Mainstream, VOL LII, No 16, April 12, 2014
From the Left Roots
Saturday 12 April 2014, by
The two major Left parties, the CPI and CPI-M, speak of a Third Front that is both non-INC and non-BJP, and have sought to join hands with the AIADMK in a pre-poll alliance (since withdrawn as a “mistake”). Any thinking person would find it odd that these major Left parties are trying to forge pre-poll or post-poll alliances with non-Left parties and groups without making any moves towards unity among smaller Left parties and groups and other socialist and progressive forces which are ideologically closer to themselves.
The general public is thoroughly disenchanted with the unprincipled politics of convenience and money-power that the regional parties and major national parties routinely adopt. The credibility of the Left parties in the public eye can, I believe, only be restored by adhering to stated principles and unifying the Left.
The past decades of coalition politics has shown vicious political competition between INC, the dominant member in the UPA coalition, and BJP, the dominant member in the NDA coalition, irrespective of whether they occupy the Treasury or Opposition Benches in Central or State Legislatures. This political competition is focussed on exposing each other’s political failures and corruption scams. The INC accuses the BJP of communalism and being under the ideological influence of the RSS, while the BJP accuses the INC of being pseudo-secular and pandering to minorities for political gains. The INC blames the BJP for the 2002 Gujarat pogrom and the BJP retaliates with accusations of the 1984 massacre of Sikhs under INC rule.
The INC-led UPA has clearly lost its political bearings, is weakened by a series of scams, and its policies and actions are increasingly influenced by corporate boardroom decisions rather than signals from the grassroots. At the same time, the BJP-led NDA, itself riven with internal dissension, also supports a pro-corporate economic agenda identical to that of the Congress, with the added Hindutva dimen-sion. Both parties are blessed with many politicians who are known to be corrupt and have successfully institutionalised corruption in cahoots with big money and criminals. The regional parties are not much different in this respect. It is the dimension of corruption that was the focus of Anna Hazare’s movement, which saw huge public support though mostly from the middle class. In this scenario, there is urgent need to re-vitalise the political Left, which is fragmented.
For the up-coming general elections, the electronic media has created a “PM-candidate” hype, aping a presidential-style election. Narendra Modi’s impressive oratory, camou-flaging inaccuracies and untruths, easily excels Rahul Gandhi’s late and weak start. As of now, the BJP appears to be forging ahead of the INC. It is anybody’s guess whether the “Modi factor” will really win the BJP the seat numbers it hopes for, but indications are that the INC will be severely depleted.
In this scenario, the so-called Third Front is almost a non-starter, and the prime ministerial, national-level ambitions of several of its leaders is the source of amusement or ridicule. In any case, much like the previous Third Front, it is likely to be ineffective or short-lived.
In the short time available, I will try to explain what is in my mind concerning Left unity, its urgent national necessity, what could happen if there is no opposition to the Rightist and fascist forces that are steadily gaining strength and middle class acceptability, and suggest a way forward.
The New Politics
The AAP’s dramatic rise to political power in Delhi in December 2013 fired the imagination of the general public and intellectuals that an alternative to the money-mafia power and pro-corporate politics of the mainstream political parties in power at the Centre and in the States, is possible. Whether or not the AAP, with its single-focus, anti-corruption agenda, is, or will turn out in the long-term to be, really pro-people, only the future will tell. But in addition to the AAP offering an alternative, the introduction of the “NOTA” option in EVMs, offers voters in the forthcoming 2014 general elections the choice of rejecting a party and/or candidate in his/her constituency, as an expression of a demand for alternative politics. At any rate, the success of the AAP, such as it is, is seen by some as evidence of the political irrelevance of the Left.
The public’s disgust and disenchantment with the political class and its corrupt politics, unprincipled political alliances between political parties, mega-scale financial corruption, hypo-critical pro-corporate and anti-people policies leading to land acquisition, huge price rise and farmers’ suicides etc., is well known. The pre-2014 election situation of the major players at the Centre, namely the INC and BJP, having identical economic policies, and regional or caste-based or religion-based political parties not being much different, the need for genuine pro-people politics that only the Left can provide is the need of the hour.
