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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 20, May 9, 2015

Left Perspective Today

Saturday 9 May 2015, by SC

[Revised and Updated on 20 June 2015]


By the time these lines come out in print Sitaram Yechury would be completing three weeks in office as the General Secretary of the largest communist formation in the country, the CPI-M. In these three weeks the new CPI-M General Secretary has left his own imprint on the national scene. His emergence as the tallest leader of the CPI-M is a refreshing change from his predecessor, Prakash Karat. The latter, despite his qualifications as a Marxist ideologue, had always had a tendency to keep under wraps even the most mundane decisions taken by the party and treat them as ‘state secrets’.

Sitaram himself was able to come out of Prakash’s shadow sometime ago. He had thus no hesitation in telling Barkha Dutt of NDTV in a live show today that the party felt it incorrect to have withdrawn support to the UPA-I dispensation on the issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal instead of on other issues like inflation or price rise as well as corruption.

It is this openness and a readiness to discuss all issues with the media—reflecting the transparency of any leader practising parliamentary politics—that marks him out as a key political personality representing the Left in the country at a critical time in the Left’s history.

Sitaram’s assumption to the post of the party General Secretary was also of immense significance and highly noteworthy. The party’s Polit-Bureau had someone else in view as Karat’s successor. He was S. Ramachandran Pillai, better known as SRP in party circles, another PB member hailing from Kerala. He was described as the ‘organisational man’. And the argument in favour of his succession to fill the void caused by Karat’s retirement was that now when the Left in general and the CPI-M in particular was facing an organisational crisis accross the country, SRP could help the party to come out of it. However, SRP being an old comrade—he is 76—besides being a colourless personality who cannot fluently speak in Hindi, he was not acceptable to the bulk of the delegates to the Visakhapatnam party Congress, especially those from West Bengal (and many of them were not prepared to accept that the crisis was just an organisational one as they felt it was a political one too). Nonetheless, SRP had the powerful backing of not just Karat but also the Kerala strongman Pinarayi Vijayan who is angling for the CM’s chair if the Left Democratic Front, headed by the CPI-M, comes to power in the State in the next Assembly elections in Kerala.

In the face of intervention from the floor of the Congress, Karat was left with practically no alternative but to ask SRP not to press for his candidature for the party General Secretary’s post; and that is how and why Sitaram Yechury was “unanimously elected” as the party General Secretary. Had there not been spirited intervention from the delegates at the 21st party Congress at Visakhapatnam (April 14-19, 2015) Karat could have had his way and been able to get the proposal to make SRP the party General Secretary passed at the gathering. The fact that he could not and his move was stalled by the delegates to the Congress as well as members of the party’s Central Committee speak volumes of the inner-party democracy in operation in the party despite the concerted move by the dominant section of the party leadership to smother it.

[But there is another point. Why didn’t Karat and his friends in the PB take the risk of having a full-fledged democratic election to the post of General Secretary? For fear of their nominee to the post being defeated? But then that is what a democratic election is all about. It is only Stalinists of the old mould who fear such democratic elections. Their action itself has exposed their loyalty to the Stalinist methodology. After all, they have all been reared in the Stalinist tradition, outlook and mind-set.]

However, the dominant section of the leadership has been able to push some Central Committee members into the Polit-Bureau. Among them is one who was expelled from the party way back in the mid-1970s on charges of intense factionalism when P. Sundarayya was the party General Secretary. The PB is now stacked with those who owe full allegiance to the dominant section of the party leadership (Prakash Karat and Co.) who have brought the party to its present pass. In such a scenario how much of a genuine change for the better can Yechury bring about? That is the moot question. Especially when Sitaram, like Prakash, doesn’t have much experience of working in any field of activity (as, for example, trade union or the kisan movement) other than the students front? However, his work in Parliament (he was brought into the Rajya Sabha as the outcome of an intervention by the late Anil Biswas, the former State secretary of the party in West Bengal, much to Karat’s surprise) must have convinced him that he has to reach out to the people beyond the PB if he has to counter the designs of the stalwarts in the party leadership. And he knows well that besides the support from the current party leadership in West Bengal headed by the State party Secretary Dr Surya Kanta Mishra, he enjoys the backing of those following former Kerala CM V.S. Achuthanandan in the struggle against the Vijayan group dominating the Kerala CPI-M.

If one goes through the documents of the CPI-M Congress at Visakhapatnam, one finds that there is no reference to the support the CPI-M extended to Pranab Mukherjee in the last presidential election. The CPI Congress document on the past develop-ments notes this and informs its members of the division suffered by the Left on this issue when the CPI and other Left parties refused to follow the CPI-M and back Pranab in view of his role in carrying out neoliberal reforms.

