[From Liberation, January 1998.]
The first phase of the UF-Congress cooperation came to an abrupt end, even earlier than expected. Despite the cooling period allowed by the President neither the UF and the Congress could make it up among themselves nor could any other viable ruling arrangement take shape and thus within two years the nation has to face yet another general election.
Kudos to the UF for its firm refusal to submit to the Congress’ blackmail but unfortunately this brave act may prove to be its last united act. Some sections were willing to toe the Congress line even earlier and now, with the elections round the corner, they are contemplating an open or tacit alliance with the Congress under the pretext of special conditions in certain states. Similar considerations have led the major chunk of the JD in Orissa to embrace the BJP. Even Mr.Gujral — the UF Prime Minister — who refused to abide by the UF diktat on expelling RJD ministers from the cabinet — is seeking the blessings of Akali Dal to enter the Lok Sabha. Moreover, Laloo after his well-timed release is proving to be a major headache for the UF in general and the JD in particular.
Despite a Common Minimum Programme and common appeal, the UF appears a divided force without leadership and without orientation. As such, it is hardly likely to fire the popular imagination in the hustings as a cohesive political unit.
Though the Congress withdrew support on the Jain Commission Report, the significance of the report lies in nothing more than asserting the Congress dynasty and unifying the party around the same and thus providing a cause for the parting of ways with the UF.
As our Party’s Sixth Congress had noted, "...a coalition arrangement where both the major national parties the BJP and Congress, which together have nearly two-thirds of parliamentary seats, are out of power, can only be an exception rather than a rule. Sooner or later either of the two will rally enough support behind them to run the government."
Commenting on VP Singh’s formula of UF and Congress sharing both the ruling and the opposition space, the report said, "The basic fallacy of the argument is that it disregards the continuous process of conflicts and hence the changes in the relative strengths of various parties which otherwise constitute the broad anti-BJP spectrum and it assumes a permanently subordinate role for the Congress at the Centre. The Congress, still a major national party, cannot rest content with its present predicament. By making clear its agenda of opposing both the BJP and the CPI(M), it plans to work on the centrist camp to overturn the UF applecart."
The report had remarked, "At present the UF government is running more by default than by design and the Congress is waiting for the next opportunity to catapult itself to power."
This Congress tactic, apparently similar to the tactic vis-a-vis Charan Singh government in 1979 and Chandrashekhar government in 1990, however can lead to a very different outcome. This is the phase of Congress decline and the Congress at the most can aim at a coalition with the centrist camp where it may play a leading role. To achieve this goal the Congress will resort to tactical games.
As the Party Congress report described, "It (the Congress) hopes to play up the contradictions in the UF and seek allies in the next election. It does retain considerable manoeuvring capability to create confusion and splits in the so-called third camp of the left, centrist and regional formations and stage a comeback in the form of a Congress-led coalition."
It also said, "It (the Congress) has already developed a rapport with the RJD, is developing equations with Mulayam and is also working assiduously to bring the TMC and the DMK into line. Having forced the UF to tone down its initial criticism of Congress on issues of secularism and corruption, it hopes to refurbish its image, win over alienated Muslims and emerge at the head of an anti-BJP coalition by the next elections."
The entire exercise of interpreting the UF as a viable political alternative both to the BJP and the Congress, as a model coalition, as a secular and federal front and even the precursor of a People’s Democratic Front etc. was patently absurd. The alternative to Congress in 1996 elections, paradoxically, emerged in the shape of the UF-Congress cooperation because in the meantime the BJP had emerged as the single largest party inching closer to the seat of power. That political logic still holds true. The mid-term elections will prove to be a great leveller in reshaping UF-Congress relations. In the process both will undoubtedly go through major internal shakeups in the form of desertions, splits and new social equations but that will only strengthen the basis of cooperation between the UF and the Congress.
The biggest gainer of the present turmoil is of course the BJP. It has been able to wash away the stigma of ‘untouchable’ attached to it and has been winning new friends and allies. In the process, however, tall claims of ‘value based politics’ have been thrown to the winds. In its bid at usurping the Congress legacy, it is also appropriating the notorious Congress culture of harbouring criminals and super-corrupts.
It now has emerged as the first preference of the corporate world and as the Varanasi Congress report had pointed out, "the ruling establishment is all set to welcome a BJP takeover by the next election, if not earlier."
