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Mainstream, VOL LI No 46, November 2, 2013

N.C.’s Abiding Relevance

Friday 1 November 2013


Political Notebook

The national and international situation has undergone a sea change in the last half-a-century when Nikhil Chakravartty and his small but committed group of colleagues brought out Mainstream. Jawaharlal Nehru was alive and the non-aligned movement under the leadership of Nehru, Nasser and Tito sought to unify the underdeveloped and developing countries that were called the Third World. They followed the policy of non-alignment which meant that the Third World countries would keep out of Cold War politics. But these countries, most of them newly-liberated colonies trying to build up their economy and industrial infrastructure, knew that the socialist world led by the Soviet Union were their true friends.

In India, the Right-wing forces were trying to gain strength but were kept in check by Nehru. The Chinese aggression of 1962 and India’s disastrous military defeat came as a boon for them. They mounted a powerful and systematic attack on Nehru and his right-hand man, Defence Minister Krishna Menon. They could not dislodge Nehru but they succeeded in compelling Nehru to drop Menon from the Cabinet. China’s perfidy had a telling effect on Nehru. In less than two years, he passed away.

After a brief interlude when Lal Bahadur Shastri became the Prime Minister, the mantle devolved on Indira Gandhi. Though her style of functioning was very diffferent, she stuck to the Nehruvian policy of developing the public sector, strengthening friendship with the Soviet Union and following an assertively independent foreign policy that refused to kowtow to the United States. This made her the béte noire of the Americans. India’s active role in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 increased Washington’s hostility toward her. The 20-year Indo-Soviet Friendship Society was a master stroke that put paid to Washington’s plan to prevent the disintegtration of Pakistan and emergence of independent Bangladesh.

But her personalised style of functioning brought about a qualitative change in the Congress, the ruling party. Sycophancy, instead of reasoned and principled debate and criticism, became the habit for most Congressmen. Personal loyalty to Indira was the primarty criterion in deciding one’s place and importance in the party. Though she took several important decisions during this period like abolition of princely privy purses and nationalisation of the coal and general insurance industries (on the lines of the famous bank nationalisation she had carried out earlier), which made her immensely popular and earned her the support of the Left, she could not shake off her sense of insecurity and eventually, faced with Jayaprakash Narayan’s sampoorna kranti or total revolution movement, she chose to impose internal Emergency after her election to the Lok Sabha was struck down by the Allahabad High Court.

It was a fateful decision for her and the Congress. In the general elections held after the end of the Emergency, she and the Congress were convincingly defeated. For the first time a non-Congress coalition, which fought the polls in the name of RLD, came to power at the Centre and re-christened itself as the Janata Party, marking the end of the Congress monopoly of power since independence. During this tumultuous and eventful period, Mainstream under the editorship of Nikhil Chakravartty took a fearless stand against supp-ression of democracy and later against the wrong policies and misgovernance of the Morarji Desai Government. Suffering from irreconcilable internal differences, the Janata Party Government fell and in the 1980 elections Indira and her party came back to power.

But meanwhile things had changed within the Congress with the emergence of an extra-constitutional authority in the person of Sanjay Gandhi. It was his inept handling of the Punjab situation that created Bhindranwale who was the leading figure in the Sikh separatist movement for Khalistan. Sanjay died in a plane accident in 1980 but by then the situation in Punjab had come to a head. Eventually, Operation Bluestar had to be undertaken in 1984 to free Amritsar’s Golden Temple from Bhindranwale and his heavily-armed cohorts. Within months Indira was gunned down by her Sikh security guards. After Sanjay’s death Indira had inducted her elder son, Rajiv, into the party and was grooming him as her successor. Now Rajiv became the Prime Minister and in 1985 led the Congress to a record victory in the Lok Sabha elections.

The trend of dynastic rule that became evident in the Congress party during Indira Gandhi’s later years continued to grow strong. Rajiv Gandhi got embroiled in the Bofors bribery controversy and though nothing could ever be proved against him, he undoubtedly lost much of his charisma and popularity as a young leader. He also entered the blind alley in Sri Lanka where the IPKF operations against the Tamil Tigers could not yield any fruitful result. After his assassination by the LTTE, the clamour grew in the Congress to bring Sonia Gandhi to head the party. After some initial hesitation, she agreed and immediately the Congress got a shot in the arm.

Meanwhile, huge changes had taken place in the world scene. The Soviet Union was dissolved. The constituent Republics became independent. Post-Soviet Union Russia became a capitalist country. The dissolution of the Soviet Union had its immediate repercussion on the socialist countries of Eastern Europe. The communist rule was over-thrown and the capitalist system restored. Some of these countries chose to join the Western bloc and became members of the NATO. Though the Soviet Union had ceased to exist, the United States’ visceral hatred of the successor state, Russia, was undiminished. The NATO was enlarged with some former socialist countries joining it with the sole objective of ‘encircling’ Russia. This gave rise to a new cold war.

However, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 had its tremendous impact on international politics and power equation. The bipolar world became a unipolar one with the United States emerging as the sole superpower. In India, too, the impact of the dissolution of the Soviet Union was immediately felt. In the same year, 1991, Narasimha Rao as the Prime Minister and Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister abandoned Nehru’s policies and introduced the Washington-dictated neoliberal policy in the form of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation.

