Wikileaks Expose : ‘Watchdog’ CPI(M) Barked in Public, Wagged in Private

Kavita Krishnan

ables of US diplomats posted in India, made public by Wikileaks, throw an interesting light on the CPI(M)’s dealings with the US embassy, and CPI(M)’s relationship with the UPA Government in the crucial period between 2005-2008 when the CPI(M) had played the self-professed role of ‘watchdog’ which could not only bark but even bite (i.e pull down the Government by withdrawing support) if the UPA Government betrayed India’s interests in the name of ‘strategic partnership’ with the US. These cables reveal that the ‘watchdog’ not only refrained from biting, it even wagged its tail and received pats from the very same imperialist force against which it was supposed to be guarding the people!
Support for 2005 Indo-US Joint Statement
Take the cable dated 28 July 2005. PM Manmohan Singh had just visited the US, and his visit had culminated in the Joint Statement signed on July 18, which laid the foundation of the Indo-US Nuke Deal, defence agreement and broader strategic partnership between India and the US. Publicly, the CPI(M) had repeatedly characterised this joint statement as a “continuation of the trend of India being accommodated as a strategic ally of the United States.” (Report on Political Developments adopted by the CPI(M) CC Meeting, September 2-4, 2005) There had been vociferous opposition by the CPI-CPI(M) to the PM’s US visit. But it seems that there was a calculated difference between the posture taken by the CPI(M) for public consumption, and that taken by the CPI(M) leaders behind closed doors in conversation with the US Ambassador. According to the cable penned by the US representative, Yechury said “he supports what the PM accomplished” during his Washington visit. According to the cable, Yechury waved aside “the furore over the trip,” by saying, “the left is not a monolith.” Talking about the Nuke Deal mooted in the Joint Statement, Yechury, as quoted by the cable interprets the deal as a move to ‘split civil/military nuclear facilities’; the US Ambassador writes that Yechury said “the Left supports such a step and is glad we pushed for it.”    

Buddha’s Candid Confessions
Earlier instalments of Wikileaks cables had already revealed how CPI(M) PB member Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, when he was West Bengal CM, had met US Treasury Secretary Paulson in October 2007 and told him that communists must ‘reform or perish;’ and had said that there was no rationale to make Dow Chemicals liable for the Bhopal gas tragedy perpetrated by the Union Carbide (see Liberation May 2011). Now, freshly revealed cables show that this was no isolated occurrence.
On 20 June 2008, Buddhadeb told the Consul General, Kolkata, that while being opposed to bandhs called by his party, he “could not publicly criticize his party’s bandh-culture and had to maintain silence when the media questioned him.” Buddha also held forth to the Consul General about ‘Muslim extremism’ being on the rise in West Bengal, saying that madarsas were the breeding ground for ‘Islamic radicals’ and suggesting that these ‘fundamentalists’ were taking advantage of Nandigram. This led the Consul General to conclude that “Bhattacharjee’s strong views on Muslim extremists are a concern as they indicate a more serious threat assessment by the GOWB (Government of West Bengal) and the CPM than generally expressed in public.”
On 27 October 2009, Buddha reiterated to the Consul General, Kolkata that communist ideology must “either change or perish.” He also “lamented the fact that long-term politicians and outdated ideology continue to overwhelmingly dominate the Left in India,” in contrast to the “technocrats and other experts that now have power within China’s communist party.” He welcomed US investment in West Bengal. The cable notes that “Unlike his party colleagues, he supports U.S. educational institutions establishing independent branches in India without local partners.” This contradicts the CPI(M)’s stated stand against the entry of foreign universities in India.   

It is clear from these cables that while the public heard the CPI(M)’s anti-imperialist rhetoric, the imperialists themselves were treated to Buddha’s candid confessions which must have been music to their ears. It must have amused them to see the ‘Communist’ leader decrying communism as ‘outdated’ and doomed to ‘perish’ unless it ‘reformed’; preaching globalisation, decrying strikes, welcoming US universities and killer corporations like Dow; and even pandering to US Islamophobia!

