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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 1, December 22, 2012 [Annual 2012]

Whither Left?

Thursday 3 January 2013, by C.N. Chitta Ranjan


After the fall of the Janata Government at the Centre, a process of realignment of political forces appeared to have begun, rousing hopes for the emergence of a broad Left and democratic front embracing the whole spectrum covered by this description.

Not only the two Communist Parties and the smaller Leftist parties but many others, including anti-authoritarian and anti-communal elements in the major national parties, seemed then to be moving purposefully in this healthy direction, and progressive sections all over the country believed that at long last a genuine alternative to the entre-nched reactionary forces and social and economic vested interests was slowly but surely taking shape. But in the brief period since then, these hopes have been pushed back, yielding place to frustration and a certain measure of resentment. Why? Who are responsible for it?

The first thing to understand is that unity of Left and democratic forces is not a concept implying patchwork on the political fringe but commitment to certain accepted values and policies. Second, in forging such unity it is nobody’s privilege to lay down the law or dictate terms. Third, the aim is not merely to capture seats in the Lok Sabha, important as strength in Parliament is in our set-up, but to give a positive direction to the country’s political development and consequently to economic and social development in line with the broadly accepted principles of democracy, secularism and socialism.

Such an understanding of the perspective calls for infinitely greater tolerance, comprehension of realities all over the country and vision covering the decades ahead, than is to be found among our Left parties today. Sectarianism and self-assertion in the face of pressing need for principled accommodation are naturally counter-productive in our situation. It is such an unfortunate attitude on the part of some, notably the CPI-M, that has led to today’s rather saddening political scenario.

The CPI-M has to be named, even if it hurts, because that party has greater responsibility in giving shape to unity of the Left and democratic forces than the other Leftist parties. This is so not only because it is strong in West Bengal and has influence in a couple of other States including Kerala, but because it is recognised that without constructive participation by that party, Left and democratic unity will be meaningless. This self-evident proposition does not, however, mean that other progressive parties and sections either in these States or all over the country should make obeisance to budding hegemonists like Promode Dasgupta who unfortunately appear to be dominant in the CPI-M and powerful enough in the inner councils of that party to negate the very framework that the party’s national leadership had come to accept in the light of experience.

This aspect is brought home to us with distressing clarity by the developments in the two States which are the strongholds of the two Communist Parties. In both States the scope of Left and democratic unity has been narrowed to near-meaninglessness by the self-importance of the Marxist CP leaders and also by what looks like the quiet acquiescene of the CPI leaders. Neither side seems to have realised the implications of what has been going on in the two States for the cause of Left and democratic unity which the two Communist Parties have been quite emphatic about for a fairly long time. It does not seem to have occurred to them that what they are doing is precisely to play into the hands of the very forces they are supposed to fight in the interests of the masses.

In West Bengal, the haggling over seats has only helped to undermine the dignity of the Left itself. The CPI-M’s hard bargaining over the allotment of a mere three seats out of 42 to the CPI has created the impression that the attempt is to humiliate the CPI rather than to take the process of unity a big step forward. This writer feels that the CPI would have increased its own stature further—after the commendable act of self-abnegation in Kerala earlier—if in the light of the CPI-M’s petty-fogging attitude it had renounced its claim and offered to support the Left Front candidates without seeking anything in return. In fact, the CPI could have offered that those three seats should be distributed as a token of alliance to the Congress and Lok Dal. But over years of functioning within the parliamentary system each one of us has got so used to giving importance to numerical strength in Parliament that the CPI stand is not difficult to understand.

The point is that with its domineering attitude even towards Left parties, it has not come as a surprise that the CPI-M-dominated Left Front should have placed its own narrow, parochial interest above the cause it has been advocating at the national level. How else does one explain the West Bengal Left Front’s inability to seek and reach accommodation with other democratic forces in the State? It is not as if there is not even one single non-Left democratic candidate in the whole State who could have been found a place. If, apart from the CPI, the Congress and the Lok Dal with which the CPI-M is supposed to have an all-India understanding are treated so shabbily in West Bengal, how does the CPI-M expect unreserved cooperation from those parties elsewhere? If the CPI-M is entitled to entertain doubts about the bonafides of its allies in the State where it believes itself to be unassailable, it is surely to be expected that these allies will in turn have serious reservations about the CPI-M’s intentions when it comes to dealing with the question of electoral adjustments in other States.