Narasimha Rao was an erudite person and enjoyed intellectual rapport with N.C. He also subscribed to the Nehruvian vision and model of development in Indira Gandhi’s days. But he could not withstand the US pressure after the demise of the USSR. As for the role of Dr Manmohan Singh, the less said the better.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the introduction of the neoliberal policy in India were not just coincidental, it had a direct cause-and-effect relationship. The then Indian leadership found that the country would no longer be able to get diplomatic and material help from its traditional friend and the best thing would be to swim with the current and accept the US leadership. Under the World Bank and IMF dictation, public sector units started being sold out to the monopolies in the corporate sector, and the economy was thrown open to private capital—both indigenous and foreign. Every sector of the national economy, including sectors like defence and telecommuni-cations where entry of foreign capital was not allowed, has been thrown open for private investment. Non-alignment has been given the go-bye. The new policy is to ‘strengthen and deepen strategic partnership with the United States’. The relentless pursuit of the neoliberal policy has brought India to its present plight. There is no light visible at the end of the tunnel. In fact, the ‘tunnel’ itself has become endless.

Regardless of its periodic protestations to stand by the aam aadmi, the government’s concern is no longer for the aam admi but for the corporate honchos. Every government policy or measure that may bring some relief to the suffering people is immediately shot down as ‘populist’. Whatever increases corporate profit is considered sound economic policy. This is what Manmohanomics is. Eighteen years ago, in an article titled “Wages of Manmohanomics”, published in the Mainstream of July 29, 1995, Nikhil Chakravartty wrote: “The problem of the Manmohan brigade is that they are set on reducing to the minimum, if not totally eliminate, state intervention and participation in the economy. Their allergy to the public sector is intensely ideological because the public sector stands as a living symbol of the state’s active role in economic development, while these pundits in our Finance Ministry fundamentally disfavour the very existence of vibrant public sector units, even if they fetch good returns.” Eighteen years later, every word of this comment remains valid. The economy is a free-market economy. Market forces control price and so onion sells at Rs 100 a kg.

One reason Manmohanomics is having a field day without facing any challenge or resistance from any quarter is the weakness of the Left movement and Left parties. The organisational strength of the Left parties and their mass organisations has declined and so has their political influence on the masses. The basic reason is that the leaderships of all these Left parties are composed of non-declassed petty bourgeoisie.

So there was nothing surprising that when they first tasted limited authority in some of the States where they could enjoy power for a fairly long time because of their past record of fighting for people’s cause, degeneration started soon enough. The Left, primarily the CPI-M enjoying the loaves and fishes of office, abandoned its class politics. Corruption became rampant. Money-making became the priority of the comrades. They had no compunction in using threats, intimidations and actual violence to suppress their critics and political opponents to perpetuate themselves in power. Rigging elections became the normal practice.

As a result, the Left has discredited itself and finds itself in total organisational disarray. It has lost its credibility and the immense respect that it once commanded from the masses. At the same time it has lost its ideological moorings while being unable to feel the pulse of the people so deeply alienated it is from the bulk of the masses. Inevitably, the Left failed to fill the political space vacated by the Congress. Its presence in national life shrank and that space has been filled by the Hindutva brigade led by the Sangh Parivar which captured power at the Centre for six years (1998-2004) and is once again seeking to stage a comeback, its nominee for the post of the Prime Minister this time being Narendra Modi. (Howsoever much the Gujarat CM tries to conceal his communal face, it comes out frequently in his body language that has the distinct stamp of the RSS’ majoritarian attitude.)

In spite of suffering severe losses, the Left still refuses to give up sectarianism and approach other democratic parties to build up a united and broadbased movement in defence of people’s rights and interests. The two major Left parties, the CPI and CPI-M, are yet to come out of the Stalinist mode of thinking and organisational practice.

In this setting the Left extremists under the banner of the CPI (Maoist), working among the poor tribals of the central Indian hinterland, are offering spirited resistance to the neoliberal offensive in the countryside manifest in the corporate takeover of the tribals’ land with the state adopting the role of a passive onlooker, if not an active accomplice, of such predatory assaults to divest the adivasis of their jal, jangal and zameen although the Maoists’ excessive reliance on force at the cost of people-centric politics could lead them into a dead-end.

However, if we turn to the wide world we find that in the global decline of the communist movement in the post-Soviet Union era, only in Latin America is the Left showing its willingness to grapple with the realities of the emerging world. In many Latin American countries the Left has come to power not by revolution but through parliamentary democracy. The Left in Latin America is rejecting some old ideas and concepts. It has realised that democracy must be practised within the party and in dealing with those outside the party. One of the exponents of the new Left in Latin America is Marta Harnecker. She says the Left “must overcome the organic forms of the past, which were the result of an acritical copying of the Bolshevik model of the party”. She has pointed to “the steamroller policy that some revolutionary organisations, availing themselves of the fact that they are the strongest, have tried to get others to support their policies”. This is what N.C. had assailed long years ago.

Will the Indian Left learn from its past mistakes, rectify itself, give up its “steamroller policy” and play the role that is expected of it in building an egalitarian and exploitation-free society by treating other like-minded parties as equal partners?

If it does so that would indeed be the best tribute to Nikhil Chakravartty on his birth centenary since he had advocated that very course of action for the Left shedding its arch sectarian “holier-than-thou” approach on the one hand and discarding the brutal methods to suppress dissent, both within and outside the party, on the other.

Therein lies N.C.’s continued relevance in the present complex scenario.

October 30 B.D.G.

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