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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 39 New Delhi September 17, 2016

Search for Allies

Sunday 18 September 2016, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

The monolith of one-party domination having broken for good not only at the Centre but in many of the States, the search for allies has become the major preoccupation of practically all the parties, particularly with the historic split of the Congress after its twenty years of uninterrupted raj.

This preoccupation has assumed urgency after the Kerala elections which acted as a sort of sounding board for most of the parties. It is noteworthy that within less than a month of the announcement of the Kerala poll, many parties in the country have more or less decided for themselves the direction in which to go.

The deliberations of the Patna AICC have yet to conclude as these lines are being written; but the contours of the strategy of Smt Gandhi’s followers were clearly discernible even at the Working Committee meeting that preceded the AICC session.

Similarly, the Syndicate may not formalise its alliances until its AICC in November, but the compulsions of the UP developments have fetched it a rather promising harvest after the blight faced by it in Kerala. Although Sri Nijalingappa is no reliable barometer of any political party’s fortunes, his optimism this week about the Syndicate having been able to rope in new allies in the BKD and SSP—apart from the original stand-bys, the Jana Sangh and the Swatantra—is not unfounded.

This search for allies has not been smooth and easy for any of the parties. For, in the complicated conditions prevailing in the country—with uneven political developments in different regions and even inside the parties themselves—allies are not all of the same standard of reliability, nor could all of them be paraded beforehand. Therefore, the semantics of almost every political party require careful scrutiny by political observers.

The position of the Indira Congress in this regard claims priority consideration. After last year’s Congress split, Smt Gandhi’s Government has had to depend on allies inside Parliament to be able to command the majority in the Lok Sabha. At the beginning, it could rely on both the Communist Parties together with the PSP, DMK, BKD and the Akalis. By now, among her stable allies, she can hardly count the CPM, BKD or a section of the Akalis. The estrangement with the CPM has come not only over Kerala; equally disconcerting has been the CPM’s active support for the Syndicate-inspired no-confidence motion in the Budget session of Parliament.

The logic of Smt Gandhi’s line of attack against the Syndicate has in the main decided her choice of allies. With the nationalisation of the banks and the abolition of the princely order, it was clear that she would have to search for allies in the Left, and it was but inevitable that the CPI and PSP should be her nearest allies today. In a sense, the DMK is placed in the same situation in its home State as Smt Gandhi herself on the national plane: it cannot afford to take a reactionary posture all along the line lest the masses desert it.

The split in the Congress has helped the process of radicalisation in Smt Gandhi’s camp in another way: the radical-minded elements from the Young Turks at the Centre to the Youth Congress as in Kerala, rose in relative eminence inside her party both in influence and organisation. The Young Turks became a major component of the High Command and no longer mere fringe decorators as in the undivided Congress.

At the Pradesh level, the picture is not uniform—in Kerala, the radicals constituted the very backbone of the Congress organisation and that was how they could enforce the strategy of alliance with the CPI-led front and keep the old guards out of the spoils of electoral victory. While such forward-looking elements are to be found in other Pradesh Congress bodies as well, they have yet to display the same degree of initiative and activity as have their Kerala colleagues, without which no real Left and democratic unity can be forged.

The interaction of radicalisation inside the Congress on its relation with other Left forces is a two-way traffic. On the one hand, the radicals inside the Congress themselves realise the urgency of coming closer to the Left parties outside the Congress; on the other hand, their assertion of radicalism helps to attract the Left forces outside the Congress to come near it.

It is no doubt true that the resilience and statesmanship displayed by Sri Achutha Menon and his colleagues in the Front he was leading, helped the forging of their understanding with the Congress; but it is equally true that the United Front partners could not possibly have responded in the manner they did, had the radical elements in the Pradesh Congress failed to assert inside their own organisation. This, in the main, marks the difference in the situation between Kerala and West Bengal.

