Mainstream, VOL LII, No 25, June 14, 2014
The Left Debacle In Lok Sabha 2014: A Critical Overview
Saturday 14 June 2014
by Amrita Datta
Marx was right—history does repeat itself, first as tragedy, and then as farce. The CPI-M’s unsettling performance in the Lok Sabha Election 2009 was tragedy impending; premonition was overt that the party had entered the stage of organisational and ideological crises which, if not addressed immediately, would take it down to the ultimate abyss. However, no change happened, neither in the perspective of the party leaders, nor in their internal party organisation; and the result showed up as a complete farce in the Lok Sabha Election in May 2014. In its voyage to the centre of hitting the rock bottom, the CPI-M lost its popularity, credibility and sustainability.
The CPI-M’s journey began as one of extraordinary success, especially in the States of West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. However, the trajectory took a deep plunge and does not seem to be recovering thereafter. What exactly went wrong? Why did the CPI-M lose almost all its seats in the recent Lok Sabha Election 2014? While we grapple with these questions, our focus is limited to the case of West Bengal.
For any political party, internal dynamism is crucial. In other words, it is imperative if not important, that a political party always strives for motivating the youth for a better future both for the party and for the socio-political structure they aim at serving. For the CPI-M in West Bengal, youth participation and leadership are in a dismal condition. While there is no denying the fact that many students “join” the students wing of the party, that is, the Students Federation of India (SFI) right after entering college, only a handful remain inspired enough to substantially keep contributing to the party. Needless to say, this makes the attrition rate very high. Together with this, the youth leadership in the CPI-M in West Bengal is in dire crisis which should have alarmed the party leaders as a premonition of decreasing youth identification with the party; however, it is quite evident that it did not.
Next, coming to the issue of party leadership, it looks like that the top leaders of the CPI-M both in West Bengal and at the national level, have delved into a time lapse as they seem to have not been affected by the deterioration of the party for the last few years. They hardly realise that their political confidence has long been translated into political arrogance, an attribute considered to be a vice in Leftist ideo-logy. The common people have stopped identifying with the aging leaders like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose. They were heroes of yesterday who were turned into villains and consequently defeated. Though their seniority counts, they have lost the faith of the people as individual leaders. Therefore, they need to be replaced by new faces with brighter promises.
However, the State Committee should be showed precedence by a complete revamp of the Polit-Bureau and the Central Committee. The General Secretary of the CPI-M, Prakash Karat, Brinda Karat, the one and only woman member of the CPI-M Polit-Bureau, including Sitaram Yechury, the much-coveted Polit-Bureau member, must all step down, and pave the way for fresh faces. Karat’s role as the General Secretary of the party has been very disappoin-ting; he has been hardly successful in addressing and handling the CPI-M’s debacle in West Bengal. With a legacy of leaders like E.M.S. Namboo-diripad and Harkishan Singh Surjeet as the previous General Secretaries of the Polit-Bureau of the CPI-M, Karat was expected to take their unparalleled efforts forward in the overall development of the party. On the contrary, he has been more successful in tarnishing the image of a well-established party; and there has hardly been any upscale contribution to it during his tenure.
Undoubtedly, Karat and Yechury represent the quintessential urban, English-speaking intelligentsia but unfortunately those are not the most desirable attributes of a ‘Leftist’ leader. In tune with the ideology of the party, it is more important that the leaders and activists have experience of working at the grassroot level, a qualification these leaders hardly possess. Coming to Mrs Brinda Karat, it looks doubtful that the CPI-M understands that it is the 21st century we are living in; therefore, having one woman in a completely male-dominated political party is no extraordinary achievement! Claiming to be Left liberals, it is appalling to witness that the CPI-M does not recognise women’s leadership as a fundamental component of their party. Moreover, whatever little Mrs Karat could achieve in lieu of her gender-specific representation is completely washed away by her elitist attitude.
We are living in the time of women Prime Ministers, women Presidents, not only in India but all over the world. When conservative parties like the BJP understand the importance of women leaders especially in a country like India where gender is a crucial benchmark of socio-political experience of every citizen, it is beyond anybody’s comprehension why the CPI-M failed to recognise this need and inspire young enthusiastic women to join the party.
This brings us to the overall attitude of the leadership within the CPI-M. George Orwell could envisage the fallacy of functional ‘communism’ among the common people and shared with us his realisation through the timeless book Animal Farm (1945). In their pursuit of overthrowing feudalism, the party leaders within the CPI-M have become highly feudal themselves. Their dogmatism and rigidity are epitomised in their dictatorial attitude and intolerance towards any voice of dissent.
It is absolutely condemnable the way the CPI-M is expelling committed youth leaders; this painfully brings us to question the basic perspective of the party’s senior members. A political party loses its worth the day it stops recognising dynamism as a virtue. It is only healthy for young leaders to raise new questions and propel introspection for a party, especially after a major defeat. However, it looks as if Karat and company think more of the CPI-M as an elite club with restricted membership tagged as ‘terms and conditions apply’ and less of a political party imbued with Left liberal thought. As a result, only those falling in line with the party’s senior leaders are welcome to stay.
Lastly, in the larger context of the world economy which is essentially geared towards capitalism and economic globalisation, the CPI-M has to reinvent its ideological relevance moving beyond the spirit of classical communism. The face of the Indian middle class is fast changing; the average middle-income group has more purchasing power than ever before. In that light, it is crucial for the CPI-M to adapt itself to the needs of the day; common people today are more concerned about how a political party addresses a local issue than the larger ideological questions vis-à-vis world politics.
It would be interesting to remember that Marx had envisaged the rise of the middle class as a crucial event in the dialectic of development. How well the CPI-M is able to address the concerns and problems of this class would be something to watch out in the coming days.
The author is a Ph.D scholar at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is currently a Visiting Student at the Institute for Asian and African Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin. She can the contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org