Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Can the Left survive the wrath of Bengal and Kerala?

"I went to Communism as one goes to a spring of fresh water, and I left Communism as one clambers out of a poisoned river strewn with the wreckage of flooded cities and the corpses of the drowned...The reeds to which I clung and which saved me from being swallowed up were the outgrowth of a new faith, rooted in mud, slippery, elusive, yet tenacious".

MANY who will be voting against the CPI(M) in Kerala and West Bengal in the forthcoming assembly elections, in all probability testify to what Arthur Koestler wrote, in 1953, in the fourth volume of his autobiography, The Invisible Writing. So perhaps what we feel is the end could just be the beginning.

For too long, communists in India enjoyed too cozy a romance. They were defeated and discarded everywhere, not in India. They played the arbiter, held the political high ground, reserved the right to certify on political morality, ideological purity, secularism, national diplomacy, breaking and making alliances; all the time projecting themselves the great opposition, while remaining in the twilight of power clandestinely brokering for and profiting from the Congress. They succeeded in doing all the dirty work for the perpetuation of Congress dynasty system by speaking with a forked tongue, playing Jekyll and Hyde and giving hypocrisy the stature of ideology. Only one politician, Mamata Banerjee, in the country exposed them for what they are and challenged them in their own turf. Today, whatever be the poll outcome, the Marxists are on the run. Their veil has been pulled off and thrown in the mud.

This is progression of history. Few decades ago the markets used to be flooded with Communist literature. Equally familiar was the presence of anti-communist books and writings. It was fashionable to be on either side of the fence. Today, the free market literature, capitalist economic models, globalisation, its anti-thesis, the great (one doesn’t know what is great about it) recession and its aftermath make for heady tomes. Nobody bothers about communists anymore. In a way what we are doing here is a left-handed compliment to the communists.

This is not an obituary of the Left. This writer immensely believes in the need for a pro-poor, anti-elitist, egalitarian political philosophy. This debate on the likely communist defeat is only a hypothesis, particularly in the context of the CPI(M), which is the most influential of the communists in India. The CPI(M) may or may not lose the elections in West Bengal and Kerala -both the states where they are in power now. But there is much euphoria in the non-left circuit about a distinct possibility of the CPI(M) defeat and the consequent reshaping of the national polity.

Will the CPI(M) defeat, if it happens, usher in the bipolarity in polity? Will it accelerate the disintegration of the so-called third front? Can it lead to the US-model two front race, where the similarity between the two opposing formation will be so confusing that the voters will be left with little to choose? Can a country of such marvellous variety and distinctiveness ever get used to a shortage of political choice? These are issues that will come to dominate political discourse post-poll. We are only fast-forwarding.

Sure the pattern of the electoral cycle in Kerala shows that the ruling party is dismissed by the electorate every five years. The deep roots the CPI(M) has in West Bengal will ensure the CPI(M)’s return, the moment Mamata trips, if they are defeated this round.

So what we are at here is something else. Communism has become obsolete, passé as an ideology. Nobody discusses the future of the Left in India. Politics of ideology is anathema to most modern-day politicians. The existential crisis confronting the CPI(M) is of a different nature. Most of which is its own creation. Simply put, the CPI(M) today is a bourgeois party, a victim of so-called parliamentary delusion. It has lost its separate identity in the onslaught of globalisation. It has adopted all the major vices of other opportunistic parties. It has accepted the role of big money for manipulating electoral outcome, and it has ceased to have an alternative vision of governance. It has become a complimentary adjunct to the Congress in Kerala, it has accommodated a major segment of the Congress in West Bengal. The CPI(M) grew only in 1977, in the wake of Emergency, which it fought shoulder to shoulder with other genuine opposition parties. The harvest it reaped that time is what is likely to slip out its grip this time. In the seventies and eighties EMS Namboodiripad, its long time general secretary tried to shape it into a serious secular party, openly opposing and distancing from Muslim-Christian communalism. He had declared that the minority communalism was equally dangerous as majority communalism. The later day pragmatists, however, turned this strategy on its head and courted and coaxed minorityism while brazenly hurting Hindu sentiments. The CPI(M) thus found itself hostage to all the anti-India pamphleteers.

Unfortunately, even the 2008 economic disaster in the capitalist world was not seized by the Left to provide an alternative economic paradigm, because of its own ideological bankruptcy. Two decades after the free fall of communism worldwide, the Indian Left dodged, drifted, dallied and sauntered with capitalism a la Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in West Bengal. He blasphemously (for a communist) declared, "I am a capitalist", in the idyll aftermath of Singur and Nandigram. And mouthed platitudes for the Tatas and other big industrialists.

