Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The ideological churning within CPI (M): Will the Prakash Karat led party finally toe a pragmatic line?

On Alimuddin street, where the CPI (M) headquarters in Kolkata is located, comrades have a love-hate relationship with the party’s general secretary Prakash Karat. While many deem his various miscalculations during the last 10 years as the principle reason behind the party’s loss of clout, they are also deeply respectful of Karat’s understanding of Left politics. 

So the party central committee’s rejection of Karat’s official draft resolution on tactical consensus is hailed as a victory, but nobody is celebrating. The dominant feeling is the sense of uncertainty with a glimmer of hope for course correction.

In the last decade, the CPI (M) has gone from being one of the fulcrums of Delhi’s power equations to an almost marginal force, reduced to just a perfunctory sound-bite presence. Gone are the days when EMS Namboodiripad, Harkishan Singh Surjeet or Jyoti Basu played a critical role in framing India's polity. For Karat, this entire fall in fortune has directly coincided with his tenure as the general secretary. 

In 2004, the Left forces won 62 seats, its highest haul ever. The Left led by the CPI (M) decided to give outside support to the UPA 1 government. The Left wanted to be a vigilante, but was often perceived as an obstructionist force that laid siege to the government to stop any reform activities. 

When it should have used its new found clout to expand its base, Karat and co. were busy nitpicking the government for every possible issue. Yet when it decided to pull the plug in 2008, it was about an issue which had no resonance with the common voters, especially the largely poor electorate which had so far backed the party in states like West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. 

While the CPI (M) may have had its reasons to believe that the Indo-US nuclear deal was a blow to India’s sovereignty, it was impossible for party leaders in the grassroots to convince voters about the nuances of a complicated nuclear deal. From then on, everything has gone awry for the party. The Congress party survived the trust vote. In 2009, the TMC and Congress combined in Bengal and the Left got a major electoral blow. 

The bleeding hasn’t stopped till date. The party looks devoid of any concrete agenda. The connect with the youth, an important ingredient of political success in the current age and time, is completely missing with only Yechury emerging as a TV-friendly face. The party has completely failed to seize the initiative to highlight anti-people steps taken by successive governments.

It can be argued that the Left liberal space in India has shrunk considerably, especially with a right-wing government ascending to power with a thumping majority. But as the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party has seen, the common Indian is always a hungry for something new to change the current political discourse. 

The Congress is in a state of decline, permanently as many experts like to believe. The Left has a good chance to seek some of that space but only if it is willing to take the plunge. Karat’s line has been to keep equal distance from both BJP and Congress and try to work for a larger Left consolidation. But the Left forces may not have the critical mass support behind them to raise even a storm in the teacup. 

In these circumstance, a much more pragmatic stand reportedly advocated by the likes of Sitaram Yechury can be the way forward. They are looking to primarily fight against BJP’s growing power, which they deem as the rise of communalism. As a first step, many in the party are advocating for joint protest programmes with Congress and other 'secular forces' to take on the might of BJP. In the meanwhile, the Left can also try to increase its strength on its own and once it reclaims some of the lost ground, it can afford to ride solo.

The suggestion is unlikely to be palatable to the hardliners of the party like Prakash Karat, but for the Left to survive it needs to unshackle itself from some ideological purity. The combined vote share of Left and Congress in West Bengal nearly add up to that of TMC. If Nitish and Lalu can come together, burying hatchet of their bitter past, why can’t the Left and Congress do the same, especially since they have done business earlier. The party still looks to be a prisoner of history. 

The prime example was a resolution done in Jalandhar Congress back in 1978, that became the main point of contention in last week's Central committee meeting. The context has changed and so has the leadership making the resolution. The corollary is that the dissent, so long playing in the background, has suddenly come to the fore, forcing Karat and other top leaders to take it up head on. 

Some of these questions and more will be discussed on the platform of the next CPI (M) congress in Vizag in April next year and the subsequent plenum which will dissect threadbare, the wilting organisation of the party in the country. CPI (M) in its glory days, had significant presence in states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, but now the party organisation is virtually vanquished in these places. 

Many believe Prakash Karat will put in his papers in Vizag as there has been instances of General Secretaries resigning after the rejection of their official draft. P Sundarayaa did it and so did Bhalchandra Trimbak Ranadive​ in the undivided Communist party. However, others think that Karat is unlikely to give in so easily and will try to take a more liberal stand amenable to a larger section of the party. General Secretaries in CPI (M) can't serve for more than three terms, although Karat, prior to this disaster, was well in course to keep his position.

In any case, the party needs to change its tact for the future. Sitaram Yechury, by putting up an alternate draft regarding policy issues, has effectively thrown the cat among the pigeons. He has even got support from parts of the Kerala lobby, who used to support Karat unflinching. It’s time for Prakash Karat to perform or perish. Power without accountability cannot ever become the status quo.

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