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India: Pursuit of irrelevance - The insistence on ideological purity could prove fatal for India’s Left

by Badri Raina, 10 July 2016

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The Indian Express - July 9, 2016

The Left parties did not do very well in the assembly elections in West Bengal. Sections among the CPM, who did not favour any alliance or understanding with the Congress in West Bengal, have been quick to blame the debacle on the electoral strategy adopted by the West Bengal unit of the party to strike a ground-level seat-sharing coordination with the Congress. It is widely known that the local unit of the party and the local leadership of the Congress had been keen on such coordination in response both to the brutal challenge offered by the Trinamool and to the opinion of the cadres in both camps. It had become obvious that the party leadership found itself in a bind of a new kind: Namely, whether to accede to the grass roots sentiment in West Bengal or to thrust the political/tactical line arrived at in the Visakhapatnam party congress, which forbade any alliance or understanding with the Congress.

I have before me the CPM communique, dated June 20, which states the decisions arrived at by the party at its recent central committee meeting on June 18.

The communique in the section on West Bengal inscribes in gruesome detail the mayhem unleashed by the Trinamool Congress during the course of the election. Subsequently, it goes on to make two formulations. In one instance it underlines the fact that “the electoral tactics adopted in West Bengal was not in consonance with the CC decision not to have an alliance or understanding with the Congress. This should be rectified and the CC stressed the importance of adhering to the political and tactical line adopted at the 21st congress of the party”. It enjoined on the politburo to implement the rectification “in consultation with the state unit of the party”. At another point the communique says the following: “The strength of the broadest people’s resistance is the answer to meet this unprecedented unleashing of violence.”

Writing as a very long-time apparatchik of the Left, here is the conundrum I and many others like me are invited to deal with in the face of these formulations which for now seem clearly at loggerheads with one another: How is “the broadest people’s resistance” achieved without striking any understanding with democratic forces that, ideological divergences notwithstanding, are wiling to be partners in the larger politics of beating back fascistic (if not fully fascist) forces in any concrete situation? And, can it not be argued that the decision of the state unit of the party in West Bengal to obtain such a “resistance” on the “broadest” scale could have logically led their deference to the popular “people’s” sentiment on the ground? Is it a persuasive argument that, adhering to the decision of the previous CC and of the party congress, the CPM might have fought these forces and the “unprecedented violence unleashed” by them better in taking on the Congress as well separately? Would such a course have multiplied or diminished and mitigated the violence, one may ask? Additionally, if now the error of the tactical line adopted by the state unit of the party in West Bengal is to be rectified “in consultation with the state unit of the party”, how might that injunction pan out, given that the state unit in the first place made the decision that it did in the assembly elections? How real is this process of “consultation” then likely to be? Or, is it at bottom a gentle way of saying “fall in line or otherwise”? And, what might that otherwise entail? Already one hears voices, now muted and cautious, that were the central leadership of the party to force its hand, a schism may result? It is conceivable that some puritan stalwarts in the party might welcome such a schism as an event that would only lead to a further purification of the party organisation and the ideological line; others might wonder what comrade Dimitrov would have said.

Here is the problematic as we see it: Can ideological purity fill in the setbacks suffered by the Indian Left because of its political diminution? Had the Indian Left been by now a truly united force and a major player on its own in the political life of the republic, its well-wishers should have been the last to persuade it to suffer mitigation by allying with merely democratic forces. The wretched fact is that such is not the case, and wishes are not horses. If this is conceded, one of two things must needs be done; indeed both simultaneously to build Left unity towards the goal of achieving a single communist party, and two, coterminously, to engage with democratic forces inimical to fascism to obtain the “broadest people’s resistance” on the ground. In either project, nothing would be more fatal for the Left than to be exclusively self-regarding of its pocket boroughs to the neglect of the republic and of the constitutional schema on which it enables the Left to further expand and intensify democracy, however gaspingly. This stipulation can find acceptance, one must qualify, only if in the first instance the Left does recognise the dimensions of the meltdown confronting the republic.

And there is little time to lose.

The writer taught at the Delhi University

P.S.

The above article from The Indian Express is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use