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Mainstream, VOL LV No 33 New Delhi August 5, 2017

Need for Dange-line in Contemporary Politics

Saturday 5 August 2017

by Pratip Chattopadhyay

Contemporary Indian politics is under the siege of reactionary Rightist political forces exemplified by the rising electoral mandate for the BJP since 2014. At the same time efforts are there to conglomerate all Opposition political forces with one agenda—to dislodge the ruling party from power by halting the BJP wave. With the BJP candidate, Ramnath Kovind, becoming the President securing 74 per cent votes as against the Opposition candidate, Meira Kumar, securing 35 per cent votes, it is clear that the Opposition forces are trying hard to unite to the best of their ability. A correct political line is needed for the Opposition political parties to succeed in their agenda to ideologically fight the BJP wave across the country. To strengthen the anti-BJP political line, both theoretically and practically, this article underscores the historical necessity to follow the Dange-line in Indian politics with immediate effect.

In the political historiography of the Indian Left, the political line of Comrade Sripad Amrit Dange (S.A. Dange) is simply to prefer the Indian National Congress when there is an urgent need to pick and choose between the Congress and the Rightist political forces in India—the Jana Sangh and its contemporary incarnation, the BJP. It was in the aftermath of the Emergency period in mid- and late 1970s, disturbed by the chaotic ruckus and the rise of the Jana Sangh politics, that Comrade Dange placed his faith in the secular politics of the Indian National Congress and introduced his political line, later known as the ‘Dange-line’.

After the initiation of the ‘Dange-line’, he faced stern opposition from within his own party—the CPI—and from other Communist Parties in the country and Comrade Dange was seen as an agent of the Indian National Congress and his political line was criticised as a line for making the Communists in India follow the Congress and turn them into stooges of the latter. As a result Comrade Dange was sidelined in the CPI and expelled from the party in 1981. Thereafter Comrade Dange himself formed the All India Communist Party (AICP) and was later associated with the United Communist Party of India (UCPI). Out of these two formations, the UCPI is still present only in some small quarters in Maharashtra and West Bengal to carry the baton of the Dange-line.

It can be said that from the very initiation of the ‘Dange-line’, the political line of high-lighting Congress-Communist unity in times of dire need for the country to resist the Right-wing fascist tendencies became quite unpopular. It was unpopular among the Communist Parties of the country because it was seen as under-mining the independent role of the Communists in shaping the future of the country. It was unpopular in the Congress circles as well because of the apprehension that this unity was a ploy to force the Congress to toe the Communist line in formulating domestic and foreign policies of the country. This article claims that though the basis of such unpopularity from both the quarters—Congress and Communist—was a debatable issue in the 1980s, in the era of post-coalition BJP-centric national politics of 2017, such unpopularity of the Dange-line needs to be shrugged off in both the Communist and Congress political circles. Today the rationale behind such a reassessment of the ‘Dange-line’ is an existential necessity in contemporary Indian politics.

This article argues that in the Indian political circles, particularly among the Left political parties led by the CPI-M, a historical blunder has been committed by denigrating the ‘Dange-line’. It must be asserted that Comrade Dange tried to make the Indian Left formations relevant in Indian politics across time. Comrade Dange was candid enough to make public his political choice without thinking of critical comments and image-tarnishing consequences. The Marxist political parties of the Left Front, led by the  CPI-M, highly satisfied with their Bengal bastion in the 1980s, hardly went deep into the thoughts that were behind the Dange-line. Beyond face-value, the Dange-line is a commitment on the part of Left politics in India to make sure that the far Rightist forces like the BJP stay away from the political power-centre of the country.

