CPM mustn’t play spoiler to opposition unity

Kalyani Shankar

The raging debate in the CPI-M about aligning with the Congress to fight against the BJP has brought into focus again the question of the opposition unity and also the relevance of the Left parties. If one looks at 2014 Lok Sabha results, the ruling NDA's vote share was 38.5 per cent and the UPA's was just under 23 per cent leaving out nearly 39 per cent for others. Even though the Left is on the decline with just 4.8 per cent vote share, any secular and democratic front cannot be successful without the presence of the communist parties. So if the opposition is serious about challenging the resurgent BJP, it is imperative for them to come together.
The CPI-M cannot make up its mind, which is the greater evil — the BJP-RSS’ agenda or Congress’ neoliberal policies. The old anti-Congress mindset still continues in a section of the CPI-M. Prakash Karat camp fears that the Congress might swallow them. Comrade Surjeet, from 1992 to 2005 kept the party relevant by forging wider political alliances. However, later some tactical errors on issues such as the Indo-US nuclear deal had hit the party hard, decimating it electorally and even politically.
The question for the Indian Left, particularly the CPI-M today is how to remain relevant.  Not only has its national space reduced, but also its geographical presence has shrunk. Today the CPI-M bastions are only Kerala and Tripura with some presence in West Bengal. The party has five MPs from Kerala and two each from West Bengal and Tripura, while just one MP (from Kerala) represents the CPI in the current Lok Sabha.
The decline of the Left is due to many reasons. One of them is lack of unity among the four left parties — CPI, CPI-M, Forward Bloc and RSP. Secondly, the CPI feels that the CPI-M is acting as the big brother. Thirdly, the unity move of the CPI and the CPI-M is a non- starter. It might have happened when tall leaders like Harkisehn Surjeet, Inderjit Gupta and A B Bardhan had been alive. Fourthly, while the CPI has become a little more flexible on alliances the CPI-M is still debating about it. The CPI leader D Raja says, “We want a broad front to fight against the BJP- RSS threat and would like to work with all anti-BJP parties.” Fifthly, the Left parties do not have tall leaders who could sway their party to change. Sixthly, they are not seeing the changed mood of the country and adapt themselves to the new scenario.
Former British Prime Minister Churchill had once said: “If you are not a Liberal at 25, you have no heart. If you are not a Conservative at 35 you have no brain.” But the Left is not able to attract even the youth because of their dogmatic notions while the aspirational youth wants to have good life. The CPI-M’s mass organizations are also on the retreat. Its trade union arm, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) is ranked fifth in the country, with both the Congress’ Indian National Trade Union Congress and the BJP’s Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh taking the top two positions. Today, the CPI (M) shows all signs of being a declining force. 
Right now, an intense debate is raging within the party over the political line to be adopted at the next Party Congress to be held in Hyderabad next April ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The general secretary of the party Sitaram Yechury is advocating that it is time for all secular parties to pool political resources and collectively oppose the BJP that the CPI(M) Party Congress in 2015 identified as its main political opponent. The West Bengal unit backs him. Incidentally, the West Bengal unit had entered into a tactical alliance with the Congress for the 2016 Assembly election against the ruling Trinamool Congress, which proved disastrous. The Karat camp backed by the Kerala unit argues that the party should fight the BJP but not have any leaning towards the Congress or other opposition parties. This week’s CPI-M’s powerful Central Committee had discussed this aspect and also other poll related issues, but the major issue of aligning with the Congress against the BJP remains unresolved.
Even as the CPI-M is about to reach a consensus on this issue, its leadership has come under criticism from other opposition parties, with the RJD chief Lalu Prasad conveying to the CPI-M leadership that it was abdicating its “historical responsibility to fight communal forces” by not uniting with other opposition parties. The Congress leadership has also expressed its unhappiness at the CPI-M staying away from efforts at opposition unity. Some opposition leaders feel that if the CPI-M decides to be a spoiler for the opposition unity, then it will only go in favour of the BJP and the CPI-M has to choose between pragmatism and incoherent idealism.  
The confusion is likely to continue until the next party Congress. The flashpoint may be reached at the next Party Congress in Hyderabad.  Its decision will have an impact on the opposition unity, as without Congress the other parties may not be able to challenge the BJP. In the face of a rising BJP and aggressive regional parties, the Left has paled into insignificance and a marginal voice in national politics. Unless it comes out with a new political message and go along with the aspirational India, it will lose its credibility. (IPA)

Monday, 23 October, 2017