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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 45, New Delhi, October 26, 2019

Left Politics in Post-2019 India: Task of Creating a New United Front

Monday 4 November 2019

by Pratip Chattopadhyay


The verdict of the 17th Lok Sabha elections in 2019 came as a political shock for the Left political parties as in a 545-seat-based Lok Sabha, the Left parties have secured only five seats and that too only one from Kerala, none from West Bengal and Tripura and four from Tamil Nadu. In the backlash in terms of percentage of votes and seats secured in three federal units known as the ‘electoral fort’ of Left politics, namely, West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala, have surfaced some theoretical as well as practical questions, analysing which is the central theme of this paper. The 2019 Lok Sabha elections have also cemented the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of Narendra Modi that started in 2014 with the effect of shrinking the political space for the Indian National Congress inside and outside the Indian Parliament. Thus the essence of contemporary Indian politics is the electoral trust bestowed upon the leadership of Narendra Modi and the electoral distrust on the Centrist Indian National Congress party and Left political parties. It must be kept in mind that in this paper Left political parties include the Left Front (CPI, CPI-M), RSP and Forward Bloc) keeping in mind the existence of the CPI-ML and SUCI(C).

In this evolved political context, the question that looms large before the Left political parties is about the correct political approach to Indian politics to regain the  lost political space in the face of the Rightist upsurge. In the history of Marxist politics, the first person to blend theory and practice (a process known as ‘praxis’) was Vladimir Lenin who also happens to be the first Premier of a socialist state—Union of Soviet Socialist Republics way back in 1917. To analyse any situation the dictum of Lenin was ‘Let’s Begin from the Beginning’ which essentially identifies the mistakes and missteps of the past and learns from those and prepares for the future course of action. Therefore it is better to re-read the historical political approach of the Indian Left political parties, identify the political line(s)/ fault-line(s) adopted  and then offer a probable realistic political approach for contemporary times.

Indian Politics and Left Politics (1947-2011): A Tale of Mismatch

In concomitant with the-then prevalent world communist position, the Indian Left political parties approached post-independence Indian politics with a slogan—‘iye azadi jhuti hain’/‘this freedom is a hoax’. Sometime later it dawned on the Indian communist circles that such a position will distance the CPI from the mainstream of Indian politics and thence from 1950 onwards they participated in Indian electoral politics. A decade later on the question of the position on China, Indian Communists got divided among themselves between pro-Soviet supporters of the policy position of the Indian Government and the pro-Chinese revolution adversaries of the policy position of the Indian Government. On this different approach the Communist Party of India got divided into the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India-Marxist in 1964. The rupture continued when in 1967 on the question of absolute matching with the Chinese revolutionary path, the Communist Party of India-Marxist got divided into the Communist Party of India-Marxist and Com-munist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist. Such splits and re-splits prove that in order to match its position with the world communist movement and their position, the Indian Left political parties have mismatched themselves with the realities of Indian politics.

Keeping in mind the constituent units in the idea of the National Progressive Revolution of Vladimir Lenin, party leaders of the likes of S.A. Dange, Somnath Chatterji, Saiffuddin Chowdhury have time and again pleaded for an electoral working relationship with the Indian National Congress as compared to non-Congress political forces to protect, preserve and promote the secular fabric of the Indian polity with the resultant effect of being cornered in the Party circles consequently to face expulsion from the Party. In the emergent opportune context in 1996 the former Chief Minister of West Bengal, late Jyoti Basu, was not allowed by the CPI-M Party to accept the post of the Prime Minister of India only because the Party Constitution gives no room for such a move! Mr Jyoti Basu later described this non-acceptance  as a  ‘historic blunder’ of the Left political parties in the Indian parliamentary political system.  The Left Front political parties did not fail to accept the demand of coalition political milieu in 2004 and provided outside support to the Congress-led UPA Government. But on a foreign policy issue of civil nuclear energy cooperation deal with the United States of America, the Left Front political parties withdrew support and created a complex domestic political situation.