Situated in the context of 2017 Indian politics, the Dange-line will mean a stage-wise strategic concentration of political effort by the Left forces. The first stage is to oppose and defeat the BJP at the Centre. The second is to oppose and defeat the Trinamul Congress in West Bengal. The third is to think of countering and cornering the Indian National Congress in the Indian political scenario. At every stage, alliances and combi-nations will change. In the first stage all Opposition political forces, including the Left, INC and TMC must come together. In the second, it is the Left and INC that must counter together the TMC and BJP in West Bengal. In both these stages the essentiality of the Left Front will make the task easy in the third stage: to begin an ideological struggle to change the bourgeois party structure of the society. The three-tier politics of the Dange-line may be overlapping but no opportunism and contradictions are involved. Contemporary politics and society is so complex that a stand-alone line of struggle may be exciting and adventurous but it is devoid of any result. The practical politics model of the Dange-line is to be flexible to change and adapt tactics and strategies as per a given political situation and political struggle.

Critical opinion from among the Left Front political parties and also from the SUCI and CPI-ML regarding the Dange-line highlights that with the end of the Emergency, the Dange-line has outlived its potential. Whenever there have been attempts to forge ties with the Congress, the recent being the State Assembly elections in West Bengal in 2016, it registered little or no electoral success at all. Thus the critical argu-ment is that the Dange-line is totally rejected by the electorate as it is against the party-line, against the Communists’ ideological roots and also against the national political-line. This article humbly states that the Dange-line has never been taken seriously by the official mainstream Left political parties and their leaders in India and as such knowledge on the Dange-line is also very limited among the Left party cadres and supporters. In their hysteria to single-handedly win over the masses based on their revolutionary rhetorical slogans, the Left Front political parties were at cloud nine during their 34-year rule in West Bengal. The SUCI and CPI-ML, in their commitment to the revolutionary struggle against the bourgeois state structure, agitated against the Left Front Government in West Bengal as well as the governments at the Centre during the last four decades and continue in the same spirit even today. Thus for both the Left Front and non-Left Front Marxist political parties in India, the Dange-line was never necessary to direct their political course of action in Indian politics.

Even in the 2015 municipal elections and 2016 State Assembly elections in West Bengal, the alliance of the Left Front and Congress was half-hearted, halting and engineered at the last moment without any theoretical basis and hence the alliance was seen as a mere electoral oppor-tunist face-saving strategy and thus rejected by the electorate of West Bengal. Hence it was not a rejection of the Dange-line but a rejection of the laid-back attitude of the CPI-M-led Left Front.

In 2014, Indian politics entered its third political phase—after the Congress system and the coalition politics era it is the beginning of a new single party era in the form of the BJP. A new political era requires new political strategies and tactics. The Left Front political parties, led by the CPI-M, urgently need to follow the Dange-line of preferential politics which is different from alliance politics. Preferential politics is a temporary tactical line without losing the independent voice and identity whereas alliance politics is an issue-based permanent coalition. For example, the Left Front is a reflection of alliance politics whereas the UPA-I was an example of preferential politics.

After 2011 the Left Front, led by the CPI-M, started to begin its career as an Opposition coalition in West Bengal politics after nearly four decades but till now no new alternative policies and alternative vision have emerged from the communist leadership to counter the Trinamul Congress Government. After 2014 in Indian politics and after 2016 in West Bengal politics, the rise of the BJP only added to the problems for the Left Front, led by CPI-M, to search for alternative strategies in the pre-vailing situation in contemporary Indian politics in general and West Bengal politics in particular.

In contemporary Indian politics, the re-reading of the Dange-line can serve as a new formative idea of alliances to defeat the Right reactionary forces in the country in the form of the BJP. The Dange-line must be brought out from the ashes of political historiography of Left politics in India by the CPI-M-led Left Front parties to save the secular socialist democratic tolerant fabric of the country which is a historical necessity today. Reviving the Dange-line without uttering the name of Dange would probably help the soul of Comrade Dange to whisper one line of a song of Rabindranath Tagore — “Aami bohu basonay pranpone chai....bonchito kore bachale amay (I eagerly pray and wish several times with all my heart....by depriving, me, you have relieved myself!)” Long Live Comrade Dange!

Pratip Chattopadhyay is an Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Kalyani, Nadia (West Bengal), and can be reached by e-mail: chatterjee23_pratip[at]yahoo.co.in

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