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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 36, August 28, 2010

Karat versus Maoists: Total Advantage for the Fundamentalists

Thursday 2 September 2010, by Diptendra Raychaudhuri


At last, Prakash Karat has gathered enough courage to call a spade a spade. At Vijaywada, where the CPI-M had a meeting of its extended Central Committee, he reportedly told his comrades that farmers’ land should not be taken without their consent. He admitted that Nandigram was a blot on a party’s face that thrived as a pro-poor pro-peasant party. It clearly shows that he wants to bring the lost Leftist sheen of his party back. What remains to be seen is whether he and his party changes their old view and supports Mamata Banerjee in her effort to change thoroughly the colonial Land Acquisition Act. But that calls for a lot more courage, tolerance and honesty, in short faculties that Communists generally lack.

In all probability, Karat will not side with Banerjee. The tragedy of the Communists all over the world emanates from three factors: politically, their narrow mindset or sectarianism; organisationally, their firm faith in totalitarianism; and philosophically, their inability to see the truth even when it stares at them.

That is as true of Karat and his party as for the Maoists. These traits have blinded both of them in a way that they have erred on defining the dangers lying ahead and suitably responding to those. And they have their own reasons for that.

First let us consider Karat and his so-called comrades.

The Limitations of Karat

KARAT is the first man in the conventional Left (consisting of several other smaller parties like the CPI, RSP, Forward Bloc). But after following the Rightist path unabashedly in Bengal and to some extent in Kerala in the first decade of the present century, and having neo-liberal comrades like Sitaram Yechury and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee stuck with him, Karat’s vision can only be blinded by a polluting environment within the party.

Probably Karat knows much better than us—surely, because we are outsiders—that the Chief Minister of Bengal and his close associates want to transform the Bengal party into a Rightist Bengali chauvinistic party. No point in broaching subjects that cannot be proved, for those do the rounds in the private circle of the CM. But what that man said openly can be mentioned. In an interview with Star Ananda before the last Lok Sabha election, he lamented that Pranab Mukherjee was not being made the Prime Minister because he was a Bengali. All of us who have a little bit of knowledge of Raisina Hills and even less of 10 Janpath know that this is utter rubbish. Mukherjee may deserve the top job, but he is denied of that because of certain other factors that have nothing to do with his place of birth, his skin colour, his mother tongue or his ethnicity. Surely, the Bengal CM also knows that. He had a definite purpose of twisting the fact.

Some people believe the Bengal CM is very much impressed with the Gujarat CM, that is, Narendra Modi, who is of late in trouble as his very bright past is slowly catching up with him. The Gujarat CM plays development and the Gujarati pride cards, and the Bengal CM planned a thorough imitation to free himself of the Karat-controlled party. Karat has succeeded in thwarting this, though at Vijaywada he has given Bhattacharjee a limited liberty of choosing his own line in Bengal, probably without realising that it serves the cause of a ‘Jago Bangla’-type hysteria keeping at centre the Pranab-Buddha combination (though I think Mukherjee is not willing to play this boring game).

Apart from such sub-national chauvinism in Bengal, Karat has to bear the burden of carrying the neo-liberals.

In 2005, Sitaram Yechury and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee steered a document named ‘On Certain Policy Matters’. Its basic proposition was that the Communists should engage with the reality instead of blindly opposing it. Theoretically, nothing wrong in that. But, in reality it ushered in an age in which the Indian Left supported Patent Bills, SEZ, opening up of the retail sector to the Indian giants (about this Mukesh Ambani said in an interview that he apprehended much more resistance than actually what had to be faced) and so on. That document was supported to quite an extent by a man named Pinarayi Vijayan, who is the Kerala CPI-M Secretary. The dodgy leader has corruption charges against him and he is now being supported by Karat to the hilt, and that too at the cost of a cantankerous but fairly honest veteran, V.S. Achuthanandan.

