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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 46 New Delhi November 5, 2016

Why the Left must ally with the Congress

Monday 7 November 2016


by V.G. George

Prof Irfan Habib‘s letter to the CPI-M Polit-Bureau on June 26 seeking a positive approach to the Congress in the context of the BJP‘s emergence [that appeared in Mainstream (July 23, 2016)] deserves a considered discussion. The traditional Left parties in the country, including the socialists and communists, are on the wane and they alone cannot fight the BJP is a plain truth. The socialists, who had secured ten per cent votes in the first general elections, could secure only 8.7 per cent votes in the last general elections namely, 3.4 per cent for the Samajwadi Party, 1.7 per cent for the Biju Janata Dal, 1.3 per cent for the Rashtriya Janata Dal, 1.1 per cent for the Janata Dal (United), 0.7 per cent for the Janata Dal (Secular) and 0.5 per cent for the Indian National Lok Dal. The Communist Left, which had secured eight per cent votes and 61 seats in the Lok Sabha a decade-and-a-half ago, secured only 4.5 per cent votes and 12 seats in the last Lok Sabha elections. It consists of 3.2 per cent to the CPI-M, 0.8 per cent to the CPI, 0.3 per cent to the RSP and 0.2 per cent to the Forward Bloc. In the second general elections the undivided Communist Party brought 27 members to the Lok Sabha from nine States, but now it is confined to three States. The Congress Party that secured one-fifth of the total votes, polled in the last Lok Sabha elections, cannot be wished away when forming an anti-BJP front.

This was the logic that the Left pursued when it had supported the UPA 1. The UPA coalition partners and the four Left parties then agreed upon a common minimum programme, formed an UPA-Left co-ordination committee and elected Somnath Chatterjee as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. In this course of action the Left had to make two compromises. The first was the support extended to the Patent Amendment Act in Parliament that came as a corollary to the WTO regulations. The second was that the Left allowed the government to approach the IAEA for talks on the India-US civil nuclear agreement. Achin Vanaik then commented that ‘the move clearly signalled a softening of the Left‘s original stand‘. But still the Left was able to put brakes on the UPA Government‘s design to further disinvest public sector industries and public sector financial institutions.

This dialectics can be applied in the next parliamentary elections when the Left can make electoral adjustments with the Congress as crafted in West Bengal. But the alliance in Bengal was lukewarm and unenthusiastic and the masses did not trust it. On the other hand Nitish Kumar‘s electoral alliance with the Congress in Bihar proved highly successful since it was wholehearted unlike in Bengal. If the Congress, Left and AIUDF had joined hands together, Assam would not have been offered to the BJP where the Congress had had an uninter-rupted rule of 15 years.

The Congress should also learn to live with the coalition philosophy considering its abating influence with only Karnataka, a rather large State in the South in its fold, along with some small States in North. As early as in 1954 the Congress supported a minority PSP Ministry in Travancore-Cochin with Pattom Thanu Pillai as the Chief Minister whose party had just 19 members in the Assembly where the former had 45 members whose leader was none less than Panampally Govinda Menon. In 1960 also the scenario was repeated when the Congress supported a PSP-led government in the newly formed State of Kerala. The Congress had 63 seats and the PSP 20 seats and again the Chief Minister was Pattom Thanu Pillai of the PSP. Such were the times when coalition politics was at an experimental stage and the leaders were stalwarts who came through the national move-ment.

Similarly if the Congress had shown some patience in enduring the Union governments led by Charan Singh, Chandra Sekhar, V.P. Singh, Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral and not have withdrawn support on flimsy grounds and allowed space and time for the growth of a democratic alternative, the politics of this country would have been entirely different. The people became tired and weary of the short-lived Janata governments and the BJP was catapulted to the position of the principal Opposition and then as the ruling party between 1999 and 2009. Incidentally, the party had just two members in the Lok Sabha in 1984. The Left also should understand that in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan there is no democratic alternative except the Congress to fight the BJP.

The classic example of a BJP win over a disunited Opposition is the UP Lok Sabha elections of 2014. The BJP won 71 seats and its ally, Apna Dal, two seats. The BJP’s vote-share was 42.3 per cent while the SP got 22.2 per cent, BSP 19.6 per cent, RLD 0.9 per cent and Congress seven per cent. The non-BJP parties had secured more votes than the BJP, but the secular votes were divided. The BJP‘s first ever victory from a constituency, Nemom, in Trivandrum to the Kerala Legislative Assembly is a pointer of the things to come. In spite of a massive victory the CPI-M‘s vote-share was reduced by two per cent in 2016 compared to its 2011 Kerala Legislative Assembly vote-share. This must have been the reason for Prof Irfan Habib asking the LDF to make alliance with the UDF partners to resist the rise of the BJP in Kerala.

Dr V.G. George is a former Reader in History, Mar Thoma College, Tiruvilla (Kerala).

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