The chances of the AAP as a non-INC non-BJP party, which will also not ally with “corrupt” regional parties, gaining enough Lok Sabha seats in the current elections to seriously influence the balance of power is debatable. However, a coalition of Left and democratic forces that is non-INC and non-BJP, even if it is far too late for the 16th Lok Sabha, can and will make a difference for the 17th Lok Sabha.
At present there are about 28 Left political parties and factions, and many of them are not on speaking terms with each other at the party level and even at the individual level. There is open verbal and even physical hostility between some of them. This intra-Left hostile atmosphere of finger-pointing, accusation and counter-accusation regarding policy and action, and interaction on the ground, rather than discussion of commonality of thought and action, will only result in continuing stand-offs or even further organisational fractures. We need to realise that this hostility and stand-off certainly helps the Rightist status quo and neo-liberal forces, which are rapidly gaining strength.We may even need to guard against the possibility of clandestine Rightist forces engineering or fostering these differences.
Notwithstanding, cadres of different Left groups sometimes cooperate with, and even assist, each other, but in the electoral arena there is almost always competition and mutual hostility. Such a situation can only result in the Left becoming more fractured and therefore more irrelevant, thus strengthening the Rightist forces.
People’s movements all over India have been opposing global capitalism, brahmanism, feudalism, patriarchy, religious fundamentalism, jingoistic nationalism and the state-corporate nexus. These are perhaps the broad areas in which Left forces could engage on-the-ground, especially with people who are illiterate or semi-literate, and who form 60 per cent of the masses who live on less than Rs 20 per day.
Left parties and groups, which accept parlia-mentary democracy as a means to achieve political power at the Centre and in the States, would do well to focus on people’s issues and the Constitution of India, to provide all people with social, economic and political justice
of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship,
equality of status and of opportunity, and promote
among them all, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.
Concerted Left Action
The CPI-M has, in its April 2012 Party Congress, stated as follows in its Political Resolution: “
Para 2.138. As against the Congress and BJP, the CPI-M puts forth the Left and democratic alternative. Only a Left and democratic platform can be the alternative to the bourgeoise-landlord rule. This alternative needs to be built up through a process of movements and struggles and the emergence of a political alliance of the Left and democratic forces.
” This unexceptionable resolution by the largest Left entity is cause for hope.
People all over the country are looking for, yearning for, honest, people-oriented political leadership that only a revitalised, perhaps even reinvented, Left can provide. But this would be possible if and only if the Left and democratic forces are able to set aside their differences, to lead the people of India to satisfy the preambular tenets of the Constitution of India, which declares India as a sovereign democratic secular socialist Republic.
The starting point for building an alliance is to identify and maximise points and areas of convergence of policy and action, and deliberately set aside the points and areas of divergence of policy and action. Looking backward in time, with accusations and counter-accusations can only be counter-productive to the emergence of any workable political alliance, and provide advantage to the Right and status quo forces. Instead, looking forward by focussing on “People” as the objective of democratic political action programmes of all Left parties and factions within the general ambit of the Constitution of India, is the only option.
As a first move, it may be possible for the various Left parties and factions to take positive steps to encourage their youth fronts, student fronts and trade union fronts to cease competing with and fighting against each other, or poaching by trying to win over members of youth and student fronts and trade unions over to their side. Instead, front leaders could be encouraged to cooperate with one another as policy, without need for ideological agreement at the party level. In this context, it is important to recall that in 2012, all trade union groups affiliated to Left parties, the INC and BJP, had made common cause and held joint demonstrations. This is possibly the first time since independence that trade unions with political background from the Right to Left, have met together on the same platform, with the common single-point agenda of supporting and participating in an All India General Strike on February 28, 2012, to protest against the Union Government’s anti-worker policies in general, and price rise in particular, and against rampant corruption with tax and fiscal concessions provided to the corporate sector. If such ideologically disparate trade unions could find common cause, there is no legitimate or valid reason for Left trade union groups, youth fronts and student fronts not to act together on a permanent basis for mutual benefit.
