Lookback: Udayan Namboodiri
Once hailed as an example of a perfect coalition, the Indian Left is coming apart at the seams. This week, the RSP formally gave notice to the 'big brother', but it remains to be seen whether the CPI(M)'s other diminutives are willing to stand up
Saturday Special is a sub-brand of a Right-wing paper. So why should we complain when the Leftists find themselves in an identity crisis, splinter off into warring groups, trade invectives, kill each other's cadre, etc? We think we should. As upholders of democracy's highest traditions, the Indian Right should not celebrate when its denouement time in the Leftist camp. Rather, the Left should be encouraged to recall their original raison d'etre and clean up their act.
In the process, India would benefit. The terrible wrongs that are perpetrated in the name of "globalisation", "liberalisation" and "restructuring" needs greater and greater armies of resisters. Dattopant Thengadi, the late founder of the RSS' trade union movement, often reflected that life would be much better for India's downtrodden if only the Indian Left discarded its Communist baggage. This week, Thengadiji almost found vindication when the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) announced on a national scale what its leaders had been mumbling in Bengali and Malayalam for quite some time. At a Press conference in Delhi, the RSP practically gave notice to the rest of the Left: Let's rebuild our movement or the revolution is doomed.
This should also be an opportunity to puncture the Left-lib bombast that holds that the Indian Right as necessarily capitalist, and, ergo, an American agency. Actually, a shakha-going chaddiwallah practices more socialism in his daily life than any JNU jholawallah. Simple living-high thinking had been celebrated as the basic sine quo non of the Hindu existence for some 7,000 years before some bearded Europeans in ugly clothes coined that ridiculous S-word. The poorest of the poor have a better chance in life in BJP-ruled Gujarat than Marxist West Bengal. Therefore, it's time Right-wingers reached out to their misguided friends on the Left, "detoxified" them of their foreign germs and marshalled their positive energies in the fight for equity and justice.
Saturday Special requested Abani Roy, a senior RSP leader and Rajya Sabha member from West Bengal. His home in New Delhi was host to a significant Press conference this week in which high-principled leaders from West Bengal and Kerala articulated for the benefit of the national Press the many strands of disquiet that they and their cadre felt in relation to the Left movement. Obviously, in a world that demands chew-size platitudes, the RSP was forced to spell out whether it is prepared for a Left movement that does not include the "big brother", the CPI(M). And, finally, Roy's party showed spine. Yes, was the unequivocal answer.
In his no-holds-barred reflections (Main Article), Roy justifies the RSP's decision not to walk out of the Left Front. The RSP was one of the first to moot the idea of a Leftist combine. The party had issues with the undivided CPI, but its founding leaders decided that these were secondary to the greater necessity of building a powerful coalition of parties committed to true socialism. So, the RSP fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the CPI in the movement to reduce tram fares in Calcutta (1953), the two food movements (1959 and 1966) and was part of all the Leftist coalitions beginning with the United Front in 1967 to Left Front in 1977. The picture in Kerala was identical. So, says Roy, why should the RSP ditch its own child? The sub-text is equally significant. If the CPI(M) has problems, then it should leave.
The other components in the Left Front are watching the developments keenly. At various times, the CPI and the Forward Bloc had not desisted from pulling punches. The Singur mayhem and Nandigram massacre had dragged much of the internal contradictions in the Left to the fore. Dirty linen, miles of them accumulated over three decades, began to be washed in public. But none other than the RSP exceeded the lakshman rekha. Its senior leaders in West Bengal often appeared more vociferous as critics than the sum total of the Trinamool Congress, the BJP and the Congress combine. For this, the RSP had to pay with blood. Last month, on the eve of the State's panchayat polls, CPI(M) hordes did not make a distinction between Trinamool Congress and RSP supporters in their frenzied determination to enforce one-party domination. In Basanti block of South 24 Parganas district, three RSP supporters were killed and their houses burnt. Left Front unity was manifest in only three of the 17 districts of the State. So, in the aftermath of the election, a time when the CPI(M) goes about avenging defeats, they did not even spare "RSP villages" in Nanur block of Birbhum district, where, on July 25, murderous Marxists massacred 11 Trinamool supporters.
Is this infighting? Actually, not quite. While their less fortunate comrades are dying and getting raped by CPI(M) cadre, the RSP's leaders are wringing their hands. These gentlemen have compromised with the devil for far too long and are paralysed by the fear of rootlessness that would surely grip them once they are out of the Front. In 1987, Jatin Chakraborty, one of the most venerable Leftist leaders of West Bengal, had to eat humble pie for defying the CPI(M). In his last days, he was seen sharing platforms with Mr LK Advani, then a sworn enemy of the Left.
