Guest post by PRASENJIT BOSE
The CPI(M) is going to have its party congress next year in the backdrop of its worst ever electoral performance in the general elections. A four day meeting of its central committee held recently to discuss the review report and political resolution for the party congress, however, ended without adopting any worthwhile political decision. The only decision was to have another central committee meeting in January next year. When meetings of the topmost committee of a national political party end only with fixing the next meeting, something must be going wrong somewhere. It reflects lack of political direction and disarray at the top.
At the heart of the dilemma faced by the CPI(M) today is the political-tactical line to be adopted in the backdrop of BJP’s ascendancy across the country and the rightwing offensive unleashed by the Modi regime at the centre alongside the threat of political marginalization faced by the CPI(M) in what was once its citadel, West Bengal. The options apparently being debated within the CPI(M) – either align with the Congress against BJP or maintain the status quo – are both inadequate for its own revival or to take on the resurgent rightwing in India. Unless the Left mobilizes forces from below and seeks to build alliances based on struggles with like-minded progressive and democratic forces, the “political line” debate will be fruitless, abstract and of no yield.
In the early 1990s the CPI(M) and its left allies pursued a line of “equidistance” from both the Congress and the BJP, which found reflection in the slogan – “Congress and BJP are two sides of the same coin”. Things changed after the 1998 general elections when the BJP for the first time succeeded in securing enough allies to head a government at the centre. The CPI(M)’s party congress held in Calcutta in October 1998 dropped the line of equidistance and identified the BJP as the main threat because it enabled the communal-fascist RSS access to state power. While criticizing the Congress for its economic policies and vacillations in defending secularism, the CPI(M) had decided, for the first time since its formation in 1964, to extend support to a Congress-led government in order to replace the BJP-led government. Subsequently, following the defeat of the BJP in the 2004 elections, the CPI(M)-led Left parties unitedly decided to support the Congress-led UPA to form the government. But even in 2004 there was no pre-poll alliance or seat adjustment between the CPI(M)-led Left and the Congress. Support was extended to the Congress post-election and that too from outside on the basis of the UPA’s common minimum programme.
Following the advent of another BJP government at the centre, panic-stricken voices within the Left have started arguing that it is once again time to return to the line of supporting or co-operating with the Congress. Some enthusiasts are even suggesting an electoral alliance between the CPI(M) and the Congress in West Bengal to take on the Trinamul Congress government and combat the growth of the BJP. A similar understanding drove the CPI(M) to support the Congress’ candidate in the Presidential elections in 2012, which had divided the Left parties with the CPI and RSP abstaining in the polls and also led to protests within CPI(M)’s own ranks. Can going with the Congress today strengthen the resistance against the Modi-led BJP and help in reviving the CPI(M) in West Bengal?
There are important differences between the rise of the BJP in the 1990s which culminated in the formation of the Vajpayee government and the resurgence of the Modi-led BJP in 2014. Unlike the 1990s, there is no pan Indian communal mobilisation based on a ram mandir issue at the forefront in 2014. The communal mobilisation strategy of the RSS-BJP has instead become more localized and region-specific – it is alleged “love-jihad” in UP, “Bangladeshi infiltration” in Bengal while trying to stop Muharram processions in Delhi. This enables Modi to chant deceptive “development” oriented slogans like “Make in India” and “Swachh Bharat” from the centre to cater to the aspirational “new middle class” while the local stormtroopers of hindutva inject communal venom at the grassroots. This was implemented by the RSS-BJP in western UP through the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013, which paralysed all the secular parties in UP.
Merely replaying the clichéd ‘Modi-is-communal’ rhetoric and building electoral alliances from above to arithmetically defeat the BJP is therefore not going to work. The secular resistance needs to be proactive, state/region specific and localized, by building broadbased, grassroots level coalitions against the RSS and its affiliates. The Modi regime also needs to be firmly countered on its aggressive neoliberal “development” agenda, which seeks to dismantle welfare schemes, laws and regulations that protect labour and the environment and bring about a total merger between the state, big capital and the financial oligarchy. The hollow claims of providing corruption-free and transparent governance, bringing back black money stashed abroad, ensuring inclusive growth etc. needs to be exposed. Since the Modi-led BJP did not come to power on the basis of a single point communal agenda but by combining targeted, localized communal mobilization with aggressive neoliberal developmentalism and social engineering, the struggle against the Modi regime also needs to be waged on multiple axes and not on a single point agenda of just defending secularism.