Communists could have become the rallying force for a swadeshi alternative for all fed up with the vulgar, exhibitionist consumerism pervading the country. The party instead played into the hands of neo-riche land mafia, market swindlers and hawala racketeers, in the process failing to come to terms with the realities of the new world. Politically they stayed stuck in a time warp, economically they embraced willy-nilly the World Bank dictated Planning Commission propositions and lost the policy initiatives; they realized their ideas have no takers and have lost the charm with the larger audience. Despite this, political power sustained them.

After the decimation of their strength to below 20 in the new Lok Sabha - a steep decline from over 60 in the previous one, when they called the shots in the UPA - there has been steady erosion in public interest about the comrades’ Parliamentary posturing.

A CPI(M) defeat in both the states, traditionally their strongholds have both long and short term implications. By wielding power in the two states along with Tripura, and the backing of the powerful Left lobby at the national level in the media, academia and the bureaucracy the CPI(M) enjoyed an over-arching dominance in policy making, governance and government formation at the Centre much beyond their actual political relevance and Parliamentary presence.

Marxists were in power for too long in West Bengal for people to fathom what an alternative government would look like. A generation of Bengali population had no opportunity to experience a free, open, non-intrusive alternative. That is what they, a section of Marxists included, are looking for. Keen political students on West Bengal often surmise that only the Marxists themselves can defeat the Marxists in the state. Is there such a big rebellion within its ranks in the state? How come the Communists lost majority of parliamentary seats to Mamata Banerjee in the last election? Was it the result of an internal sabotage? Protagonists of this theory concede the fascist cell rule, the CPI(M) has perfected in the state over the last four decades, obnoxious in itself, degenerated into a corrupt set up, torturing and tormenting the common man. There was no avenue of redress as the distinction between the state and the party unit was entirely absent. The party is the establishment. Party is the government. Party is the industry. And the party has in the ultimate analysis become the bourgeoisie, exploiting the masses, cornering all profit, surplus capital and the blood sucker money lender. The real estate holdings of the CPI(M) establishment in Kerala and West Bengal spread into media houses, hotels, health resorts, amusement parks, animal farms, cooperative establishments and banks have made some observers to comment that the party is the biggest industry and employer in the states they run.

The Kerala situation is slightly different that it has faced power interruptions and grass roots challenge from the UDF and the RSS. But in the last five years the party has tried to restructure the state on the lines of West Bengal by introducing cadre supremacy in all decision making up to the panchayat level. The party coffers swelled. Simultaneously the parliamentary infatuation has gripped the cadre like a disease, leading to open revolts and desertion at all levels.

The Communists in India survived all these years in the democratic system enjoying an indulgent endorsement from the Congress at the Centre. Their main source of funds consisted of foreign donations, state support and trade union extortions. Milching all the three sources to the last drop was easy as long as the party enjoyed government patronage. However, the two main sources, foreign funding and trade union exploits have in the past decades dried up. Trade unionism is no more entertained by the industry. So the government is the only source of money collection for the party.

This is the crucial lifeline for the CPI(M), more so, unlike other parties because of the humongous army of full-timers it has recruited over the years. According to insiders, the CPM has over a lakh full timers-majority concentrated in West Bengal-upto the local unit. Each full timer is given a monthly salary of Rs 5000. A married couple is given slightly higher and those in rural areas get a notch less than the urban counterpart. Party looks after the education and other expenses of the children of full time couples. If the party goes out of power how will it sustain this huge army?

Its sway over the Congress governments helped the communists infiltrate into the administrative system providing polemical input for the ideologically synthetic ruling party. As long as socialism held its fascination for the Congress, comrades were a useful band of fellow travellers. The octopus like grip of the communists over most academic institutions in the country is still strong. Using this clout they practically disoriented Indian academia, distorted Indian history writing, suppressed free, innovative research work and politicised the education sector. Trade unionism in Indian scientific institutions destroyed their original competence for technological breakthrough.

Communists on the national scene sheltered all secessionist, fissiparous elements and always worked to deny India its place as a progressive, modern, nation state. This has proved its own undoing. Communists went on shrinking in their area of influence because of their inability to appreciate Indian cultural moorings.

In a society with such vast economic disparities, with many even in the capitalist bloc getting disillusioned with the unsustainable consumerist splurge, there is relevance for a people oriented left political platform. To fill that space the Communists themselves have to change. They have to start really looking Indian, thinking Indian , behaving Indian. The ides of May could hopefully provide that makeover for the Indian Left.

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