Empty Rhetoric On Iran Vote
In September 2005, the UPA Government voted against Iran at the IAEA for the first time. It was widely interpreted at the time that India made this about-turn in India’s traditional support for Iran because the US made it a condition for the Nuke Deal. [Later, this view was confirmed by Stephen G. Rademaker, who had been Assistant Secretary for Non-proliferation and International Security at the U.S. State Department in the Bush Administration, who candidly declared in 2007 that “I am the first person to admit that the votes (by India against Iran) were coerced,” and that the coercion happened in the context of the Nuke Deal.] The CPI(M) too had loudly protested the vote against Iran on the same lines. The cable dated 17 November 2005 observed that “On November 15, Communist leaders from the CPI(M) and CPI demanded that the GOI reverse its position and vote with Iran at the November 24 IAEA meeting or ‘face the consequences,’ but left the door open for face-saving ‘consultations.’” It notes that Yechury told the Indian Express newspaper that the Left was looking for an “out of court settlement.” The Congress too made some conciliatory gestures to the CPI(M), and the Ambassador’s cable notes that “In an apparent sign that the Communists were reciprocating the Congress gestures, CPI(M) Parliamentary leaders provided a notice to the speaker on November 16 requesting only a short discussion of the Iran/IAEA issue when Parliament reconvenes. The Left had the option of requesting a full floor debate followed by a vote, but backed down.”
Why all this drama of shrill opposition by the CPI(M), followed by calibrated climb-down in response to a flimsy pretence by the Congress that it would ‘consult’ Left allies before the next IAEA vote? A clue can be detected in the words of the PMO Media Adviser Sanjaya Baru, whom the cable quotes as hoping that the Iran vote due in November can be avoided, since “for the next four months India’s politics will be about Kerala and West Bengal,” where elections were due. Apparently, the CPI(M) had upped the ante to give the voters of West Bengal and Kerala a convincing performance of barking and ability to bite the UPA in defence of India’s independent foreign policy. But by tacit consensus both CPI(M) and Congress enacted a farce of opposition and reconciliation, and the UPA Government was allowed to proceed with its betrayal of India’s sovereignty!  
The 17 November 2005 cable ended with the assessment that “the issue could become explosive should the GOI again feel compelled to back an IAEA resolution that the LF deems to be too harsh on Iran and too conciliatory towards the US.” What happened once India did, in fact, go ahead and vote against Iran again in February 2006? Well, we all know that there was no explosion, no pulling back of support by the CPI(M) from the UPA Government.

‘Engaging’ the US In Anticipation of Power
In August 2006, the by-then predictable ‘barking’ by the CPI(M) quieted down in response to a statement by the PM in the Rajya Sabha assuring that the Nuke Deal would remain within the ‘parameters’ of the July 18 Joint Statement. This statement was interpreted by the CPI(M) as an acceptable and equivalent to a ‘sense of the house’ resolution that reflected the attitude of the entire Parliament including the Left. In December 2005 itself, the CPI(M)’s CC had reiterated that the “joint statement of July 18 when the Prime Minister visited Washington... tied up India as a strategic ally of the United States,” and recognised that the “vote on Iran should not be seen in isolation...The United States will continue to extract a price for accepting India as a strategic ally and extending nuclear cooperation.” Yet, in August 2006, after the UPA Government had voted against Iran yet again, the PM’s assurance that the Nuke Deal would be in keeping with the July 18 2005 Joint Statement was enough to persuade CPI(M) to pause its opposition to the Nuke Deal!
Not only that, in a meeting with the US Ambassador on November 16, 2006, Yechury asserted that “good relations benefited both India and the US and had moved beyond the stage of partisan politics,” and actually expressed full support for the Nuke Deal! The cable reads, “Calling the US/India civil nuclear deal ‘settled,’ Yechury emphasized that it is ‘in the interests of everyone,’ both India and the U.S., and hoped that it could be passed quickly by the U.S. senate in its upcoming session. He said the Prime Minister had addressed all of the CPI(M)’s concerns with his August 17 address to the Parliament.”
The cable also says that Yechury observed that “WalMart recently agreed to allow unionization of its many Chinese employees, and that he hoped this would set a precedent for the rest of the world,” and that “Yechury implied that his party will demand unionization as the price for the entry of WalMart and other US retailers into India’s retail market.”