To many political analysts, this event of withdrawal sowed the seeds for the dynamics of contemporary Indian politics—loss of electoral acceptance of the Left Front political parties, the decline of the power of the Indian National Congress party and the meteoric rise of  the Bharatiya Janata Party. Suffice it to say that the Left political parties have never been able to judge Indian politics solely on the basis of India’s domestic political situation but remained passively ideological and vacuously inter-nationalist.

Indian Politics and Left Politics (2011-2019): A Tale of Losing Political Relevance

In the entire period from 1977-2011 due to the continuous presence of  a Left Front Government, West Bengal became the den of Left politics in India. In Tripura from 1998-2017 uninterrupted Left Front rule was noticed while in Kerala simultaneously every five years Left Democratic Front (LDF) remained in power in this period. From 2011 onwards the decline of the Left political parties from political power has been steady—after three-and-a-half decades losing power in West Bengal to the extent that in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls the Left Front political parties stood third electorally after the Trinamul Congress and BJP, loss of power in the Tripura in 2017 at the hands of the BJP and from 62 MPs in 2004 to five MPs in 2019 in Parliament.  As a result Left political parties have lost daily political significance in contemporary India. This reveals that within the span of seven to eight years Left political parties have lost political significance in Indian politics on a daily basis.

The reasons for the decline of the electoral performance of the Left political parties can be classified into structural (inner-party structure) and ideological. According to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in resisting capitalism the role of a Communist Party will be that of a vanguard of the proletarian revolution. Later on Lenin clarified that the context, programme and implementation of the proletarian revolution will be done by the working class themselves and the task of the Communist Party will be that of a coordinator of various such revolutions and leading them to their conclusion, that is, the withering away of the bourgeois capitalist state. It was from Stalin’s period that the vanguard role of the Communist Party was redefined to interpret that the Party will determine the timing, span and extent of the proletarian revolution and the working class will only abide by the Party instructions. Left political parties in India, following this Stalinist Party structure, gradually distanced themselves from the ground realities and after losing power they have no attraction left for  their Party supporters, workers and even members.  French Marxist intellectual of the 21st century, Jacques Rancaire, points out that such a situation goes against the condition of creating ‘equality of intelligence’.

Left political parties in India have created unknowingly a distinction between the party leadership and workers by asking the latter to repose faith in the ‘Party wisdom’ in analysing the political situation of the country. While in power, the workers and supporters accepted this distinction but immediately after losing power, ‘Power’ instead of ‘Party’ became the attraction and Left workers, supporters and even some members swiftly went to other political parties (read Trinamul Congress and BJP). So with immediate effect the Party’s structural transformation needs to be made following the Leninist guideline for the reinvigo-ration of the Left political parties in India.

Historically in the area of political-ideology the Left political parties in India have exhibited self-contradictions. Being blind in anti-Congressism, the Left political parties took the  political position of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1989 to provide outside support to the V.P. Singh Government at the Centre. After 1998 when the BJP emerged as a major national political force in Indian politics, the Left political parties maintained equidistance between the Congress and BJP as their Party-line but failed to establish a formidable Third Front in the political space of India. This self-contradiction is because of their different understanding of Lenin’s opinion about newly independent countries in the post-colonial society.   Therefore in India ‘new Leftism’ has not surfaced due to disunity among the Left political parties.

Following the massive loss of electoral trust in the 2011 Assembly polls in West Bengal, intellectuals like Partha Chatterjee, Sobhanlal Duttagupta, Murzban Jal and Sumanta Banerjee argued that in India Left political parties have not been able to accommodate in its policies and programmes the demands and aspirations of rights-based identitarian movements of ethnicity, women, environment, human rights, anti-corruption, language and culture, LGBT whose constituent supporters have voted against the Left in the recent elections. In order to recover their lost electoral space, Left political parties need to strike a chord with these single-issue based movements in the coming days.