The intention of denying political power to the INC and BJP in the up-coming elections, may necessitate understandings or alliances with non-Left parties, but I see no valid reason why a beginning cannot simultaneously be made, to forge ideological agreement and unity between Left parties and factions. The Left parties need to jointly prepare now for the 2019 (or earlier) general elections, and for forthcoming State elections. But if difference of ideology between the Left parties and factions cannot be reconciled, leaders of Left and democratic forces need to seek and find a way for joint action by a Left Front with a Common Minimum Programme (CMP). Such a CMP was a part of the ”Declaration of the Left Parties’ National Convention” held by CPI, CPI-M, RSP and Forward Bloc on July 1, 2013 at New Delhi. This was published in Mainstream, Vol LI, No.29; July 6, 2013.
The Declaration states: ”The current plight of the country is due to the nature of capitalist development which favours the rich and harms the poor. The government’s policies are determined by the narrow interests of the big business, the rich and the powerful. As a result, vast masses of the people still live in poverty, victims of hunger and disease, with no education and health facilities and opportunities to earn a decent livelihood.” It unequivocally rejects the policies and political platforms of both the INC and BJP, and calls for an alternative policy platform, listing ten main features that can be understood as a CMP. It also states: ”Alternative economic policies, defence of secularism and social justice, strengthening federalism and an independent foreign policy are all important features of the alternative policy platform.” This is a positive and heartening step, but it needs to include, after due discussion, other features considered necessary by those Left parties and factions which had not been invited to (or did not attend if invited) the National Convention. Inclusion of the other 24-or-so Left parties and factions into policy formulation of a CMP would be effective in forming a Left Front for the 2019 general elections. Of course, even if invited, it is possible that those Left parties and factions that are dedicated to armed struggle may not have attended.
Alternative Focus for Left Politics
The ideas of Marx and Engels that are relevant to Left politics in India’s present political situation need to be made known to wider audiences. Likewise, ideas from Gandhi and Ambedkar that are also appropriate to Left politics in India today need to be recognised, and not rejected out-of-hand as in the past. The significant resurgence of socialism in the USA and Europe as noted from writings in the international media, indicates the decline of capitalism and needs to be noted, to initiate an exchange of ideas and views between the Indian Left parties and Western intellectuals.
In relation to preparing for the 2019 general elections and State elections in the interim, Left politics needs to shift focus towards forming a unified Left Front rather than joining non-Left parties to create a “Third Front” that is non-INC and non-BJP. The parties in such a Third Front would necessarily be unreliable political partners for several well-known reasons.
The present focus of Left parties and factions is to gain political power in the States, with little or no focus on gaining or winning political power at the Centre. Winning political power at the Centre through democratic, constitutional methods as a people’s choice, would energise the Left parties as a unified democratic Left Front, to aim for control over national economic policy, foreign policy, and internal and external security. Therefore, Left politics needs to aim at democratic political power both in the Centre and the States.
Initiating Intra-Left Cooperation
The dispensation amongst political parties, including Left parties, is hierarchical, whether or not the hierarchy is brought into place by internal democratic processes. Also, at the cadre-level and lower and middle levels of many Left parties, there is growing recognition that cooperation and unity between Left parties and factions can yield much better political dividend than competition and conflict, which only provides advantage to capitalist and communal forces. However, diktats from the top levels of each Left party or faction inhibit or prevent discussion or exchange of views and ideas between members of different parties and factions, and even perhaps within the party or faction itself.
I believe that the present situation of minimal or no interaction at the level of ideas and exchange of views, created by the top levels of Left parties and factions, needs to be remedied without attempting to “teach” those at the top levels of those parties and factions about the benefits of Left-party cooperation and unity. I recognise that face-to-face interaction between members of different Left parties and factions to even informally exchange ideas and views, could come to the attention of their higher echelons and be treated as disloyalty or worse.
Therefore, ideas and views concerning Left cooperation and unity need to be placed in the public domain by means of viewpoint articles and communications. This would enable any member of any party to read the views and arguments, and contribute his/her own views and ideas either in his/her own name or pseudonymously. These articles and communi-cations would also serve to bring these views and ideas to the attention of the top hierarchy within each Left party or faction. This public-domain-exchange calls for a media vehicle in the form of a hardcopy and/or internet journal. Rather than starting a new journal, the editors of suitable existing journals could be approached in this regard, to overcome start-up, operational, editorial, publication and financial problems, and also to reach an already established readership.
