Signals from Vijayawada and Lalgarh –
and Challenges before Revolutionary Communists

- Dipankar Bhattacharya

Contrary to media speculations predicting a veritable showdown between the so-called Bengal line and central line in the CPI(M), the Vijayawada ‘mini-Congress’ of the CPI(M) ahead of the crucial West Bengal and Kerala polls of 2011 turned out to be a rather tame affair, saving the real fireworks maybe for a later-day post-mortem. The much-hyped ‘rectification campaign’ was quietly forgotten and the revived ‘anti-Congressism’ on the national level was carefully calibrated by Prakash Karat himself with his remark ‘never say never’ regarding a possible future alliance with the Congress. And of course, weaning the Congress away from the TMC remains the ultimate tactical dream of the comrades in both Alimuddin Street as well as AKG Bhavan.
The Vijayawada session adopted a special resolution on West Bengal and Kerala which seeks to once again describe the CPI(M)-led governments in these two states as products of history and decades of struggles. The resolution would like to appropriate every development in these states – from increased rice production to reduced infant mortality – as a CPI(M) achievement, and demand popular sympathy as a besieged and beleaguered victim at the receiving end of a grand conspiracy of the ruling classes. Imperialism, the Indian big bourgeoisie, foreign-funded NGOs, the corporate media, the Maoists and the ‘so-called intelligentsia’ are apparently all colluding to oust the CPI(M) from power because of the CPI(M)’s opposition to neo-liberal policies.
What the resolution does not do is to explain the paradox as to why and how most of these conspirators who were all praise for the CPI(M) model in West Bengal till the other day suddenly turned against it. The DFID, ADB and World Bank have been closely involved in both West Bengal and Kerala; Ratan Tata’s press conference with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the full-page newspaper advertisement praising the dynamism of CPI(M)-ruled West Bengal are too recent to fade from even the proverbially short-lived public memory; and the corporate media’s love affair with the charming ‘Buddhadeb Babu’ and the Bengal intelligentsia’s organic ties with the ‘ministry of culture’ administered personally by the ‘culture’-loving Chief Minister have never been a secret.
Regarding Kerala, the resolution talks of the threat of fundamentalist forces and an anti-CPI(M) ganging up of casteist and communal forces. Here again, the CPI(M) is silent about its own selective policies of covert and even overt alliances with the same casteist and communal forces. In the last election, the CPI(M) was busy courting some Muslim organisations and now the CPI(M) Chief Minister invokes Hindu fears and prejudices by talking of a conspiracy to turn Kerala into a Muslim-majority state! Vijayawada resolution is eloquent in its attempt to project the CPI(M) as a great champion of the democratic rights of the Muslims, but conspicuously silent about its own Chief Ministers (both in West Bengal and Kerala) periodically invoking the communal prejudices propagated and nurtured by the RSS whether in the name of combating Bangladeshi infiltration, fundamentalism or terrorism.
Clearly, as long as the going was good, the CPI(M) never adopted a resolution to explain all this in the light of the glorious communist legacy it claims to inherit and follow! Today when the tide has turned, the CPI(M) is trying to fall back on history and portray itself as a beleaguered victim of a grand anti-communist offensive. The CPI(M) says the ruling classes never gave up their conspiratorial offensive, but how come they are able to sway the people today in a way they could never in the recent past? The resolution says the CPI(M) has detected a few errors in its system and is fixing them and the people can once again trust the CPI(M) establishment. So much for the CPI(M)’s grand ‘rectification’ rhetoric!
But if one reads between the lines, the truth does have its own way of asserting itself here and there – the main resolution, for instance, has this to say with regard to strengthening the CPI(M)’s independent role: “The Party’s work among the basic classes should be given priority. The lag in the work amongst the peasantry and the rural poor in building class and mass struggles has to be overcome. … This is necessary to give a struggle orientation to the organization.” Here one can read the confession of fear of a party which knows it has only been paying lip-service to the idea of struggle and is facing serious isolation from the basic classes. But giving ‘a struggle orientation to the organisation’ is not a linguistic question – it has never been achieved just by inserting two sentences and paragraphs in resolutions which are otherwise mortally afraid of facing up to the truth.
While the CPI(M) was busy brainstorming in Vijayawada, on August 9 Mamata Banerjee held a professedly ‘apolitical’ rally at Lalgarh accompanied by the likes of Medha Patkar and Swami Agnivesh, addressing masses mobilised primarily by the Maoist-backed PCAPA. Her address was meant primarily for the Maoists – she asked them to rethink their boycott strategy (which she says only benefits the CPI(M)), promised them ‘development’ (school, hospital and jobs for all in railway factories!) and dialogue, hinted at a possible conditional moratorium on the operation of joint forces and had a word of grief for the killing of Azad (“the way Azad was killed was not right”). The CPI(M) keeps asking the Congress to explain Mamata’s ties with the Maoists – but she is merely pursuing the strategy already perfected by the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. The Maoists had readily played ball in Andhra and paid a heavy price. They seem to be ready to repeat the course in West Bengal, busy as they are eulogising Mamata even as her government spearheads the Operation Green Hunt.
Mamata Banerjee has been around in West Bengal politics for several decades, her dramatic rise began as a young Congress MP way back in 1984, but her brand of maverick populism never really got a broad support in rural Bengal as well as among the urban intelligentsia till Singur and Nandigram happened. Ever since, she has acquired an iconic status as the only immediate alternative to a thoroughly discredited and considerably degenerated CPI(M) establishment in West Bengal. While all kinds of forces are marketing her as the personification of change (Swami Agnivesh, for instance, concluded his 9 August speech at Lalgarh with the categorical exhortation “Naya Zamana Aayega, Mamata Banerjee ka Zamana Aayega” – Bengal will witness the birth of a new era, the era of Mamata Banerjee), revolutionary communists will have to summon all their perseverance and courage to expose and challenge her politics precisely on the touchstone of ‘change’ – the most popular political word in Bengal today.
The CPI(M) is not wrong in talking of a concerted anti-Left offensive on the part of the ruling classes. But it is surely wrong in hoping that it could selectively use one part of the offensive (Operation Green Hunt – the entire CPI(M) resolution is not only conspicuously silent about it but also tacitly endorses it) for its own benefit (the CPI(M) talks so much about the semi-fascist terror of the 1970s but has hardly learnt anything from it). And the CPI(M) is completely dishonest about what has triggered the anti-Left offensive – what has enabled the ruling classes to go on the offensive is not the CPI(M)’s professed opposition to neo-liberalism, but its readiness to embrace it even at the risk of alienating and antagonising the peasantry and the working people.
The CPI(M) will have to pay the price for its opportunist sins and revolutionary communists can have no sympathy for it on this score. Any meaningful defence of the legacy and gains of the Indian communist movement and resistance to the anti-Left offensive of the ruling classes necessarily calls for a firm and decisive rejection of and struggle against the CPI(M)’s opportunism.