Perhaps, Roy and his comrades entertain a faint hope that the CPI and the others would follow suit. Then, reading Manju Kumar Majumdar (The Other Voice), it is clear that the CPI(M) still wields absolute control. But accusations of "back-stabbing" or playing footsie with the Opposition cannot be good enough as adhesives. The ideological content having vanished, nothing but lucre of office holds the Left together. But that, in turn, is no insurance against an implosion. History holds up many such lessons.
Rebuilding the Left
The crisis facing the Indian Left is deeper than ever before, says a plaintive voice from within. But who is listening?
India's Left movement is in a shambles. Many people thought that with the coming of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government to power on the back of Left support, there would be course correction in the country's neo-liberal economic reforms agenda. That has been proved wrong because the components of the Left movement are working at cross-purposes.
Therefore, the Revolutionary Socialist Party has taken up the onerous task of developing a sharper focus and saving Indian socialism. On June 2, we announced a giant meeting of all Leftist parties committed to making India a truly socialist state. The Maoists who wish to abandon the violent path and take to democratic methods are also welcome. There are many Left adventurists who are waiting for the right platform and this is the first time one such is going to be offered.
Questions have been raised whether this constitutes an act of rebellion on the part of the CPI(M)'s partners in the existing Left Front. At one level, this is nothing but a move to spread a unified Leftist, democratic struggle beyond West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. There are RSP, Forward Bloc, CPI and CPI(M) units in other States as well, but they rarely act in a co-ordinated way. But when perceived from the standpoint of Nandigram, Singur and all other flashpoints not only in the West Bengal CPI(M)--Opposition track but also with respect to the intra-Left disputes that they generated, our June 2 announcement naturally raises apprehensions. We don't deny that this is a warning to the CPI(M). They must undertake course correction and recall the original purpose of their birth. On the other hand, the CPI(M) has been invited to participate in the rally.
The CPI(M)'s top leadership, both in Delhi and the States, is peopled by arrogant people who often act in an immature way. They seem to think that they can do without consulting other Left parties. Mr Jyoti Basu is often recalled from retirement to patch up differences. The 93-year-old leader was once so distressed by the CPI(M)'s attitude that he publicly appealed to them not to break up the Left Front for at least as long as he is alive.
The Left movement has never been in such a perilous state. We supported the UPA because we thought it would check the rise of the BJP. But the opposite happened. The BJP has won most of the State elections since 2004. The Left did not undertake a single programme against the communal parties. Instead, it fought with the UPA on most issues. Here too, we did not insist on matters that affected our core concerns. The DMK had leveraged its strength in the UPA to block the privatisation of Neyveli Lignite Limited. But the Left parties merrily participated in the neo-liberal policies of the UPA. It is often said that when a Communist becomes a capitalist, he becomes much more evil than a life-long capitalist. That is exactly what has happened to Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Mr Nirupam Sen, Mr Biman Bose and all those who justified land acquisition. Today, they are eating humble pie. They have scrapped the Dankuni and Salem project, but the damage has been done.
Recently it has come to light that the same Left parties that had shouted themselves hoarse over protecting the public sector, had blocked Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) from supplying equipment to the Sagardighi Thermal Power Plant in West Bengal. They misrepresented BHEL saying the public sector giant did not have the necessary expertise and the contract was given to a Chinese firm. Now, it is found that the Chinese sold the West Bengal Government sub-standard equipment.
The people of India are disgusted with the Left today. For this we have only ourselves to blame. People perceive the Left as blackmailers, deal-makers, China agents and all sorts of things. This is strengthening the BJP's cause. The UPA Government has also stopped consulting us. The UPA-Left Coordination Committee has lost all purpose. That's why the RSP decided to pull out. On Thursday, we saw how the CPI(M) used threats and intimidation to enforce a bandh in West Bengal. What was their game? Do they expect the people to believe that they were helpless in preventing the runaway increase of prices?
Mr Bhattacharjee had said at a public meeting in Kolkata soon after the UPA was sworn in that the Manmohan Singh Government would need the CPI(M)'s permission to do everything. And now, the same man is trying to fool people into believing that he could not have prevented the petroleum price hike.
Over the past two years, ever since the Singur land scam came to the fore, the RSP has been an outspoken critic of the Bhattacharjee Government's appeasement of capitalists. Now we are saying openly that the CPI(M) has not only weakened the Left movement, but also itself. The politicisation of the police force is so comprehensive that even I, as a Member of Parliament, find it difficult to get a FIR registered in a police station.
