Mainstream, VOL LIII No 19 New Delhi May 2, 2015
Unprecedented Development, Stupendous Task
Saturday 2 May 2015, by
Something happened at the 21st Congress of the CPI-M at Visakhapatnam that had never happened in the party Congress of any Communist Party perhaps anywhere in the world and certainly not in India. The name suggested by the outgoing party General Secretary Prakash Karat as his successor, that of S. Ramachandran Pillai, was not acceptable to the majority of the delegates. Their combined pressure on the party leadership was so great that Karat had to ask Ramachandran Pillai to opt out of the contest. Sitaram Yechury was thus ‘unanimously’ elected the next General Secretary. This was something unprecedented.
Yechury’s stand on certain important political questions is markedly different from those of Karat. Yechury is not self-righteous, self-opinionated and arrogant. He understands that in the present situation when the Hindu communal fascist forces are threatening to tear apart the very secular fabric of our polity, it is necessary to build a broadbased unity of all secular and democratic forces. The old worn-out slogan of ‘Left-Democratic Unity’ has been reduced to a cliché. The declining strength of the Left has already precluded the possibility of the Left, along with other parties it considers ‘democratic’, being able to take on the communal fascists on their own.
A whispering campaign has already started in certain sections of the CPI-M that Yechury is eager to join hands with the Congress in combating the Sangh Parivar. It betrays a pathological antipathy for the Congress and a flawed understanding of the present situation. the Congress does not mean only Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi or Manmohan Singh. The Congress means the hundreds of thousands of Congress-supporting masses spread all over the country whose participation is essential in any move-ment against communalism and in defence of secularism. The Left can deny this reality and cling to the old slogan of ‘Left-Democratic Unity’ only at its own peril and at the cost of weakening the movement.
Yechury is expected to show the maturity and foresight to give proper direction to the party, if he gets a free hand. And that is a big ‘if’. Those familiar with the manipulative functioning of a Communist Party know how bitterly ‘inner-party struggles’ are fought. The two strongest units of the CPI-M are West Bengal and Kerala. In West Bengal, an out-of-power party cannot mobilise resources to the extent it could when in power. The Kerala party is dominated by the Pinarayi Vijayan faction. They are not likely to cooperate with Yechury.
Yechury’s task will be really challenging. To enable the CPI-M to ‘turn round’ many things will have to be done. Hegemonic tendency is ingrained in the CPI-M. It wants to dominate not only other parties in an alliance but also the Left parties themselves. This was seen in West Bengal where the CPI-M successfully liquidated the organisation and base of fraternal parties like the CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc, resorting to brute force. Yechury will have to disabuse the party of hegemonism so that the leaders and rank and file of the party learn to treat other parties with respect and as equals.
Secondly, under the previous leadership the party had practically abandoned the path of building up mass struggles on burning issues affecting the people. This happened both in West Bengal and Kerala. In West Bengal, when the party came to power on its own in 1971, a metamorphosis in the composition of party members started. Rank opportunists and self-seekers found it highly rewarding to join the party.
In the three-and-a-half decades that followed, most tried and tested old party workers were either sidelined or chose to become inactive. The new breed planted itself at every level of the party hierarchy and used their position to make money. This is one reason why, even after losing power in West Bengal, the party has failed to build up any mass movement, except issuing press statements that it was going to do so. It has failed even to reactivate the inactive party workers. As I write these lines, TV channels are reporting the sweeping victory of the Trinamul Congress in the civic elections in West Bengal and the losses suffered by the Left led by the CPI-M. Yechury will have to resuscitate the spirit of struggle in defence of the people. That is the only way the party can grow and re-establish its lost links with the masses.
At this critical period in Indian politics, the CPI could have played a significant role as a catalyst of secular-democratic unity in spite of its organisational weakness if it had decided to act on its own. But there is no sign of it. The party continues to play second fiddle to the CPI-M. A. B. Bardhan’s sole aim is to merge the CPI into the CPI-M. Each time he moots this proposal it is summarily rejected by the CPI-M. But unda-unted, Bardhan pursues the same course. The new party General Secretary, Sudhakar Reddy, is yet to emerge out of the shadows of Bardhan and come into his own.
The Left, it seems, has not only lost power but has also lost the capacity to get out of its stereotyped thinking which has become unworkable and irrelevant in the present political context. A stupendous task faces the Left: uniting all democratic and secular forces to take on the challenge of the communal fascist forces—a challenge which is political, organi-sational and no less ideological. Whether Yechury can make his party equal to the task, the future alone will tell.
The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.