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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 27, June 20, 2009

Indian Left Today

Monday 22 June 2009, by E.M.S. Namboodiripad

Nineteen Eightyeight will go down in history as the year in which a widely current myth was exploded—the myth that the entire Opposition from the extreme Left to the extreme Right should be united in a single combination if the Congress is to be defeated. It is being increasingly recognised that there cannot be a single Opposition in which the Right and the Left segments are united.

As late as a year ago, the Left was under attack (from the Centrist political leaders and from the most influential media organs) for “blocking” the project of uniting the Opposition forces. Some of those who mounted the attack went to the extent of alleging that the Left was adopting this position under “instructions” from the Soviet leadership who is interested in keeping the Rajiv Government in place. Enemies of the Left were gloating over the “discomfiture” and isolation of the Left. Braving these assaults on it, the united Left made itself felt as a force to reckon with in national politics, organised the classical cross-country march—the Bharat Jatha culminating in the Delhi rally of December 9.

Having thus made itself felt as an independent political force, the Left proceeded, in cooperation with the non-BJP Opposition parties, to organise the successful Bharat Bandh of March 15, 1988. Never before did the Left succeed to such an extent in developing united action with all the secular democratic forces in the country, even while preserving its own independent identity. The result is that we do not hear any more of a single Opposition in which the Left and the Right would participate in equal measure. The effort of the non-BJP national Opposition parties today is to unite the Centrist political forces—either merging them into a single party (SJD) or forming a National Front—which will then proceed to have electoral understandings or adjustments with the Left on one hand, and with the BJP on the other, for defeating the Rajiv Gandhi Congress.

Is this a practicable proposition? Will it be possible for the Centrists to be “equidistant” from the Left and the BJP? Would they agree that the BJP will participate in the Government to be formed after the Congress is defeated? If they do not, will the BJP agree to cooperate with the Centrists to make them win an electoral victory? If, on the other hand, the BJP is allowed to have a share in the Government, will it not make the Centrist combination a purely Rightist outfit, rather than “equidistant” from the Left and the Right?

These are questions of a speculative nature, matters of the post-election setup, into which we need not enter here. There is, however, a far more important, an immediately relevant question: what will be the political programme of the Centrist combination? Will it be of such a nature that the Centrist formation can really remain “equidistant”? After all, the political and programmatic approaches of the Left and a political party like the BJP are in such mutual conflict that a choice will have to be made. Which of the two—the Left or the Right—will be chosen?

It is necessary in this context to note that, while the Right and the Left in this Opposition—the BJP and the Communists in particular—are irreconcilably opposed to each other on a number of programmatic and policy issues, there are greater points of convergence of the Leftist and the Centrist positions. That is why it has been possible, on many occasions, for the Leftists and the Centrists to unite. Hence the proposal for developing a broad platform on the basis of which the Left and secular Opposition forces can fight jointly.


What are the issues on which the Right and the Left are irreconcilably opposed to each other, while joint action is possible between the Left and the Centrists?

Firstly, the major forces of the Left are committed to proletarian internationalism. They, therefore, are interested in carrying forward the best anti-imperialist traditions of India’s foreign policy. Although differing with the Left in some important respects, most of the secular Opposition parties also set their face against those anti-Soviet, anti-China and anti-Communist postures which are characteristic of the BJP’s approach to international relations. Would it be possible for the Centrist parties to be “equidistant” in relation to these two approaches?

Secondly, in relation to the internal economy, the Left is committed to anti-imperialist, anti-feudal, anti-monopoly and democratic changes. Here again, the major components of the Centrist Opposition agree with the Left in some important aspects of the national economy. That was why it was possible for the non-BJP Opposition parties (including the Left and those parties which now propose to constitute themselves into the Centrist combination) to agree on a consensus document on economic policies. The reference is to the Calcutta conference of January 1984 where a consensus document was adopted.

Thirdly, the Left parties do not confine themselves to some socio-economic policies on which they agree with the Centrist parties, but give these policies flesh and blood by rallying the mass of working people in struggle for these policies. It was the Left-led mass organisations of the industrial and agricultural workers, middle class employees and intellectuals, the mass of working peasantry, the students, the youth and the women who organised the Bharat Jatha in November 1987 which culminated in the Delhi rally on December 9. It is again the Left-led trade union movement which is now trying to build the unity of trade unions and organising the struggle against the offensive on the trade union movement. The Left-led kisan and agricultural workers’ organisations are now organising an all India struggle. It is on the basis of these struggles at the mass level that the Left is making its distinctive contribution to the emerging Opposition unity.

Fourthly, there is the question of Centre-State relations on which the Congress and the BJP virtually agree; they demand that Indian polity should be based on a “strong Centre”, riding roughshod over State autonomy. As opposed to them are the Left and the Centrist Opposition parties who agreed on a consensus document at Srinagar in October 1983. That document made a serious attempt to integrate the two concepts of Indian unity and State autonomy. It is significant that, in their memoranda submitted to the Sarkaria Commission, all other (Left and Centrist) Opposition parties pleaded for the retention of Article 370 of the Constitution (special provisions for Kashmir), while the BJP demanded the abrogation of that Article. The philosophy of a “strong Centre” is what unites the Congress and the BJP and divides both of them from the Left and secular Opposition parties.

Fifthly, the Left parties are as opposed to the “strong Centre” thesis of the Congress and the BJP as to the virtual denial of the need for a Centre capable of preserving national unity and co-ordinating the developmental activities of State governments. It is well-known that some of the regional parties in the country are inclined to stretch the idea of State autonomy to the point of so weakening the Centre as to make it impossible for it to discharge its duties in preserving national unity and co-ordinating national development. Some of the secular Opposition parties in their zeal for anti-Congress unity are inclined to compromise with such forces of regionalism. The Left is firmly fighting these tendencies.

Sixthly, on the question of secularism, the rights of the majority and minority religious communities, the BJP charges the Congress with “appeasing” the minorities and harming the interests of the majority. The Left and Centrist secular Opposition parties, on the other hand, stand for national unity, protection of the religious minorities, opposition to separatism and fundamentalism shown by some minority leaders and, above all, for complete separation of religion from the state. Our charge against the Congress is that it makes opportunist compromises with the majority as well as the minority communal forces which has become a danger to national unity.

The differences between the Centrists and a party like the BJP may for the time being be prepared over in the interests of the electoral unity of the Opposition. They would, however, come up prominently during the election campaign and particularly after the campaign ends in success. The question will then come: what policies will be pursued by the new Government? The Left will press for policies based on the principles of secularism and radical democracy. The BJP for its part will fight for its own approaches and policies. Will this not result in the same type of conflict in and come to the same end as the Janata Government of 1977-79?

Political developments of the period that began with the fall of the Indira Gandhi Government in 1977 have made it clear that those who oppose and fight the Congress are of different categories—Left and Right, secular and communal, those who stand for and oppose national unity on the basis of State autonomy, etc. It is idle for anybody to hope that all these can be brought under one omnibus united front, or that a Centrist force can pursue a policy “equidistance” with these forces.

[Reproduced from Mainstream Annual 1988, (pp. 27-28 and 182)]

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