From ‘Historic Blunder’ to Historic Redemption

-- DB

ONE of the most enduring political myths peddled quite vigorously by the mainstream media in recent years has been the juxtaposition of a ‘hardliner headquarter’ in the CPI(M) to a ‘reformist’ Left Front Government of West Bengal. The marketability of the myth grew considerably in the wake of the 1996 refusal of the CPI(M) Central Committee to accept VP Singh’s idea that Jyoti Basu should head the Congress-backed United Front government, a refusal that was openly termed a historic blunder by Jyoti Basu himself. The refusal appeared all the more significant as HKS Surjeet, the then General Secretary of the CPI(M), was also known to be on Jyoti Basu’s side. Naturally, when Surjeet handed over the baton to Prakash Karat, the man credited to be the chief architect of the historic blunder, the myth ballooned to still bigger proportions.
The balloon has however begun to deflate ever since the CPI(M) embarked on its present course of political collaboration with the Congress. Where exactly does the CPI(M) stand today vis-a-vis the UPA government? What kind of a future does the party see for itself? Indian Express staffers recently had Prakash Karat answer several such questions and the answers were published in the October 29 edition of the Sunday Express. Three days later, the newspaper also carried some clarifications by Karat. Let us look at the big picture that emerges from the answers and the subsequent clarifications.
Asked about the Left’s experience supporting a Congress-led government at the Centre, Karat makes quite a positive assessment of the CPI(M)’s present period of apprenticeship. Citing the example of the coordination committee, he says, “We asked for it. It is a political arrangement through which we try to sort out our differences. Our experience over the past two years tells us that we should not pull out of this arrangement.” So the CPI(M)-Congress differences are being sorted out quite amicably and surely more or less to the satisfaction of the CPI(M)? How many differences are still left to be sorted out, comrade?
Regarding the 1996 ‘historic blunder’, Karat says that the decision not to join the government “seemed the right thing to do then.” We all know the distance the CPI(M) has travelled since then in terms of its party programme. The doors are now programmatically open for participation in bourgeois governments at the Centre. The bottom line is the CPI(M) “must be able to shape policies in government”; and so once the CPI(M) can “agree with the Congress on a policy platform, we are ready to work together.” The way things are moving in West Bengal and the speed with which differences are being sorted out with the Congress, a mutually agreed policy platform may indeed emerge pretty soon. In fact, can’t the present CMP serve as a jolly good policy platform to begin with?
So, from Kolkata to New Delhi the CPI(M) seems to be envisioning a dedicated corridor of power for itself. But the party continues to be dogged by its biggest nagging problem – its inability to make any headway in the vast Hindi-speaking areas surrounding this corridor. Karat has no hesitation in admitting that the CPI and CPI(M) have declined in the Hindi belt since 1978. The cut-off year is quite significant, the year that marks the beginning of the consolidation of the CPI(M) in West Bengal following its victory first in the Assembly elections and then in the panchayat elections. That was also the year when the CPI(M) held its now forgotten Salkia Plenum with a call to spread out in the Hindi belt with the message of its advance in West Bengal.
Karat would however not like to remember that, let alone explain the paradox for us. Nor can he be expected to acknowledge the fact that while the CPI(M) has failed miserably in its mission in the Hindi belt in the last three decades, and the CPI has suffered a steady decline, it is precisely during this period that the CPI(ML) has made its presence felt in the Hindi belt, especially in Bihar and Jharkhand, and increasingly also in Uttar Pradesh, as the growing and biggest communist party of the region.
What then is Karat’s new recipe for growth? He has a clear answer: “Caste is one of the social issues we haven’t traditionally debated. The test for us is to do that and see if we can expand in this period or not. ... All parties are trying to build caste alliances” He does not however tell us what sort of a caste alliance he has in mind and how he plans to find the social space for his caste alliance when he says that caste fragmentation has already gone further ahead in Uttar Pradesh compared to Bihar. Asked if any soul-searching is going on in the CPI(M), Karat says, “We are having a dialogue with everyone. We are talking to the Church in Kerala. ... And our party has come out with much more nuanced positions on a number of issues, the nuclear issue, for example.” The much more nuanced position on the nuclear issue is of course only a euphemism for the CPI(M)’s eventual endorsement of the US-India nuclear deal!

The script is sure to unfold with more interesting details in the coming months. Stay tuned.