Any objective analysis of the West Bengal situation will disprove that the Congress has a smaller mass base in West Bengal (with its poll percentage at over 40 per cent) than in Kerala (with its poll of 35 per cent in 1967): what has really helped to strengthen the rigidity of anti-Congressism among Left parties in West Bengal is the absence of an actively radical wing inside the Pradesh Congress. Sri Siddhartha Ray and his team have to discharge a formidable responsibility before they can hope to establish bridgeheads with the Left in West Bengal.

An important factor in mobilising and activating the entire radical camp, both inside and outside the Congress, is stress on mass action for the realisation of the basic demands of the common people. This, on the one hand, helps to isolate the conservative elements from the radicals inside the Congress and, on the other, can forge links between them and the Left outside the Congress. Such possibilities have been thrown up by the experience of the recent Left-led actions such as the land stir.

The fifteen-year old struggle inside the communist movement has been over the recognition of the radical potentiality inside the Congress movement, and it is this that in a large degree demarcated the present leadership of the CPI from that of the CPM. And it is this which the latest resolution of the CPM Central Committee has denounced as “the road of collaboration with the ruling classes”. (There is, however, one notable exception—in those days, Sri Namboodiripad was more or less identified with what his party today calls the road of collaboration.)

The point to note is that a closed-mind approach would have had to write off large sections of the Congress—more importantly, Congress opinion—and treat them as reactionary, while in reality, it is their revolt against the entrenched reactionary leadership embodied in the Syndicate, which has been the most significant political development of the last one year.

It is important to note here the contrasting assessment of the same situation by the two Communist Parties. The crux of the CPI stand could be seen in its recent National Council resolution which says that “in the changed political situation, the democratic forces inside the Congress (R) must be reviewed and attracted as a major potential component of the Left and democratic unity without in any way mini-mising the significance of the unity of the Left and democratic forces outside the Congress.”

As against this, the CPM Central Commitee resolution calls upon “all democratic parties and groups to realise the menace posed by the Syndicate alliance, on the one hand, and the Indicate alliance, on the other, to the genuine democratic and socialist movement in our country and come forward to unitedly fight against this twin menace”; the CPM also banks on the calculation tht “the ranks and followers of certain democratic parties whose leaders are taking them to either the Syndicate or Indicate camp, will awaken to the new dangers facing the common people and do everything in their power to reverse the disastrous course taken by their leaders”.

The essence of the difference in these two Communist standpoints lies in the assessment of the Congress, particularly after the split. While the CPM considers the two Congresses as posing a “twin menace”, the CPI lays stress on the importance of the democratic forces inside the Indira Congress as “a major potential component of the Left and democratic unity”. From this difference follows the divergences in strategy.

While the CPI has no inhibition in coming to an understanding with the Indira Congress in Kerala—and is striving to neutralise such inhibition in the Left camp in West Bengal—the CPM has not hesitated to offer to join hands with the Syndicate and its allies in the coming parliamentary showdown over UP, and may perhaps mutually agree with them in some States not to waste votes against the Indira Congress in any future poll.

The charge of opportunism in either case is irrelevant, for both the parties base their strategy on carefully thought-out assessment of the Indian situation: if one is attacking the other for sectarian isolationism, the other is paying it back by charging the former with reformist trailing behind the bourgeoisie.

The search for allies has thus become the centre-piece of today’s politics. The Syndicate, after initial wobbling, is now well set to be a partner in the common Right endeavour with the Jana Sangh and the Swatantra. The CPM is relying on rebels from the existing parties to come towards it. And in between the SSP itself is threatened with division.

At the other end, the CPI sees in the Congress (R) the pasture for democratic allies, and is striving to orientate its Left allies to such a perspective. Inside the Indira Congress, the tussle between the conservative and radical elements—so obvious at the Patna AICC—promises a completely new prospect. Whether to talk of alliance between the Indira Congress and the Left is premature, as Sri Dange tries to make out in his rather strange freelance follow-up after the CPI National Council stand, the direction is clearly set. If the natural allies of the Syndicate have to be found in the Right, the natural allies of the Indira Congress have to be found in the Left, no matter how valiantly Sri Jagjivan Ram tries to rule the waves.

(Mainstream, October 17, 1970)