Current Political Situation and Review of Our Tactics

[From the Political-Organisational Report of the Sixth Party Congress.]

Congress Decline

In the 1996 parliamentary elections, Congress(I), the main political party of the Indian ruling classes, was voted out of power. Its number of seats in parliament went down to a record low and subsequently most of its ministers, including the prime minister, were chargesheeted for involvement in one scandal after another. The government that introduced the new economic policy of liberalisation proved to be most liberal on corruption and was exposed as the most corrupt central government India has ever had.

The Congress today naturally stands thoroughly discredited. In particular, its marginalisation in UP and Bihar, the two most populous Hindi-speaking states of India has raised a serious question mark over any immediate prospects for its revival. Then there is unending factional strife and the threat of splits by important segments. By changing its leadership and invoking the Nehru dynasty, it is trying hard to refurbish its image but still there are no signs of its catching the popular imagination.

Although in terms of political influence and organisational network it is the only party that has an all-India presence, yet it does not appear to be anywhere near capturing the central power on its own.

In this sense the situation is quite different from what existed in 1977 and even in 1989. Therefore, the support that it has extended to the UF government is of a long-term, strategic nature. It hopes to play up the contradictions surfacing in the UF and seeks allies from the centrist and regional camps in order to muster a majority in the next elections. 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 to stage a comeback in the form of a Congress-led coalition.

The BJP Threat

The BJP made important gains in the last elections. Still it was short of a majority which it failed to muster despite the best efforts. It has however succeeded in finding allies — other than Shiv Sena — in the BSP, Samata, Akalis and Haryana Vikas Party. It is desperately trying to win over some regional forces to tilt the balance in its favour and Atal Bihari Vajpayee even mooted the idea of a national democratic front. Somewhere along the line it has realised that it has reached its zenith and has not been able to expand much beyond northern and western India. Then it has its share of Vaghelas and Khuranas.

To enhance its credibility and acceptability, which got a drubbing after Babri Masjid episode, the BJP has adopted a two-pronged strategy. In the first place, it is trying hard to appropriate the legacy of the freedom movement by projecting itself as the heir apparent to the Gandhi-Patel tradition of Congress. This, it hopes, will help it make further forays into the Congress base. Secondly, it is trying hard to shed its bania-upper caste image and penetrate among dalits, backwards as well as other social groups who earlier formed the base of Charan Singh in North India. To this end, it advocates strategic partnership with parties like Samata and BSP and is projecting state-level leaders from other communities.

With its swadeshi plank it assures India’s industrialists of a better bargain with multinationals. And by harping constantly on the theme of ‘shuchita’ (purity) and ‘bhay-mukt samaj’ (terror-free society), it has managed to improve its stock considerably among sections of the intelligentsia and urban middle classes. But just as its earlier volte face over the Enron issue has taken the shine off saffron swadeshi, the ongoing political developments in UP, where Kalyan Singh has fallen back on the most brazen kind of horse-trading, including the induction of a whole array of criminals, have knocked the bottom out of its claim to being the only ‘party with a difference’. In fact, Kalyan Singh’s second coming in UP has been a great eye-opener since day one. He lost no time in trying to rake up the Ayodhya issue as soon as he assumed the chief minister’s chair, even as he stood chargesheeted as a key accused in the Ayodhya demolition case. Our comrades in U.P. raised a timely voice of protest by organising a well-publicised dharna outside the State Assembly even as Kalyan Singh was being administered his second oath of office.

In short, the rightwing shift of Indian polity that arose as a consequence of economic crisis and political turmoil of the late ’80s has found its centralised expression in BJP and a real saffron threat is for the first time looming large over India, a preview of which can perhaps be best seen in the second coming of Kalyan Singh in U.P.

The BJP’s agenda includes pursuing a chauvinist policy vis-a-vis India’s neighbours, particularly Pakistan, escalating the nuclear arms race, transforming India into a Hindu Rashtra where religious minorities will be treated as second-grade citizens, undermining the federal polity, unleashing brutal state repression and organising private armies of landlords to crush agrarian movements of the rural poor, militarily suppressing ongoing movements of national self-determination and crushing all sorts of dissent in intellectual, aesthetic and academic fields. In short, imposing a fascist dictatorship in India.

It must not be forgotten that the reigning chaos in the country, erosion of the credibility of institutions of parliamentary democracy, thorough degeneration of Congress, disintegration of the so-called social justice camp, devaluation in the Left’s ideological moorings and the failings of the present UF set up — all have created a wide space for BJP. In reality, the Indian ruling establishment is all set to welcome a BJP takeover by the next elections, if not earlier.