We know Karat was behind the force that fought tooth and nail that document that changed the character of the party in Delhi Congress (2005). He failed. Thereafter, he made constant compromises with the neo-liberals. Thus, he saved his chair only to preside over the demise of his party, or at least the Leftism of his party. His party under him supported the establishment of SEZs. These SEZs were for attracting investment by giving tax concessions, which was not needed, according to even many eminent Rightist economists. Again, it was a sort of neo-zamindari and it required transfer of large areas from the peasants to the big industrialists. Thirdly, the SEZs are the graveyard of trade union rights. Keeping in mind these three features a Leftist has to fight the very concept of SEZ tooth and nail. Under Karat and A.B. Bardhan, the General Secretary of the CPI, the Communists of India first supported the SEZ and then played their tricks of deceiving the people by advancing some amendments which in no way could change the fundamentals of the industrial zamindari. Under Karat, his West Bengal party dreamt of establishing a snazzy SEZ in Nandigram. At later periods, they put forward various lies about the project itself. But at least one person, Nirupam Sen, documented the facts. At the end, Nandigram proved to be the last nail in the coffin of the conventional Left. It is good that Karat has at long last gathered enough courage to admit it within the closed walls of the party meeting. It is good, because the country needs a strong Leftist force to check the brazen avarice of the elite to hog everything, even the right of the vast majority to a minimum decent life.

I believe if there is one Leftist left in the CPI-M among the comrades who are below 70 years, it is Prakash Karat. Despite his lack of experience of practical politics and his unwavering communistic faith in the organisation as the mainstay of the party, he is dedicated to two basic Leftist principles: he is for more and more intervention by the state in the economy to ameliorate the conditions of the downtrodden, and he is ever ready to fight the danger of imperialism. After being largely unsettled by the neo-liberals of the party, he decided to hit back with a political agenda which could divide the party into pro-Congress and anti-Congress sections. He picked up the Nuke Deal as his weapon. At once the neo-liberals of Kerala led by Vijayan supported him, thereby ensuring him the backing of more than two-thirds majority in the party. He restored the anti-Congress character of the party, though the Bengal CM still contests that.

So, under Karat, anti-Congressism (that is, opposition to neo-liberalism) is back, whatever it means. The dream of the Bengali chauvinists is sure to run out of steam soon. But will Karat be able to bring Leftism back? That requires sidelining of Yechury, Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose, and maybe Vijayan. Is it possible, even in the long run?

Karat and Maoists: The Fratricidal War

UNFORTUNATELY for Karat, life seldom gives a second chance. 2011 will be the year of the funeral of the conventional Left which has in fact died in 2007 (the year of the Nandigram firing). But, will the conventional Left, particularly CPI-M, ever again rise from its ashes like the other CPI(M) whose M stands for ‘Maoist’? The other CPI(M) may have a bright future only if it accepts democracy as the best form of governance the world has known till now. Its soul-mate, the Nepalese Maoists, have accepted that fact. It is to be seen how many years the Indian Maoists take to realise that. But, Karat’s party has to cleanse itself from many of its sins and atone, before it can be accepted again by the people.

The conventional Left can judder to life only by rallying a large force opposed to the rising Rightist-chauvinist-authoritarian forces (consisting of the RSS, likes of Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram, and a section of the media supported by a large part of the vocal minority of the whole population). It requires not only consolidation of a large number of small parties along with a section of the Congress, but also the Maoists. About the Congress, it will probably not be out of place here to keep in mind the role the members of Sonia Gandh’s National Advisory Council is playing, and the impact it is gradually having on the Union Government. Vedanta’s bauxite mining project is likely to be stalled because of such interventions. Karat may do well to enlighten us about his view of such new trends from within the Congress which needs to be strengthened.

