP is a fascist party. Its two obvious fascist features are: the systematic vilification and victimisation of a hapless minority, the Muslims; and a close nexus with monopoly capital, especially the “new” elements within it. It is based on a Hindutva-corporate alliance that is highly oppressive for the people, as is clear from the anti-labour and anti-peasant laws it has just enacted. The TMC differs in all these respects.”

According to him everyone was delighted. After defeat in Bengal the authority of BJP and its leaders Amit Shah and Narendra Modi has been on decline throughout the country. Patanaik said; “The BJP is imploding all over the country: in UP, in West Bengal, in Karnataka. This is symptomatic of a weakening of the authority of its top leadership, the myth of whose invincibility is busted. The BJP juggernaut is tottering, though it is too early to celebrate. They are capable of doing anything to win, so one can’t be complacent; but they have received a crippling blow. In the elections, Mamata succeeded in projecting herself as the main force against the BJP and invoked a powerful Bengali nationality consciousness against the BJP’s Hindutva agenda, which squeezed out the Left. As long as the BJP remains a credible threat in West Bengal, this electoral squeezing out of the Left will continue; and the BJP will remain a threat as long it rules at the Centre.”

He says; “in Kerala the Left succeeded in convincing the electorate that it represents the most credible and uncompromising opposition to the BJP, while in Bengal Mamata played that role. The Left in Kerala could do this both because it has consistently opposed the Centre’s anti-democratic moves and also because the UDF has appeared on occasions as being close to the Hindutva elements.The second reason is that the Kerala communists have for long been involved in social emancipation (caste) struggles, while the Bengal communists, involved in workers’ and peasants’ struggles, have never taken up the issue of caste discrimination. Because of this Bengal remains a deeply caste-divided society, and even the communist leadership, unlike that in Kerala, is overwhelmingly from the upper castes. The Kerala communists therefore have a committed OBC (Ezhava) vote that provides a floor to their voting percentage.”

A graffiti on a central Calcutta wall said "Long live Marxism". Someone with a wry sense of humour had cut out the word ’live’ and scrawled ’dead’ on top. Admitted Nilotpal Basu, CPI(M) Politburo member and former Rajya Sabha MP; "We lost because other factors like anti-incumbency were overridden by people’s anxiety to halt the BJP from capturing Bengal," An insight into the results would make it explicit that the TMC’s win was in part powered by a gain of at least five per cent of the popular votes which normally go to the Left, as electors decided to ignore issues like corruption to exercise their franchise against the BJP. "In 2019, when the BJP won 18 Lok Sabha seats and bagged about 40 per cent of the votes cast, the Left and the Congress had ceded grounds to the rightist party, this time the Left votes went to the TMC," said Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary of the CPI(ML)- Liberation. Even Jadavpur, long dubbed ’Leningrad of the East’ which has elected a Left candidate in every election since 1967, except once, fell before the Trinamool onslaught.

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