The UF Phenomenon

In a situation of political stalemate, a 13-party United Front took shape and, with Congress support, assumed power. Since then for a year and a half now it has been at the helm of affairs. Though the offer of prime ministership for Mr.Jyoti Basu was rejected by the CPI(M) Central Committee, Harkishan Singh Surjeet assumed the mantle of supra prime minister in the first phase of the UF government. The Congress, however, consolidated itself under a new president and in a superb coup it forced a change in prime minister and wrested the initiative. The language of the UF leaders, with regard to the Congress changed overnight. At present the UF government is running more by default than by design and Congress is waiting for the next opportunity to catapult itself into power.

The UF phenomenon has been described in several ways. Let us judge their validity.

In the first place, it is being said that the UF symbolises the advent of an era of coalition in Indian politics. Of course, with India’s multifaceted diversity asserting itself in full it may prove difficult for any single party to command enough majority and, in this sense, coalition age appears to have come to stay. But a coalition arrangement where both the major national parties, 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.

Secondly, the UF has been described as marking the advent of greater federalisation of polity, with regional parties enjoying considerable clout in running the central government. The role of regional parties in the Indian political system has indeed increased, particularly with the advent of the new economic policy. This policy, by relaxing central regulations, has given the states much freedom to directly invite private investments. State chief ministers are making a beeline to the West to attract foreign capital to their respective states. They are also competing among themselves to give tax incentives to the investors.

Public sector investment in the Ninth Plan (1997-2002) has been cut down to just 36% and the bulk of the amount is supposed to come from the private corporate sector. Private sector investment, even if it materialises, is likely to go to the profitable sectors and areas. This is bound to further exacerbate the imbalances among the states.

Powerful regional forces are quite averse to accepting statehood or autonomy demands raised by sub-national groups in their respective states. In most of the cases regional power groups are crucially dependent on landlord-kulak groupings and as such they are not keen on pursuing land reforms.

Therefore, looked at from the point of view of carrying out democratic reforms, federalism, in an absolute sense, is not all that golden in the Indian context. Moreover, the perspective on federalism differs for stronger and weaker states. The demand for a separate Khalistan in Punjab, or for that matter the Akalis’ demand that except for four items viz. currency, foreign affairs, defence and communications, all other powers be vested in the states, amounts to the secession of the successful. In the case of Assam however, the demand arises more from the neglect of the state by the rulers in Delhi.

Thirdly, the UF is projected as an anti-BJP, non-Congress front; a united front of workers-peasants and the progressive/forward-looking bourgeoisie; a unity which in the process of development of proletarian hegemony will transform itself into the cherished people’s democratic front; a union of the best of the left and the Gandhian legacies etc. These views have been expressed by none other than Comrade Namboodripad in the official CPI(M) organ. These were the opinions in the formative stage of the front when the CPI(M) leadership was busy spreading the myth that the CMP has rejected the new economic policy of the Rao government and the Congress support was unconditional and out of compulsion.

Since then much water has flowed down the Yamuna. The Congress has wrested the initiative and exercises greater influence on the UF government. The CPI(M) on the other hand feels marginalised and has become much more critical in its outpourings. Ironically, it is now the CPI(M) which has to remain in the UF out of compulsion!

It is not known how the CPI(M) leadership judges its earlier formulation but, all said and done, the hope of transforming the UF into a people’s democratic front has been belied and now it is just a question of political exigency.

Realignments and Shifts

Mr.V.P. Singh, the most far-sighted bourgeois visionary in Indian politics, recently made two important observations. One, a national consensus has developed around the new economic policies among all the major political parties. And two, an era of cooperation between UF and Congress has begun. He is perfectly right.

Stretching this premise to the realm of practical politics he has come out with a recipe that prescribes sharing of both the ruling and the opposition space in various states among UF partners, Congress and others belonging broadly to the social justice camp.

The basic fallacy of this argument is that it disregards the continuous process of conflicts, and hence 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 CPI(M), it plans to work on the centrist camp to overturn the UF applecart. It has already developed a rapport with RJD, is developing equations with Mulayam and is working assiduously to bring the TMC and 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 anti-BJP, anti-Congress theme has already been watered down to an anti-BJP non-Congress plank and at least in the case of certain UF constituents it has further been diluted to an anti-BJP, pro-Congress stance. We, however, are strongly of the opinion that since both the Congress and the BJP continue to remain the two main all-India parties of the ruling classes, we must treat both as our primary enemies and remain firm in our anti-BJP anti-Congress orientation.