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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 43

Challenge before the Left Parties

Tuesday 16 October 2007, by N V K Murthy

Never before in the history of free India have the Left parties had the influence they have now over the policies of the Central Government of India. How they are going to use this influence and enhance it in the days to come is likely to be a crucial factor in the destiny of India.

During the first general election in 1951, one candidate put up by the then united Communist Party of India, Ravi Narayan Reddy, got the highest number of votes, more than even the number of votes obtained by the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. A couple of years before this election, there was a far-reaching change in the leadership of the Communist Party of India. A founding member of the party and its first Secretary-General, P.C. Joshi, was replaced by B.T. Ranadive. P.C. Joshi had always advocated that the Communists should work as a part of the Congress party, which had spearheaded the freeom struggle. He had realised that it would be a great advantage in working with the Congress party rather than separating itself from the mainstream. But, with the taking over of Ranadive as the leader, there was a change in the policy of the party. Those were the years when there was a strong peasant movement underlining the need for land reforms, in order to restore land to the landless tillers, in West Bengal, Bihar, parts of Orissa and the Telangana area of present-day Andhra Pradesh, under the leadership of the Communist Party. This had made the leaders see the possibility of carving out a communist-controlled area in a big chunk within India. The party gave the call for an agricultural revolution. In hindsight, this proved to be a suicidal move for the party. In the Telengana area of Andhra Pradesh, the communist movement, which was very strong, was decimated by the combined strength of the State Police and the Indian Army. The anti-communist action was put under the leadership of an ex-Army man, who was then an officer of the Indian Civil Service, Captain Nanjappa.

The next important landmark in the history of the communist movement came when there was a rift in the party because of ideology. This saw the birth of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, leaving the Communist Party of India as a separate party. This was a time when in the world communist movement there was an ideological rift between two factions, one led by the Soviet Union, and the other by China. The CPI adhered to the Soviet faction and the CPM veered towards the Chinese faction. There were many attempts to bring the two factions in India together during the 1970s. But they failed. Over the years, there has been a general feeling that this rift has not done any good to the Leftist forces. So, despite having separate distinctive identities, the two parties have started working in coalition, especially in the States of Kerala and West Bengal. At the central level too, the two parties have learned to combine their forces towards a common goal of achieving as much as possible by way of changes in the policy of the Central Government, in the interests of the common people of India. The two Leftist parties have to introspect over the events of the last six decades of the country’s history and draw lessons from such introspection. They also have to overcome personality clashes and put the common cause above personal problems.

A strong dose of pragmatism has to be injected into the evolution of a common policy. A start seems to have already been made in this direction. It should be continued and strengthened. Whether or not to globalise is no longer an alternative. Globalisation is now a fact of life. What is needed is to channelise this globalisation in favour of the majority of the people of India. When the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, made a plea to the industries to cut down on executive perks, which led to vulgar opulence and increased the gulf between the rich and the poor in the country, some of the die-hard capitalist theorists came down heavily on him, suggesting that this would be unnecessary interference with the prerogative of entrepreneurs. Here the Leftist parties can play a crucial role.

One of the deficiencies of present-day globalisation is its tendency to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. This can be corrected only by state intervention. This is a matter of critical importance in developing countries like India, where there is stark poverty at the bottom level. Also, there is much debate in the corridors of globalisation between those who advocate growth per se and those who advocate growth with a human face. Fortunately, the ruling party in India believes in growth with a human face. But the existence of a strong lobby which believes in growth per se cannot be ignored and has to be fought at every stage. This should be realised by the Left parties as a crucial battleground for ideas and they should work to build up a strong public opinion in favour of growth with a human face. Of course, this is easier said than done. But this is where the strength of the Leftist parties comes in. Their potential in educating the masses is far greater than that of any other party. They can fall back on their own experience during the days of the fight for freedom and later, after freedom was won. While doing this, they have to keep in mind that they cannot hunt with the hounds and run with the hares. They have to keep in mind the policies that they follow in the two States, Kerala and West Bengal, where they are running the governments. The policies that they advocate at the Centre cannot be at variance with the policies followed in the two States run by them.