CPI (Maoist)’s Corporate-Funded ‘Revolutionism’!
One Wikileaks cable reports, “A senior representative from Essar, a major industrial company with large mining and steel-related facilities in Chhattisgarh, told (the US representative) that the company pays the Maoists ‘a significant amount’ not to harm or interfere with their operations; when the Maoists occasionally break this agreement and damage Essar property or threaten personnel, Essar sets different Maoist groups against each other to suppress the situation.”
This Wikileaks revelation once again confirmed the well-known fact that the Maoists’ self-claimed project of ‘revolution’ based on sophisticated weapons and militarism, is funded by a vast economy of extortion networks. It is this political economy of extortion that ensures a steady supply of big money and sophisticated arms to the Maoists. 
Can genuine people’s revolutionary politics ever be corporate-funded? Can the Maoists’ extortion-funded politics wipe out corporate loot and plunder?
Think about it:
In West Bengal, Tata was chased out of Singur and Salem out of Nandigram by a popular peasants’ struggle.
At Kalinganagar (Odisha), Tata has, for years, been unable to set up its proposed steel plant due to people’s mass resistance.
At Torpa (Jharkhand), a mass movement of adivasis has till date prevented land from being grabbed for a massive Arcelor-Mittal steel plant.   
But in the Maoist ‘stronghold’ of Chhattisgarh, Essar has a pipeline from its Bailadila iron ore mines goes right through the Bastar heartland to Vishakapatnam. A Tata steel plant has come up in Dhurli (Bastar). How come the resistance to corporate land grab here has been less successful than in cases of non-Maoist mass struggle? 
Perhaps, at least in part, because Essar (and no doubt other companies) pay for, and receive, ‘protection’ from the Maoists. They bribe the Maoists in order to continue to stay in Chhattisgarh.
When the Maoists are themselves part and parcel of the chain of corporate plunder and corruption, how can they ever seriously resist or wipe out such corporate plunder and corruption? The Maoists do not and cannot resist corporate plunder because they do not and cannot kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. If the Maoists were to actually eliminate the loot by the corporate mining companies like Essar and Tata, tendu leaf merchants, contractors, brick kiln owners etc, then it would lead to an elimination of the very source of extortion money too, which funds and sustains Maoists’ militarism. Essar’s claim of playing one Maoist group against another too is probably not hollow. In Jharkhand, we have seen the fragmentation and internecine battles among various Maoist outfits – not on any ideological basis but over quarrels over division of the huge spoils of extortion.     

Revolutionary politics, by definition, is fully reliant on people. The Maoists instead have a ‘patron-client’ relationship with corporate, that in fact ends up sustaining rather than eliminating loot and plunder by the corporates in their so-called ‘strongholds’.