Next, about the CPI-M’s attitude towards the Maoists. Theoretically, the conventional Left and Maoists could be co-travellers. They both believe in a socialistic form of society which cannot have any quarrel with free democracy (as opposed to the fake democracy of the USSR or present-day China) as its politico-institutional form. Marxists have realised that, Maoists have not. But, both believe in maximum intervention by the state for the benefit of the poor and the underprivileged. Along with that, ironically, both believe in supremacy of the organisation which actually is the seed of self-destruction of the Communists, as it encourages sectarianism, totalitarianism, blinds one and blurs the truth. One offshoot of it is fratricidal war between the Communists something history is replete with.

Everyone in Bengal knows that the United Front Government of Bengal in the 1960s and its principal party, the CPI-M, had a major role in annihilating the first Naxal movement in Bengal, though the credit (or discredit) was monopolised by Siddhartha Shankar Ray (the last Congress CM of Bengal). Present-day Maoists are avenging for it by their inane killings of CPI-M workers in the Junglemahal of Bengal .

This has made Karat inane too. His allegations of the Mamata-Maoist combine that he made yet one more time from Vijaywada has exposed his inability to see the wider world of hunger and rebellion, injustice and struggle, or even the designs of the fundamentalists. In his inaugural speech at Vijaywada he said: “The corporate media has become the cheer leader for neo-liberal policies. Such an atmosphere has begun to corrode the parliamentary democratic system itself. The people’s right to assemble, to organise and to protest is being severely restricted by administrative and judicial actions.” He is bang on the point here, though his own government is doing the same in Junglemahal of Bengal. Being blinded by organisational considerations, he has lost sight of the bigger picture.

His party-men in West Bengal may lack a holistic vision of things. But doesn’t he know how active the RSS is in demolishing the resistance of the radical tribal and Dalit population of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand? Doesn’t he know that the outburst of the BJP MPs in Parliament after Mamata Banerjee’s rally at Lalgarh was coordinated by the bosses of Nagpur? Doesn’t he know the reasons? P. Chidambaram or Manmohan Singh is fighting the Maoists from their class interest. They want to clear a large part of the land for the mining barons. The same is the agenda of the elite who control the media, particularly the English media. However, the RSS is doing it for an altogether different reason.

The RSS is bent upon finishing off the Maoists because the radicals have challenged their cultural onslaught against the tribal population. The RSS had for long years dreamt of converting the tribal from his ancient faith to Hindu, to make him ‘dwija’. It does not have only a religious aspect, it has a huge cultural dimension. The RSS wants to ‘Hinduise’ and then communalise the adivasis and the Vanabasis of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and other jungle areas. They have successfully done this in Gujarat and the consequences we all have witnessed in the present century. This can be termed the real danger of communalism. The conventional Left is too tiny a force to oppose this. A large section of the Congress has no willingness to counter it. It is only the Maoists who effectively challenged it. That is why the Gond, Munda, Santhal and other tribes of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have not turned into radical Hindus like the Bhils and others of Gujarat.

By finishing off the Maoists, Manmohan Singh or P. Chidambaram will only strengthen the fundamentalists. But Karat knows it better that the neo-liberals are not concerned with the socio-cultural environment of the nation as they remain happy as long as they find newer avenues to loot the nation’s resources. But, how can it be the same for Karat? What will he gain by projecting, just like the RSS bosses, the Maoists as the enemy of the people? On which side of history will he place himself by ignoring the rebellion of the adivasi-Dalit population, that too at a time when Sonia Gandhi seems to be taking note of the same?

Probably it is high time when Karat should come out and try to impress upon the Maoists that unitedly the Left can take on the Rightists and fundamentalists. Divided, it is conventional knowledge that the Leftists will fail like anything.