It is here that the folly of the pro-Congress line within the CPI(M) becomes apparent. Being in power at the centre for a decade, the Congress has done everything possible to discredit itself and alienate the people. Whatever little redistribution of resources was attempted through the NREGA, food security bill etc. was more than undone through the relentless rise in food and fuel prices under Congress rule, which hit the poor the hardest. The erroneous policy of hiking interest rates to curb inflation failed to check rising prices and choked off investment and economic activity instead. Most disturbingly, the Congress regime became synonymous with brazen cronyism and plunder of natural resources by a nexus of corrupt ministers, bureaucrats and big corporates. In more ways than one, it was the Congress which paved the way for the BJP.
Popular anger against the Congress not only took its tally to a historical low of 44 in the Lok Sabha elections which has denied it even the principal opposition party’s status in parliament, but the recent assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana have also shown that the anger is not going to die down soon. The additional problem with the Congress today is that its dynastic political culture has hit a dead end, making not only its present but even its future look gloomy and uncertain. The idea of the Left joining hands with a defeated and demoralized Congress party in order to build up secular resistance against the Modi regime glosses over these harsh realities. Such resistance will have no credibility in the eyes of the people.
Rather what the CPI(M)-led Left can and should do is to first bring about unity among all left forces, big and small, and unitedly play a leading role in building broad-based alliances from below to resist the attempts by the RSS and its affiliates to foment communal tensions and conflicts in different parts of the country. Alongside, the Left needs to strengthen manifold the class-based movements against neoliberal policies and bring its worst sufferers – the workers and peasants – into the forefront of that resistance. Building popular movements against the Modi regime and not electoral wheeling-dealing with this or that bourgeois party should be the priority for the Left today.
The ability of the Left to play a significant role in building resistance to the Modi regime is largely dependent on whether it succeeds in checking the rise of the BJP in West Bengal, which has mainly been at the cost of the CPI(M). The central problem with the CPI(M) in Bengal is not with its alliance arithmetic but with the serious ideological-political errors that it committed while running the Left Front government and the failure to rectify them even after three long years of being out of power. Despite the obvious problems with the central political line of the CPI(M) – the half hearted attempts to create a “third front” – the party has so far been able to hold on to its base in Tripura and to a large extent in Kerala. The steady erosion of CPI(M)’s support base in Bengal must have state-specific causes, which have always been unfairly evaded by the state leadership. In the absence of honest introspection and rectification, the Party has started to wither away. The BJP is trying to step into this vacuum.
The forthcoming state conference provides the last opportunity for the CPI(M) in West Bengal to formally accept its mistakes and usher in much needed ideological-political and organisational changes. If the CPI(M) state leadership chooses once again to shirk off responsibility and preserve the status quo by pushing a pro-Congress line, it will be seen by the people for what it is – downright opportunism and degeneration. Moreover, just like in the case of supporting Pranab Mukherjee for President in 2012, the Congress and the TMC can easily strike a deal before the 2016 assembly elections, leaving the CPI(M) out in the cold.
If on the other hand, the CPI(M) self-critically acknowledges and corrects its rightward ideological drift towards neoliberalism going against the interests of workers and peasants, its undemocratic and highhanded practices, tolerance towards corruption and neglect of the social sector and issues of women, adivasis, dalits and Muslims; and democratically ejects those faces who are identified with these deviations; it will pave the way for broader Left unity and enable the CPI(M) to rebuild an effective left and democratic movement in the state against the anti-people and corrupt TMC regime.
Much depends on the resolution of this debate within the CPI(M) in West Bengal today. Failure to resolve this dilemma, as was seen in the recent central committee meeting, is a sure recipe for political decimation and organisational meltdown.