There is dire need to initiate the idea of Alternate Left Politics in India through constitu-tional, democratic methods, so that all the people of India would be able to actually realise justice, liberty, equality and fraternity that the Constitution of India guarantees all Indian citizens.
The Way Ahead
The past policies of Left parties have yielded little political dividend. In fact, the defeat of the CPI-M in West Bengal by the TMC has shown how decades-long hard work on-the-ground has been wasted due to change of focus from people-based, people-relevant politics to the politics of corporate-friendly economic growth through industrialisation. The infiltration of lumpen elements into Left parties is an important factor in their getting distanced from people-on-the-ground.
There are ongoing people’s movements on various specific issues, decades-old struggles for social and economic freedoms and rights, and centuries-old struggles against caste-based discrimination and natural-resource-looting. All these are seeking political (electoral) power that only Left democratic forces can provide. Violence in the pursuance of these demands and claims, has only been met with superior violence from the status quo Right forces in power, resulting in huge numbers of innocent people getting killed, raped, terrorised, displaced and pauperised in the hostilities between the armed militants and government forces. That Soni Sori, an adivasi teacher from Chhattisgarh who was wrongly accused of being a Maoist, and imprisoned and brutally tortured in custody, has joined the AAP rather than a Left party, is sufficient cause for serious Left introspection.
The CPB’s initiative for a Left democratic alternative or, at the very least, Left cooperation through a CMP, is a welcome initiative in the present darkening scenario of a resurgent BJP, a decadent INC, and regional or casteist or religion-based parties, all pursuing neo-liberal economics that can only further impoverish the poor, who are the vast majority. The AAP has exploded onto the political stage, but its political direction and the effect of its entry is anybody’s guess at this stage. As the links between dictatorial political power and corporate wealth get stronger by the day, even while public disillusionment with the political class grows, the scenario is becoming glaringly similar to the political situation of the 1930s in Germany, that brought Adolf Hitler to power. There is, in my view, substantial risk of a slide into fascism in India, and the only bulwark against this is a strong, re-invented, unified Left.
In this scenario, all efforts need to be made to protect the Constitution of India and empower We-the-People to demand and get the freedoms and rights that it guarantees. This, in my view, is possible only if the Left forces engage in alternative politics that
• Focus on winning democratic political power both at the Centre and the states,
• Maximise the capabilities of Left democratic and progressive forces, minimise the dissensions and differences, and forge a CMP,
• Set time-based political targets and assign tasks to party cadres to achieve those targets, without interfering with the objectives and activities of other Left forces,
• Identify and adopt relevant ideas of Marx, Engels, Mao, Gandhi, Ambedkar, and other thinkers and actors, that apply to the current Indian situation. Today’s social-economic-political situation calls for inspired inno-vation, and not inflexible or rigid adherence to a dogma. At the same time innovation should not compromise on basic values, prin-ciples and aims of the Constitution of India,
• Build fronts for youth, students, women, industrial workers, landless farmers, dalits, adivasis, unorganised sector workers, sex workers, etc., which can be rallied for joint mass action,
• Maintain political dialogue with all political parties and not practice “political untoucha-bility”. On the contrary, it is good policy to remain in contact with political adversaries because then their plans, actions and potential can be continuously gauged,
• Routinely and regularly engage Left cadres in meaningful instruction and discussions, and carefully exclude lumpen elements from action in the field.
All the above of course is easier said than done, especially when it comes from an “outsider” like myself. I have offered my ideas, views and suggestions without any claim whatsoever as to their efficacy, and with all the humility at my command. My request is that my ideas be examined carefully and discussed, and those which are found practical be adopted with suitable modification(s) as deemed necessary to suit different situations, but always with the twin focii on “People” and “Constitution of India”.
Major General S.G. Vombatkere retired as the Additional Director General, Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi. The President of India awarded him the Visishta Seva Medal in 1993 for distinguished service rendered over five years in Ladakh. He holds a Ph.D degree in Structural Dynamics from IIT, Madras. He is Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA, and is a member of the NAPM and PUCL. He writes on strategic and development-related issues.