Unfortunately, it seems Karat cannot play the historic role at this juncture because he believes the organisation of his party is the most important thing in the world. That is sectarianism. He believes his party should dominate in all the things it touches. That is a totalitarian mind. It is okay if the RSS grows, but a parallel Left force must not emerge. And then he cannot see the truth staring at him. The Maoists supported N.T. Rama Rao in the early 1980s, but the CPI-M had no problem in aligning with Rama Rao. The Maoists (erstwhile MCC) had tacit understanding with Laloo Prasad, and in those days, the CPI-M was an ally of Laloo Prasad in Bihar. The Maoists supported Shibu Soren in last Assembly election of Jharkhand. The CPI-M remained silent. Why are they making so much hullaballoo about their (the Maoists’) support to Mamata Banerjee? Only because they are going to be defeated by her? They accused her of supporting the communal forces. Now, when she is being supported by the people who fight the communal forces on the ground (something the conventional Left has never done except in one district of Kerala), why are they so upset? Maybe, because the Maoists are killing them. But have they (the Maoists) killed even one-tenth of their comrades killed by the Congress hooligans in the past? If they can still join hands with the Congress, why can’t they take the initiative to persuade the Maoists?

The truth is that in Bengal they are losing not to a woman named Mamata. They are being defeated by what they had preached in the past and what the people accepted: Leftism. They shunned Leftism and Mamata tried her best, with all her limitations, to fill the vacuum. She got the blessings of millions of Leftists, and is now sure to replace the pseudo-Left. It is only natural that the Maoists will support her in her endeavour to uproot a neo-liberal, ably aided by the Rightist elite and media, from the chair of the CM.

Karat cannot see the truth. His immediate past (2004-08) and his burden of carrying the neo-liberals of the party along with him encumber his path to attain a new height. Here, it should also be noted that his opponents in the party who favour, ironically, a more hard-line attitude against the communal forces, are more vocal about finishing off the Maoists that will strengthen the RSS in central-eastern India. But, they are neo-liberals in a Left party and do not deserve attention. Unfortunately, Karat is toeing their line as he too cannot see the truth staring at him.

Maoists: Lost in Blind Alley of Violence

TRUE, the Maoists too will not trust Karat at the moment. But, they must watch the recent developments in the conventional Left. Karat too may have some problems in approaching the Maoists. However, it is all the same even if A.B. Bardhan (who willingly came forward to release my novel on the Maoists in December 2006) takes the initiative. Probably, Bardhan is the right person for this.

If any such thing happens, the Maoists should show positive response. They cannot expect to defeat the grand alliance of Rightist-chauvinist-authoritarian forces all alone. A grand military onslaught by this grand alliance is probably in the offing (unless Sonia Gandhi puts her foot down and stalls it), and that may push the Maoists back to the remotest areas for many years.

The Maoist leaders must recalibrate their policies about the path of ‘revolution’. Is it not a juvenile disorder to believe that the guerrillas can finally defeat the military under the control of the present system? Do the Maoists really believe they can change the character of the state by killing some police informers or poor jawans? Comrade Kondapalli Sitaramaiah, their founder Secretary, tried to fix such disorder and such beliefs in the late eighties. But they threw him out of the party. Almost two decades have passed. Is it not time that they should see the truth staring at them instead of imagining that they will be able to capture state power by 2050?

But, it is unlikely that the Maoists will change. They cannot see the truth because they believe in totalitarianism and are sectarian in nature. These factors drive them to think that they have the monopoly right of building a benevolent state through the path chosen by them. These factors instil a sense of confidence in them that they are not required to go through the acid test of the democratic process, of ascertaining how many people actually support them.

This is probably a tragic end of Leftism in India. At one hand we have the conventional Left, the discredited lot who cannot throw out the pseudo-Leftists from their organisations.

On the other, we have the Maoists, a radical Leftist force that has no capacity to adapt to the changing times without giving away their core conviction. The conventional Left has lost the vision of the end and is concerned only about the means (election, number of MLAs and MPs, the government). The Maoists have not lost the sight of the end, but are terribly faltering on the means. Both the forces have such unwavering faith in the Stalinist organisatonal principles that neither Nandigram, nor the debacle in Andhra can teach them to have faith on the people and not on the organisation. They cannot even stop the fratricidal war between them.

Probably, for the time being, Leftism will survive on individual and civil society efforts.

Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a journalist and author of the book Understanding CPI(M): Will the Indian Left Survive? His e-mail id is

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