A CPI(M) local committee secretary has more powers than an IAS or IPS officer. In Bastanti, the CPI(M) murdered three RSP supporters and when the police came, a member of the victim's family was hauled away to the police station. Now, thanks to a very credible Opposition struggle, the people are finding the courage to give the CPI(M) a taste of its own medicine. We saw this happen in last month's panchayat elections in West Bengal. The same people who once rigged elections in West Bengal to help the CPI(M) win, now rig to help the Opposition win. Resultantly, the Left Front lost 50 per cent of rural seats. This may be the beginning of the end.
A question often asked is, why doesn't the RSP leave the Left Front if it is so unhappy with the CPI(M)'s big brotherism? There are two answers to this. First, the RSP has painfully built up Left unity right from the early 1950s in West Bengal and Kerala. We don't recognise the CPI(M) as the owner of the Left Front, but just another partner. So, we want to strengthen it further. Second, we would be nowhere in Indian politics if we leave the Left Front.
-- The writer is a Rajya Sabha member and RSP leader
Some of our allies are playing footsie with Opposition
The other voice: Some Communist partners are blissfully concentrating on weakening the Left Front. They even don't mind shaking hands with the enemy camp, writes the CPI's Manju Kumar Majumdar
Propping up a friend's foe is not only absurd but also goes against the ethics of coalition politics. Likewise, it is ridiculous to consider friend's enemy a friend. But some Left partners have earned the dubious distinction of finding friends in enemy camps.
These political outfits prefer to bask in the protective comfort of the Left Front. But at the same time, they have developed the treacherous cult of backing Left extremist forces who are avowed enemies of the Left Front. These Left adventurists not only hesitate to target the Left Front leaders at will but also philosophise the idea of subverting the Indian democratic system.
Clearly, the so-called nonconformist Left Front partners have lost direction as their dichotomous political stance might suggest. It looks quite outlandish for a political party with a distinct history to broach the idea of creating an "alternative greater Left Front" -- teaming up with the Maoists and other "compatible groups" -- and in tandem go about mollycoddling the Trinamool Congress, which was born in the lap of capitalism -- just because it opposes the CPI(M).
It is amusing to watch one responsible Front partner courting Opposition parties with mutually insoluble ideologies in an attempt to settle scores with another partner. This is not only new in the history of the Left Front but also underscores a one-eyed agenda to demean and soak away a powerful political ally. One would not have to go far to seek out a better example of political opportunism.
The loss of an adhesive in the Front can be explained in terms of a violent urge for settling political scores and a ballooning lust for expanded space in an already cramped political environment. Contrary to what one might have expected, equations have not improved after the panchayat elections.
Whether the post-poll situation will change only time will tell. But for now it seems that the odd-balls in the Front are out to make the most of the discomfitures of CPI(M) even if that means hitting the bigger partner below its belt.
Ideological differences sustain alliance politics. Thirty years of Left Front rule has seen partners differing on various issues. But things were handled successfully. The smaller partners, too, saw to it that such conflicts were not taken to a point of no return. Once out of the front meetings, the leaders never washed dirty linen in public. The Left unity became proverbial point of reference for the Opposition parties as well.
In alliance politics all constituents have their rights to express their views. As a Left Front partner the CPI also has its own ideological differences with other constituents, particularly the CPI(M). But our party believes in sorting things out behind the Front closed doors.
The Left Front was born through a history of class struggle. After repeated experiments we came together on the basis of a common minimum programme that the Front Government had by far managed to implement in a satisfactory way, even though we had to perform in a bourgeois democratic setup.
There is no doubt that the parties that back the Maoists on one hand and court the Trinamool on the other have anything but a Left alternative force in mind. Now they want the CPI to join their cause. But how can we promote political big-snatch in the name of constructive opposition?
Painting the bigger partner in bad light has become the order of the day. It is easier to criticise but difficult to practice self-introspection. It seems that the common vision of a Left alternative we had in mind before the formation of the Left Front has lost its relevance for some partners. They now want to carve out a political space for themselves when the 'elephant' has fallen in the ditch.
In other words, the conduct of these lesser outfits puts a question mark on their real intent. It seems a disintegrated and not a united Left Front is what they want. Whether or not the Left Front will be able to sustain this backstabbing only time will tell, but certainly it will help the capitalist forces, which have put on the garb of socialism.
Some Communist partners blissfully discount that achievement and concentrate on weakening the Left Front. While they go about shaking hands with the enemy camp, the question that remains is: Do you really need enemies while you have friends like these in the Left Front.
-- The Writer is the CPI's West Bengal secretary