FANTASY WORLD OF KARAT (Telegraph, July 28, 2008)
- The CPI(M) must explain why it disregards the Constitution
In Stalin’s footsteps
The Communist Party wants a Constitution based upon the principle of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. They condemn the Constitution because it is based upon parliamentary democracy. — B.R. Ambedkar in his closing speech to the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949.
Nearly fifty years later, is there any need to change this assessment of Ambedkar, which was made when the Communist Party of India was pursuing the policy of overthrowing the Indian State through armed insurrection? The answer is, in substance, no. The communists participate in parliamentary democracy and do not openly condemn the Constitution, but in practice pay scant respect to it.
Recent events have revealed the contempt communists have for the Constitution and its conventions. One of the most glaring instances has been the treatment meted out by the CPI(M) to the speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee. He was summarily expelled from the CPI(M) because he had refused to resign from the post of speaker as the party had ordered him to do. The word summarily is used advisedly. Chatterjee wasn’t even given a chance to explain himself, or to put forward his own case. This is a clear case of the violation of the norms of natural justice that occurs frequently in barbaric and non-democratic societies, and such occurrences in civilized and democratic ones are almost always condemned. This kind of arbitrariness is not unrelated to the CPI(M)’s attitude to the Constitution.
When the Left decided to withdraw support from the UPA government, Prakash Karat and two other Left leaders went to the president with a list of MPs who were withdrawing support. (This incident itself calls for comment and I will come back to it later.) The list contained the name of Somnath Chatterjee. What did this inclusion mean? It meant that according to Karat and Co., Chatterjee, even though he was the speaker, actually belonged to the CPI(M). They had thus eroded the position of neutrality that goes with the office of the speaker. Following this came the request/order from the party that Chatterjee should step down. Chatterjee refused on the grounds that it was his constitutional responsibility not to show his party colours and to remain non-partisan. This led directly to his expulsion. There was a clear conflict here between loyalty to the party and loyalty to the Constitution. Chatterjee’s conscience told him that his loyalty to the Constitution was more important, hence his refusal to step down. Chatterjee is thus being punished by the CPI(M) because he remained true to the spirit of the Constitution and to parliamentary procedure and convention.
It will not be wrong to suspect from this that the CPI(M) considers its own rules and regulations to be more important than the Constitution, especially when the two are in conflict. This suspicion is confirmed by what many comrades have said about the importance of party rules.
Let me turn now to the incident that I flagged in an earlier paragraph. Karat and the other two Left leaders who went to meet the president with the list of MPs have no constitutional standing. They are not elected representatives of the people; they have no right or authority to speak for MPs. The correct procedure would have been for the leader(s) of the Left parties to have gone collectively or individually to the president to express their intent. Karat took upon himself this responsibility, thus showing either his ignorance or his disregard for constitutional propriety. (To be fair, it should be pointed out that the president should not have accepted the list from Karat and the other two.)
My argument is that this disregard for the Constitution among leaders of the CPI(M) is rooted in the basic contradiction to which Ambedkar drew attention even before the Indian republic was formally born. The CPI(M) sees itself as a monolithic and authoritarian party driven by something called democratic centralism. Its fantasy is that it is akin to the Bolshevik Party in Russia: a closed and underground party trying to bring about a revolution. Its delusion is that bourgeois democracy in India is a passing phase to be overtaken, sooner rather than later, by the dictatorship of the proletariat and the total dominance of the communist party. It does not believe that there should be any distinction between the party and the government, and the party and the State. All three — party, government and State — should be subservient to the general secretary of the party. This is what happened in Soviet Russia under V.I. Lenin and Josef Stalin. This is the power and position to which Prakash Karat aspires, as did general secretaries like B.T. Randive before him.
The practice of summary expulsion comes straight from the Soviet Union under Stalin. Stalin not only expelled, but even executed his victims without giving them a chance to speak. The charges were often trumped up, and the “confessions” obtained under duress. The victims were always subsequently maligned. Karat and the comrades can only expel and malign because members of his party, however much they criticize bourgeois democracy, enjoy the full protection of the bourgeois rule of law. The CPI(M) disregards the Constitution when it suits its petty political purpose, but it is not reluctant to enjoy the protection and the benefits that the Constitution offers to all citizens of India.
Prakash Karat and other communist leaders are quick to appropriate the moral high ground of Indian politics. During the drama over the trust vote, many communist leaders spoke about the incorruptibility of CPI(M) MPs. The assumption here is twofold. One is the MPs belonging to the CPI(M) cannot be bought at any price; and two, financial corruption is the only form of political immorality.