This is an aspect that must be borne in mind in relation to the Hindi belt, particularly where the CPI-M, by its own declared policy, wants to improve both in influence and strength. If the party refuses to be reasonable where it has a base, it cannot expect others to be generous where it is admittedly weak and non-Communist support is necessary for the success of any kind of broad Left and democratic front. Sectarianism is bound to boomerang. Political shortsightedness is hardly the key to promoting the cause.

Kerala too has its lessons. In the interests of Left and democratic unity the CPI, under obvious pressure from the CPI-M, quit the State Ministry which it headed with some distinction. But the CPI-M’s calculations went wrong. The Gift Deeds Bill was passed, and there has been no dissolution of the Assembly as had been anticipated. Instead of working for the consolidation of the anti-authoritarian and democratic forces for which the atmosphere was propitious, the Left, particularly the CPI-M, began alienating valuable allies. The Congress headed by A.K. Antony, which had been fighting the Indira Congress as well as the Janata and with which the CPI and CPI-M had an alliance in different recent phases, has been antagonised, with the CPI-M adopting the patently absurd course of trying to promote the case of the leader of the Kerala Congress splinter group for the post of Chief Minister. Antony spearheaded the fight against Indira Gandhi on the one hand and the Janata on the other. What is the reward he gets at the hands of the CPI-M? A pig-headed attempt to break the anti-Indira Congress in Kerala. If the Indira Congress has gained and if the Muslim League heads the Ministry in that State, with all the implicit consequences for the future, it must be evident where the responsibility lies. One can only hope that realisation of the measure of damage caused will lead to a sense of urgency to repair it.

While in West Bengal and Kerala the CPI-M’s sectarian line has the danger of playing havoc, elsewhere there seems to have been no compunction about striking opportunistic deals. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, the CPI-M rushed in for an alliance with the AIADMK without consultation with the CPI which had no option but to follow suit. In Punjab the CPI-M has not found it incongruous to be actively involved in the Akali politics, and even to try to keep the quarrelling Akalis united. Worse still, a rationale was invented for bargains with the Janata Party itself in some States on the pretext that in those States the Jana Sangh-RSS was not a dominant force. Even in Orissa, it was Biju Patnaik who forced the Left into a corner by his own brand of hegemonism which made even the Congress break away from the Lok Dal.

It is strange that those who claim to be building Left and democratic unity should be reluctant even with regard to total Left unity where they are, or think thay are, in a strong position, and should refuse to take notice of progressive democratic sections who do not pay court. It is stranger still that the chronically negligible presence of the Communists in the bulk of the country, especially the Hindi heartland, should have been conveniently forgotten in the anxiety to corner as many seats as possible in the islands where the Left is strong by itself at present.
The current phase started with the concept of a broad alliance of the Lok Dal, Congress, CPI-M, CPI and Peasants and Workers Party. Sectarianism in one State is leading inevitably to the undermining of not only Left and democratic unity but even of Left unity in the rest of the country. The two Communist Parties together, or even these two plus the smaller Leftist parties, cannot aspire for power at the Centre or even in most of the States, and the Communist leaders, with their training in Marxist thinking, should not find it difficult to recognise the reality that is India today. If the
CPI-M wants only Left unity with itself playing the Big Boss, it should say so openly, and the CPI should, for a change, give up issuing blank cheques to it, and instead, assert itself in the interests of Left and democratic unity in the whole country. If the democratic elements in other parties with which an alliance was worked out in order to fight authoritarianism, communalism and reaction generally are not treated with respect, the Left can only get isolated. The fruits of past isolation due to Leftist mistakes do not need to be enumerated.
The choice is between unity of the Left and democratic forces on the one hand and blatant opportunism on the other. The former will help the country by providing the people with an alternative to the current Establishment, and the latter will strengthen the exploiting classes and reactionary forces whom the Left is supposed to fight on behalf of the impoverished masses pinning for progress towards economic and social democracy.

Will it be too much to plead that the correct choice be made even at this stage?

November 6 C.N. Chitta Ranjan
(Political Notebook in issue of November 10, 1979)

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