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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 25 New Delhi June 13, 2015

Strategising for Left Resurgence in India: Keeping left is correct, keeping right is wrong

Saturday 13 June 2015, by S G Vombatkere

The sub-title certainly describes the motor traffic road rules, but some may say that it could also speak for ordinary people who are denied their constitutional rights of justice, liberty and equality. We therefore need to state what is meant by “Left” and “Right” in the Indian context.

“Left” has come to mean the socialist and communist political parties and organisations which adopt ideology according to Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, etc., interpreted variously. Left-wing political entities generally aim to support those who cannot support themselves, are idealist, and believe in equality and believe in taxation to redistribute opportunity and wealth. From whichever religious community they come, ideologically motivated members of these groups are atheists, and have little patience with those who may believe in the philosophy of religion. They agitate, demonstrate and militate vocally, non-violently or violently for the rights of the down-trodden, the unempowered and the disem-powered poor. Likewise, “Right” has come to mean the groups that support the status quo of a ruling class combination of money-power and socio-economic upper class interests. They enforce a top-down-planning, trickle-down-development, market-based-economy model. They create institutional structures (think-tanks, academic chairs, foundations, trusts, etc.) that, on the one hand, neglect or suppress dissent and objections and, on the other, provide funds and services to promote their development models and philosophy.

With a new leadership of the CPI-M, the Indian Left could be emerging from a period of protracted under-performance which has resulted in its near-total political irrelevance. Analysts have offered reasons for the decline of the Left, but the present article looks at some of the focal points that the Left may adopt to unite to move forward, and rebuild its former image and political influence.

Left Politics and Violence

Many Left leaders, cadres and workers in the field have declared before the people that the neo-liberal capitalist system which is responsible for oppression and violence against them, can be changed only by revolution involving violent overthrow of the social system. This has no doubt attracted many people to the idea of armed struggle and revolution, but this view neglects the fact that revolution is a process, and not an event. One contemporary Leftist thinker (Owen Jones, writing in the British context) says that the break with capitalism can only be achieved by demo-cracy and organisation of the working people to establish a just society, thus effectively ruling out armed struggle.

A social system created from violent overthrow of the earlier system only results in new rulers who cannot but rule with violence. In any case, violence as policy for overthrow of any socio-political dispensation is socially untenable. Historically, violence only breeds more violence, which results in spirals of increasing violence, first affecting children, women and the weak the most, and creates a violent society in which individual and social progress in an atmosphere of peace and harmony is impossible. It is readily observed that ruling powers, with enormous institutional and financial resources, easily deal with violent struggle by numerically and technologically boosting the police force and calling in the military. It is peaceful resistance that they fear the most because they cannot handle it. Therefore the “normal” practice is that the police often begins the violence and places blame on protestors for initiating violence, or infiltrates stooges who begin violence, and then “reacts” with superior force.

Violence between and within the Left forces in India (invectives, ostracism, threats, beatings, killings) is a fact. This stems from an insistence on the “purity” of ideology as dogma. Society in general does not appreciate such violence, and fearful silence cannot be read as social acceptance. A ruling dispensation that suffers from internal violence cannot provide genuine social and civic peace.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, some violence is inevitable when ruling powers change. The policy of a new (incoming) mature power should be to foresee, limit, contain, minimise, localise, and control violence, for minimum ill-effect on the vulnerable sections of society.

Given the Indian ethos of peaceability and tolerance, the majority of Indians, even when subjected to violent oppression themselves (as in police action, social action by “upper castes”, etc.), do not subscribe to reactive violence beyond the immediate circumstantial provocation. Indeed many, even most, of the on-going people’s movements today are self-declared as non-violent and are peaceful and democratic in conduct, usually only demanding that governments themselves adhere to observance of constitutional rights and fair implementation of extant laws. Thus, the Indian Left, in dealings with ongoing people’s movements and struggles, may do well to simply insist on a just society, and include in its political agenda, peaceful (though politically aggressive) and democratic action agendas.

Left Ideology and Religion

Most members of the political Left in India are atheists. Thus, Left ideologues, cadres and workers in the field discount the religious faith or beliefs of people as blind or unscientific. It is true that historically, religion, along with culture, science and the arts, has been cunningly harnessed by Rightist ruling powers to oppress the poor and defend the status quo. But the historical fact of manipulation of religion does not lessen the validity of personal belief in a divinity or practice of religion at the individual level.