The CPI(M) was well aware that the Nuke Deal was a key part of the US’ ‘strategic embrace’ and that the Deal had already extracted the ‘price’ of India’s votes against Iran and would continue to extract even greater prices if allowed to continue. The CPI(M)’s oft-stated public position has been that it is opposed to FDI in retail since it will hit the livelihood of small retailers in India. Yet, why was the CPI(M) so keen to assure the US, in private, of its support for the Nuke Deal and its willingness to allow the entry of WalMart and other US retailers into India? 
The cable hints at an answer. In it, the US Ambassador says that “Yechury sees a domestic political situation in which both Congress and the BJP are in decline, with the formation of a Left-dominated ‘third front’ government all but inevitable. Citing events in Latin America, Yechury expressed his belief that the Left was ascendant everywhere and that his party was part of a world-wide process that would rein in the excesses of “neo-liberalism” and address deep-rooted poverty. He apparently feels that his party needs to cultivate cordial ties with the USG (US Government) to keep the process moving.” The US Ambassador concludes that CPI(M) leaders “believe that things are only going to get better for them and that it is “inevitable” that they come to power in the future. As such, they have decided to cultivate the USG and open a clear line of communication with the Embassy.” In preparation for the ‘inevitability’ of assuming the mantle of power at the Centre, the CPI(M) was eager to send a message to the US that they were much more accommodative towards US concerns (like Nuke Deal and FDI in retail) than their public posture would suggest. As a result of this vaulting ambition, the CPI(M) was in no mood to put up anything more than formal and cosmetic opposition to the Nuke Deal and the growing strategic alliance between the UPA Government and the US Government.    
Doublespeak On Iran Pipeline
In May 2007, the question of US interference in India’s foreign policy again came to the fore when some US senators sent letters to the Indian PM threatening dire consequences for the Nuke Deal unless India cancel the agreement with Iran for a gas pipeline. The PD dated May 20 2007 had quoted Brinda Karat in Parliament describing such letters as an “open challenge to our sovereignty.” But at almost the same time, Yechury, in an 18 May 2007 meeting with the US Ambassador, was sending out an entirely different message. According to the cable describing that meeting, Yechury said that India should judge the proposed Iran pipeline project “on its merits”, and “seeing the issue as one of maintaining sovereignty against U.S. intimidation is counterproductive and distracts from the real issue.” Regarding the senators’ letter, Yechury merely held it to be “simply providing more fodder for BJP (and Left) attacks on the UPA government.” According to the cable, Yechury said the letter would not have become such a big issue “if Parliament were not in Session and UP elections not underway.” The cable says, “Distancing the CPI(M) from verbal diatribes against the U.S. made in Parliament, Yechury noted that the lower House was functioning against the backdrop of soon-to-be-released UP election results.” In other words, Yechury was suggesting that opposition by his party to such US pressure-tactics was mere political drama played on the stage of Parliament or polls! Yechury decried the “over-inflated nationalist posturing of some MPs” and said that “nationalistic and anti-American rhetoric are ‘not good for India either because we might be compelled to react and not make the right decision.’” In other words, he was hinting that the Iran gas pipeline might not be the “right decision” for the country – a position very different from what his party was publicly stating. 
Blowing Hot and Cold on Nuke Deal
A cable dated 6 November 2007 noted that in spite of the CPI(M)’s declared opposition to the Nuke Deal, they had “gone out of their way to reject the notion of early parliamentary elections,” and Prakash Karat had assured the media that “There is no threat to the UPA government.” The cable observes that the CPI(M) has been taking pains to be ‘conciliatory’ towards Manmohan Singh over the Nuke Deal. We could recall that this was the time when the CPI(M) was eager to get the Centre to go soft on the Nandigram massacre; a go-slow on opposition to the Nuke Deal was the price the Congress no doubt extracted in exchange.
Finally, a 17 July 2008 cable, in the run-up to the trust vote over the Nuke Deal, noted that the CPI(M) was showing “signs of internal strain.” The cable cites Somnath Chatterjee’s openly expressed opposition to CPI(M)’s decision to withdraw support, and Yechury’s statement to the media that the party should not have put Somnath (as Speaker) on its list of MPs who would vote against the Government.
It was no secret that a section of CPI(M) was quite willing to support the Deal and stay with the UPA Government. We may remember that the editorial position of The Hindu at that time reflected the growing pro-Deal opinion within the CPI(M), arguing that the Nuke Deal was a good one, and completely ignoring the strategic and political framework of the Deal.   
Asked about the embarrassing Wikileaks revelations regarding CPI(M) leaders, General Secretary Karat played down the cables as mere ‘interpretations’ or ‘impressions,’ not to be taken as factual reportage of the meetings. Interestingly, this is exactly the same defence peddled by the Congress and BJP when confronted with the Wikileaks revelations regarding their own leaders. If CPI(M) agrees that Wikileaks cables are accurate about the Congress (for instance the cash-for-vote scam), then how can they suddenly become inaccurate when it comes to CPI(M) leaders?

It is clear from those cables that the CPI(M) took pains to cultivate the US embassy and send signals that were subtly at variance with their official political posture. Moreover, the political outcome itself was in consonance with what Wikileaks cables reflect: the CPI(M)’s rhetorical ‘barking’ was inevitably followed by capitulation following some ‘face-saving’ cosmetic measure by the UPA. The Nuke Deal was passed after the CPI(M) repeatedly climbed down from its threats, and let go of every possible opportunity to actually scuttle the Deal. By the time they finally did withdraw support, the horse had already fled the stable.