Another major ideological problem for the Left political parties in India has been to grasp the essence of coalition politics. The contradiction of Left politics is that during the coalition years in Indian politics (1996-2014) they have not tried to give credence to coalition and when Indian politics is going towards a single party-dominance model in the post-2019 period, they are duly recognising the importance of coalition with secular forces in India, particularly Congress exemplified by the recent spate of cooperation between the West Bengal State unit of Left Front and Congress. This type of mismatch between political-ideology and democratic parliamentary electoral politics is a major reason for the decreasing political relevance of the Left political parties in India.

Indian Politics and Left Politics (2019-): A Tale of Mix and Match

Post-2019 parliamentary politics in India is marked by the rise of the fascist, Rightist and reactionary political force of Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of the Narendra Modia and Amit Shah. From 2014 onwards considerable effort was there in the Central Government’s policies and programmes to erase the Indian past and a new reading of Indian history reflecting intolerance. In this context the following points can be considered seriously for a new Left politics in the new Indian milieu—

(a) To create wider Left unity in real terms. After the dismal electoral result in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the SUCI(C) and CPI-ML came together with the Left Front political parties for joint processions, meetings and programme. However in elections at all levels they continued to put up separate candidates in the same constituency. The most shocking event took place during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when the Left Front constituent RSP separately gave a candidate for the Baharampur Lok Sabha seat in the West Bengal amidst the decision of Left Front  not to put up any candidate and instead support Indian National Congress candidate in  the constituency. So apart from daily issue-based unity what is needed is electoral unity. For this to achieve, the CPI and CPI-M can come together as a single party like they were prior to the 1964 position for the simple reason that in order to remain as a Front partner, the CPI over the years has been silently accepting the leadership of the CPI-M. The only exception was in 2012 in the  President’s election. The CPI-M in tandem with its Party Congress position voted for the Indian National Congress candidate, Pranab Mukherjee, while the CPI boycotted the election taking a Naxalite line. But this single incident no way justifies the existence of two parties (CPI and CPI-M) following one position (CPI-M position). Theoretically broader Left unity in India can be achieved by following the Leninist pragmatic position—the way he tried to balance revolutionary zeal and administration by giving more credence to ground realities and contexts than to Marxist theory for which position in his later days he was sidelined within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union itself. For post-colonial nation-states Leninist position is the correct Left political position.

(b) There is an urgent need for re-evaluation by Left political parties of the contributions of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in Indian political history of mass-movement and parlia-mentary democratic governance. Gandhi symbolised non-violence, tolerance and firmness in the goal of the movement while Nehru epitomised the non-capitalist non-corporate path of economic development. This ‘Gandhi-Nehru’ model will help the Left political parties to embrace the essence of Indianness of Indian politics and create an alternative secular modern Indian politics.

(c) Modi symbolises the capitalist model of politics which requires opium-induced mentally-inactive masses and hence religion is used to its fullest by hyping Hindu religious chants of Jai Bajrangbali, Jai Sri Ram and Jai Sri Krishna ignoring the secular credentials of the Indian Constitution and Indian civilisational essence of tolerance. This eventually will lead to such a politico-religious society where ‘sameness’ will be celebrated through indigenous religio-political value ruled by a ‘one-Nation-one Election-one Party’ vision.  At this critical moment, when the Indian National Congress is in disarray in terms of political direction and leadership, Left political parties must unitedly take upon themselves to lead a nationwide electorally pragmatic oppositional secular alliance on the basis of a one seat-one candidate formula.

At this juncture one must remember Comrade Sripad Amrit Dange. In India, Comrade Dange identified the Indian National Congress as a progressive bourgeois political force and was enthusiastic throughout his life to organise a National Democratic Revolution by cooperating with the Indian National Congress with the ‘unity-struggle-unity’ approach. This model is popularly known as the ‘Dange-line’—in 1971 Dange’s famous remark was “between Indira Gandhi and Jana Sangh, I prefer Indira”.  However in standard mainstream Left political space, Dange-line received infamy as a model of Congress stooge-ism.  During the Emergency situation Dange supported it and stood by the Indian National Congress led by late Prime Minister India Gandhi. Dange’s opinion was that in a democratic space freedom must not be equated with indiscipline and chaos and during 1974-75 Jayprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution simply created such a situation and to tackle it Emergency was the only option to stabilise  Indian democracy. It is also important to remember that during Emergency ‘secularism’ and ‘socialism’ were included in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution and the Directive Principles of State Policy was also adopted.