The BJP knows that this is the best chance offered to it and therefore it is moving at a breakneck speed to capture Delhi with the motto ‘now or never’. The confusing political scenario and the craze for stability coupled with the BJP capturing the bastion of UP and gaining an upperhand in Bihar through fostering criminal gangs like Ranvir Sena, have all made the saffron threat very real and left and progressive forces can only ignore it at their own peril.
The Varanasi Congress had pointed out, "We do recognise the threat of the saffron power taking over India. The collapse of the UF may well prove to be the catalyst for such an eventuality. Although the BJP has its own problems and internal rifts and has a limited reach as of now in many parts of the country, yet the threat is indeed real and we must not underestimate it. And if that happens, certain readjustments in policy may also have to be effected depending upon the concrete situation obtaining then."
While dealing with the bid for a temporary alliance with the Samata Party during the 1995 Bihar assembly elections, the Party Congress report had pointed out, "In practical politics, tactical alliances aimed at weakening our rivals may often be quite temporary. If this is lost sight of, the Party’s capacity for political manoeuvring and flexibility in tactics in the changing political situation will be seriously reduced."
This brings us to the all-important question of tactics of the Left in general, and our Party in particular, in the coming elections.
First of all, the so-called slogan of stability is a hoax and meant only for the forces of status quo. Indira Gandhi’s stability only led to excessive centralisation and Emergency. Narasimha Rao’s stability proved to be the most corrupt regime India has ever had. And the BJP’s stability will only lead to a Ram Mandir, destroying the secular fabric of Indian society and prove a morale booster to criminal gangs like Ranvir Sena. A loose and unstable kind of government based on UF-Congress kind of cooperation is best suited for advance of the left movement in India. Here the UF should be understood in broad generalised terms, which includes all kinds of centrist forces including those being cobbled up by Laloo Yadav in his so-called Secular Front.
Secondly, this necessarily demands an independent separate consolidation of the Left which may be in a better position to keep up pressure on such a government to extract as many concessions as possible for the people’s interests. Instead of hankering after participation in a bourgeois government and even seeking its premiership offered to an individual Mr.Jyoti Basu — whom the bourgeois world believes to be the right person in a wrong party — the Left should prepare itself for playing the role of democratic opposition at the Centre.
The leadership of the official Left, however, thinks otherwise. AB Bardhan is repeatedly insisting that Jyoti Basu would have made a better prime minister and under his premiership the UF-Congress cooperation would not have stumbled. How, only god knows! Surjeet, the other day, while castigating the Congress for its pressure tactics, took credit for the fact that the Left, despite its serious reservations on many issues, did not pressurise the government on any of them. What a shameless claim! Be it Chidambaram’s ‘dream budget’, or sitting over the agrarian labourers’ bill as well as the women’s reservation bill, the Left didn’t feel it necessary to put pressure on the government. The CPI(M) leadership remained totally preoccupied with ‘number games’ and ‘placating the Congress’ — i.e., political manipulation at the top — instead of taking up issues for a democratic mass mobilisation of the people. Social Democrats indeed will have to answer for their role in providing an unhindered free space to the BJP. At this crucial political juncture, when each and every political action is significant, they did not even hesitate to field a common candidate and vote along with the BJP against Rabri Devi — in complete disregard to the decision in the 17-party front — in the Bihar Legislative Council elections.
The CPI(M) leadership is preparing the party to accept participation in any future government and Jyoti Basu is once again ready to move over to Delhi, with bag and baggage. The debate on the tactics of the Left must therefore be intensified and we may hope to garner support from a section of the CPI(M) leadership.
In the coming elections, we shall have to gear up all our strength and undertake a massive independent all-India campaign reaching to the broad section of masses. We must contest in all our major areas of movement which symbolise the Party’s identity. Next, we should try to come to a political understanding and seat adjustments as far as practicable with our front partners in states like Bihar and Assam. And lastly, in vast numbers of constituencies where neither we nor our front partners are contesting, or where some front partners have entered into tacit alliances with the BJP, we shall support other political formations, except the Congress, against the BJP. And where a Congress candidate is the only viable candidate against the BJP, we should better keep our votes reserved.
For secularism, democracy and transparency!
Against participation in a bourgeois government — For a left opposition!
All against the saffron threat — All for polls!