This happens again and again because of the contradiction between the CPI(M)’s fantasy and its reality. Its fantasy is that of a revolutionary party (politburo, central committee, democratic centralism and other shibboleths familiar to its members are straight out of the Bolshevik lexicon), and thus its party organization and discipline are all along Stalinist lines. But its reality is that it is forced to function in a multi-party democracy. When the mask of democracy falls, we see the CPI(M)’s ugly Stalinist face. Prakash Karat in the present conjuncture is that face.
The truth is that, as the illusion of the dictatorship of the proletariat becomes like the ever-receding horizon, communists have very little to hang on to. So a party like the CPI(M) clings on to its Stalinist organization. It provides them with the security that all is not lost. But it also makes them look ridiculous. At a more serious level, it raises the question: does the CPI(M) believe that the Constitution of India is above all other allegiances and loyalties? On the answer to this question — Karat and the comrades owe the country an explanation on this score — will depend if members of the CPI(M) can be considered citizens of India.
Unfortunately for Mr Karat, when he wakes up he will find the Indian Constitution is still here.
Karat compliments ‘comrade’ Chatterjee
BISWAJIT ROY (Kolkata Telegraph, July 28, 2008)
Calcutta, July 27: Prakash Karat is learnt to have spoken of Somnath Chatterjee’s worth in Parliament and referred to him as a “valuable comrade”, apparently to smooth ruffled feathers in the state CPM over the summary expulsion.
The general secretary today explained to the party state committee the “compulsions” that led to the expulsion after several leaders, like MP Tarit Topdar and minister Kanti Ganguly, joined state secretariat member Subhas Chakraborty in publicly cautioning about the damage it could do.
Some leaders suggested that it would be difficult to explain the action as people saw it as an act of revenge after the UPA government won the trust vote with Speaker Chatterjee presiding over it. Others said the expulsion had diverted people’s attention from the fight against the nuke deal and price rise and added to the Opposition’s ammunition months before the elections.
“We consider him a valuable comrade who was in the party for 40 years. We recognised his role in Parliament and did not want to lose him. It was unfortunate that we had to expel him since we could not compromise on party discipline. But we don’t harbour any animosity towards him,’’ a state committee member quoted Karat as telling the closed-door meeting.
In public, Karat maintained the tough posture. Asked if the party would allow an appeal by Chatterjee against the politburo decision, he said: “Our party constitution has various provisions for appeal. I don’t want to say anything more.”
The CPM constitution allows suspended or expelled members to appeal before state or central commissions.
Chatterjee has so far shown no inclination to knock at the commissions’ doors. The Speaker will be in the city tomorrow and is likely to meet party patriarch Jyoti Basu.
Karat denied any contradiction between his public position, which had left the Speaker free to decide whether to quit, and the expulsion for not toeing the party line. “It was for him to decide whether he would continue as Speaker. But it was for the party to decide whether he would continue in the party,’’ Karat said.
He said his presence at the two-day state committee meeting was “not unexpected or unscheduled”. It had apparently been planned to review the party’s showing in the recent panchayat polls.
At the meeting, Karat apparently said the leadership had given a long rope to Chatterjee before throwing him out. “We had left it to his conscience. But his conscience didn’t match the party’s conscience.”
CPM leaders had claimed that Chatterjee had agreed to step down despite his initial reluctance, but went back on his words later.
Karat said the Speaker had written to him after the Left’s withdrawal of support.
A central committee member said Chatterjee had tried to avoid a clash with the party. “Somnathda had declined to step down as Speaker before the vote as he was opposed to voting with the BJP. But he had offered alternatives.”
Quoting Karat, sources said Chatterjee had first wan-ted the party to allow him to continue till August 11 in view of “commitments” that included a trip to Kuala Lumpur for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meet and Amartya Sen’s lecture in Parliament. “Since it was not acceptable to the party, Somnathda was ready to step down before (the vote) but he refused to vote with the BJP. He also said he would resign from Parliament if he was forced to vote,” a leader said.
According to the party, Chatterjee had agreed to resign following Basu’s intervention but changed his mind later, saying he would step down after the July 22 vote. On July 21, the politburo had promised to consider his request on not voting with the BJP, but it wanted him to step down immediately. Chatterjee declined.
The politburo expelled him when he did not resign by July 23 evening.
Most state committee members said they were “satisfied” with Karat’s explanation, but the CPM’s embarrassment and worries were evident from its media communique, which neither mentioned the expulsion nor the explanation.