Comrade Dange never compromised his class position even while supporting some policy- positions of the Indira Government. In a debate on the ‘garibi hatao’ slogan of Indira Gandhi, in Parliament, Dange remarked ‘Don’t call me poor, call me by the name of my class—working class’.  As a working class leader Dange on the basis of his experience engaged with Indian politics through a Marxist approach. In contemporary Modified Indian politics where a concerted effort to re-create Indian post-independence history is in the offing, Dange’s writings, speeches and political strategy should be the basis of an alternative course of action for the Left political parties.  In order to re-emerge in Indian politics, the Left political parties must come away from the classical ‘smashing the state apparatus’ model with the aim of immediate political power capture. This is a period that demands organised local level politics which means resounding presence at the organsiation level of student, women, employees, social media forums to win over the masses through logical reasoning. Put simply, it means connecting with the people at the grassroots. Comrade Dange was a living example of such mass-connectivity through meetings, processions, movements against land-acquisition and trade union agitations.


In order to remain relevant in the post-2019 Lok Sabha election period, Left political parties must think and act electorally, that is, organise multifaceted struggles by giving up blind anti-Congressism and build a Communist-Congress secular front on the basis of Dange’s unity-struggle-unity model and at the same time to follow the Gandhi-Nehru pathway, that is, firm commitment to secularism, democracy and socialism. Thus it is necessary to arouse the interest of the Left political parties about Gandhian temperament (orientation for a truthful nonviolent constructive mass movement) and Nehruvian governing model (parliamentary democratic dialogue-based public sector economy-centric social welfare state).

The present dispensation under Narendra Modi is attempting to create an Opposition-free Indian politics and to resist this attempt an eclectic approach is needed. Therefore the assemblage of ideas, prograrmmes and courses of action of theLenin-Gandh-Nehru trio must be the basis of the political position for the Left political parties. Comrade Dange in his life and work had successfully assembled the trio’s vision and mission. So to re-emerge in a new fashion the simple path for the Left political parties is to accept and celebrate Dange’s political strategy—to formulate an anti-fascist (anti-BJP) broad people’s-front from a class perspective following Georgi Dimitrov’s model. It is necessary for the Left political parties to identify the ‘main enemy’ by analysing the class character of the Indian state and to organise all sections against it. An erroneous political position is to identify two, three or more enemies at the same time and struggle against them simultaneously. Since independence till 2019, Indian Left political parties have followed this erroneous political position and made themselves irrelevant in Indian politics. To come out of this situation it must dawn upon the Left political parties with immediate effect that the contexts of 1977 and 2019 are vastly different. In 1977 the need of the hour was all-out anti-Congresism and the real context in 2019 is to oppose the BJP  (the off-shoot of former Jana Sangh-RSS) for which the primary requirement is to shrug-off anti-Congressism. But except the CPI-M, no other Left Front or ultra-Leftist political parties are willing to shrug-off anti-Congressism. So it is high time to reframe this old Left Front of 1977 and carve out a new United Front whose programmatic basis would be anti-BJPism, not anti-Congressism and to cooperate with the Congress in pursuing anti-BJPism. The reality of Indian politics is that anti-Congressism and anti-BJPism cannot go side by side at the same time. As history identifies ideologically and politically the BJP as the main enemy (instead of ideologically identifying the BJP and Congress as dual enemies), the task of Left political parties is to dismantle the present Left Front and build a new United  Front with the support of the Indian National Congress and other secular political forces (in the true spirit of that immortal anti-fascist crusader, Georgi Dimtrov)  which will emerge as UPA-III and  fruitfully challenge the Right reactionary BJP’s politics in contemporary India.   

The author is an Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Kalyani (West Bengal;).

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