The Left parties are also in the unique position of developing praxis in the two States controlled by them. The other day the Chief Minister of West Bengal was critical of theoretical Marxist economists and said that they had no idea of the reality on the ground. Such impatience does not do any good either to the party or to the country. The ideal position is to marry theory and practice and develop both in the light of experience. The theories expounded should be put into practice and changed in the light of experience. This is the path of real intellectual progress and the Leftist parties are in a unique position to be able to do this.

Finally, the rich experience of the united Communist Party during the freedom struggle and the first few years in free India should be studied closely. This would make them realise how much the party lost by breaking away from the mainstream during the early years after freedom. One should not look upon this as an exercise in blaming individuals but as an exercise in self-learning.

All in all, the country seems to be on the threshold of an economic revolution. But, this economic revolution cannot be achieved in isolation from the socio-political scene. The rise of fundamentalism is not just a menace to the secularism of the country. It can form a tremendous handicap in social reform too. For example, the rhetoric that is being built around the sanctity of the personal laws of a communal group, can militate against women as a gender bias. So, in advocating emancipation of women, one cannot compromise on personal laws. One has to fight for the rights of every woman, irrespective of her faith. In doing this, one may have to resort to legal rights accessible to all Indian women. This brings to the fore the potential danger of a demand that is developing in the country by a section of the people to prevent the registration of all marriages by law, as it is inimical to the sanctity of their personal laws.

The greatest danger facing the country today is terrorism of two kinds. The first kind is the external inspired terrorism and the other home-grown. The country has already taken necessary steps to deal with the first kind, and the results are encouraging. It is in dealing with the other kind of terrorism that the Leftist parties can play a crucial role. This terrorism which is referred to as a Naxal problem, is born out of the disillusionment of landless labourers and tribal people, who have not experienced any change in the extremely poor conditions of living during the last six decades of free India. One of the strongest bases of this movement is in Andhra Pradesh. The history of this movement goes back to the 1940s in the then Nizam’s State of Hyderabad. Considering that the present Home Minister hails from this erstwhile princely state and considering his familiarity with the history of this movement one would have expected him to give top priority to solving this problem. This has not, unfortunately, happened, either because the Home Minister lacks the political will or has not been able to garner enough support in his own party to take on the landed gentry in the State. In the first public meeting held by the Congress party after Police Action, which saw the merger of Hyderabad state into the Indian Union, a charter of action was adopted unanimously under the leadership of the then State Congress President, Swami Ramanand Tirth, in which top priority was given to ushering in land reforms. But this did not happen. Even in later years, when the Naxal movement had gained ground, many civil rights activists took the initiative in arranging talks between the State Government leaders and the Naxal leaders to find a solution to the problem. But these efforts did not succeed. Things have reached a stage now where either the Central Government takes the initiative to settle this problem by ushering in necessary land reforms all over the country, or it will be faced with a civil strife which will create a serious problem of law and order. What is needed is a strong civil society movement in favour of an economic order based on social and economic justice. The Leftist parties have the necessary political will and the experience to start such a movement. In the past these parties had undertaken mass political education of workers and peasants in many parts of the country. There is now a need to revive such mass education all over the country. The West Bengal Government was able to bring about revolutionary changes in the landholding pattern of the State, only because they had prepared the masses to accept and welcome these changes. Perhaps, where they failed was that they did not go through this exercise of mass education before ushering in industrialisa-tion, where they seemed to have taken the people for granted. Now they appear to be making the necessary changes.

A historic opportunity is before the Left parties now. Such opportunities do not come repeatedly. They have to grab this opportunity and help solve the Naxal problem. If they succeed, they will go down in history for ushering in a far-reaching, peaceful revolution.

The Leftist parties have to do some serious introspection and decide whether it is in their interests to merge into one party or not. Previous experiences point towards the possible gain that will accrue by merging into one party. Perhaps, they could continue to exert pressure and influence by not joining the government and giving them support from outside. The public will see this as a sign of the Left parties not hankering after power and status. They could use this to their great advantage and increase their influence and help in making India a prosperous country, where the ugly spectre of vulgar opulence or wretched poverty is not present; where the people live in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society, with goodwill towards one another. Destiny seems to be beckoning to the Left parties. Will they respond?

The author, who worked for several years in the Films Division of the I&B Ministry, is a former head of the Indian Institute of Film and Television, Pune.

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