Religion satisfies the emotional and meta-physical needs of most Indians and this is a “given” in the politics of our country. Indeed, our Constitution guarantees every citizen the freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. Neglect of this factor by the Left in India effectively excludes huge, huge numbers of people who are oppressed by the socio-economic outlook and policies of Rightist forces, and should be the focus of work for the Left forces.

The Hindu “Left”

The BJP is essentially an “upper-caste” party, secure in its belief that it represents all Hindus, and the Congress (INC), with its worn-out politics of pseudo-secularism and Muslim appeasement, neglects Hindus. By playing the corporate-dictated neo-liberal game, both the BJP and INC, with their near-identical economic policies, place the vast masses (70 per cent of our 1.3 billion existing on under Rs 20 per day) under increasing economic stress, unmindful of the fact that they are mostly Hindus. Thus, the political importance of around 900 million Hindus appears to be lost on both these political parties. This is also true of the major regional parties.

In the context of religion in India, the majority (80 per cent) are Hindus, who are a 1000 million chunk which is both culturally and socially variegated. (This writer takes the liberty of including Dalits, STs and Lingayats among the Hindus only for the purpose of discussing political proclivities). This raises the question of whether there is a “Hindu Left”, and what kind of demographics it may represent. [Ref. 1]

The huge majority of Hindus is found among the economically poorer sections. The individual is often ritual-bound and devout, subject to the evils of the brahminical Hindu caste system which he/she cannot oppose or even question, and is more concerned with caste-based politics than religion-based politics. These Hindus mostly live hand-to-mouth and seek social and economic security. Their dream is for social justice, economic equity and fair opportunity, entirely detached from this or that ideology. The Sangh Parivar cannot claim to represent more than a small fraction of this category; that is, a large fraction does not support the Hindu Right-wing.

Political Opportunity

However, it cannot be concluded that those whom the Sangh Parivar does not represent would automatically be sympathisers, votaries or supporters of the Left. Those who are not represented politically by the Sangh Parivar do not deny or relinquish their Hindu backgrounds. Further, the large number of Hindu Left-leaning intellectuals may continue to hold on to their Hindu identities and not profess atheism. In sum, India’s Hindu majority is wide open to progressive Left thinking that does not rubbish religious beliefs and practices.

Thus, Left politics—which accepts that “Hindu” can also be “Left” without supporting Marxism etc.—may be in a position to construct a “Hindu Left”, by focussing on delivery of “social, economic and political justice”, encouraging “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship”, and providing “equality of status and oppor-tunity”, according to the Constitutional Preamble. This would effectively confront the Rightist forces and turn the political tide in favour of the Left forces.

Looking ahead

The media reports that there is a move towards the merger of the CPI and CPI-M, though no time-frame for it has been set. This is surely a vital initial move towards a larger Left convergence leading ultimately to Left unity.

As a part of Left convergence and unification, Left ideology would need to be discussed and continuously refined in keeping with the changing national and international social-economic-political-environmental-ecological situation. This discussion of course needs to be non-confrontational, non-antagonistic and peaceable, within and among the various Left parties. However, as part of the operational strategy, the Left forces should deal with the public without presenting the Left ideological motivations and orientation. On the other hand, Left forces should assist, guide and encourage the people to fight for and realise their own rights and freedoms, so that they vote for Left candidates in elections at all levels. Ideology can easily be insulated from public service, so that people are not confronted with the former while they understand and appreciate the latter.

Programmatic focus on the “Hindu Left” as suggested above may present the political opportunity which would give the Left a firm electoral base, and simultaneously reduce the effectiveness of the Rightist forces.

Marx and Engels say at the end of The Communist Manifesto: "Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The prole-tarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win." However, in view of the foregoing arguments and in the Indian context, this writer would rather interpret “communist revolution” as a process of changing the neo-liberal capitalist society into a just and sustainable society through democratic and peaceful means, taking into account national and international trends, with due note of environment-ecology which directly affects people. This process would provide justice, liberty and equality, to create a society in which individual dignity is available to all citizens, without exception.

For those who believe that the principles and guiding philosophies of the Left are valid, appropriate and applicable in today’s political context, incorporation of the foregoing views into Left party policies would significantly strengthen the real-time political validity and relevance of the Left forces in India.


  • Vombatkere, S.G., “Is there a Hindu Left?”, Mainstream, New Delhi, Vol LI, No 50, November 30, 2013, pp. 16-19.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired in 1996 as the Additional DG, Discipline and Vigilance in the Army HQ AG’s Branch. With over 400 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his area of interest is strategic and development-related issues. Based in Mysore, he can be contacted at e-mail: sg9kere@live.com