Interestingly, the Visakhapatnam Congress, as explained in a recent article by a PB member in The Indian Express, has adopted an out-and-out sectarian line on the issue of combating the BJP, an urgent necessity in the current scenario. It makes it clear that there was no question of having any understanding with the Congress against the BJP due to the former’s neoliberal policies in the realm of the economy; at the same time it asserts that the non-BJP, non-Congress bourgeois parties (which comprise the Third Front) would also have to be shunned. So it is the old sectarian ‘purist’ line of B.T. Ranadive which will have to be pursued! This is being tom-tomed as the ‘Vizag line’ although any serious student of the communist movement would understand that there is nothing new in this line—it could be renamed as the ‘Calcutta 1948 line’ minus the call for armed insurrection that Ranadive and Bhowani Sen had incorporated in it under the influence of Soviet ideologue Zhdanov.

Just before the CPI-M’s 21st Congress the CPI held its 22nd Congress in Puducherry (March 25-29, 2015). When the CPI split in 1964, the CPI was the bigger communist formation and its Eighth Congress at Patna in the beginning of 1968 brought into focus its growing strength in the Hindi heartland. However, over the years due to a variety of reasons—primarily its support to the Emergency (1975-77) and subsequently its complete change of line to seek reunification with the CPI-M without necessary preparations for the purpose—sapped its strength to a large extent. Yet even today it enjoys a wider spread across the country especially in far-flung areas like Manipur. The Puducherry Congress also demonstrated its strength and public appeal in the South. Yet the deliberations did not mirror the party leadership’s eagerness to build independent mass actions; rather the stress was on reunification with the CPI-M without any reciprocity from the latter. (Lately only Yechury has responded to the idea in a positive spirit.)

However, the discussions were lively with delegates from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Punjab, Bihar, UP highlighting the need for independent mass movements and even criticising the party leadership for not initiating such actions. This too was a manifestation of inner-party democracy which the party should nurture and develop in the coming days.

The Congress re-elected S. Sudhakar Reddy as the party General Secretary and Gurudas Dasgupta as the Deputy General Secretary. Despite his limitations due to severe and multiple aliments, Sudhakar is a mass leader in Andhra and Telangana and his contribution to party-building in those areas is exemplary. It was in Puducherry (it was then called Pondicherry) that Sudhakar first came into prominence as a youth and student leader at the AIYF/AISF Conference in 1965. Since then he has grown in stature and popularity over the years and left a distinct mark as an MP as well. Gurudas has been a student, youth and trade union leader and also a noted parliamentarian. His immense contributions in both Houses of Parliament on various issues had won him plaudits from all sides.

The CPI Congress pledged to work in unison with the CPI-M against the Sangh Parivar’s nefarious moves against the minorities. At the same time it called upon all secular, progressive, democratic people to unite and defeat the Sangh Parivar’s ulterior designs. The relevant resolution reads:

“The 22nd Congress of the CPI expresses its anguish and deep concern about the recent attacks on Churches in Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh and rape of a 71-year-old nun in West Bengal.

“Programmes like ghar wapsi, that is, reconversion to Hinduism, and campaigns like Love-Jihad against love marriages and inter-religious marriages are organised and supported by the Sangh Parivar and openly supported by the BJP leaders. Chief Ministers of Haryana and Maharastra have blamed the church activities for the attacks. Prime Minister Modi, who tweets on small events, is silent about these attacks on minorities.

“This clearly reflects the attitude and mind-set of the BJP Government to appease the aggressive, intolerant elements of the Sangh Parivar to promote the RSS brand of Hindutva.

“This Congress of the CPI urges all progressive, democratic and secular people and organisations to come together to fight back these anti-people designs of the Sangh Parivar to undermine the democratic-secular fabric of our Indian society and the spirit of the Constitution.”

The coordinated actions of the CPI-M under Yechury and CPI under the Reddy-Dasgupta collective leadership promise to evolve a new Left for building a new India defeating the communal depredations and neoliberal offensives of the ruling classes.

Despite all obstacles on their path Yechury, Reddy and Dasgupta have sufficient capacity and potentiality to steer the CPI-M and CPI out of their present crises and unfold a better future for the Left and Indian people in the days ahead. But for that to happen the pre-condition is to eschew every form of sectarian outlook, approach and move with the perspective of mobilising all secular-democratic forces to eliminate the menace of communal polarisation without undermining the struggle against the neoliberal attacks on the public at large. However, while warding off the neoliberal assaults it is also essential for the two Left parties to project an alternative paradigm of development on socialist principles rooted on the bedrock of democracy.

May 7 S.C.

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