On Sunday, the CPI(M) faces what may be its biggest battle in a long time. Tripura, the state it has been ruling for 25 years, goes to the polls. And this time the fight won’t be with a dwindling Congress, but with a shrewd, ruthless and well-organised BJP that is steadily gaining ground across the Northeast.
Manik Sarkar, the incorruptible, dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool Communist leader has been an outstanding chief minister for a quarter century. But the times are odd. And after its spectacular loss in West Bengal, if the CPI(M) loses Tripura, it may as well forget about being taken seriously as a national party. It must reinvent itself as a godless party in God’s own country.
Curiously, the godless grand theorists from God’s own country have surreptitiously been supporting their god-peddling opponents for years. Prakash Karat and his cosy comrades from Kerala have helped the BJP climb into power and are now busy making sure it stays there. That’s suicidal, of course, for the CPI(M) and for the democratic, secular, egalitarian nation it dreams of. But they developed that trait when they decided to be led by a theorist who couldn’t get his nose out of tenets to appreciate urgent practical needs.
We saw this suicidal trait of the CPI(M) again last month, when its central committee rejected the suggestion by Mr Karat’s successor, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, that it have a tactical understanding with the Congress to form a united Opposition against the BJP for the 2019 general election. Of course, this decision to not join forces will help the BJP, by splitting anti-BJP votes and weakening a united front against the Hindutva brigade.
“BJP wins in central committee by 55 to 31 votes!” lamented disappointed liberals, who had hoped for a strong, united, democratic front that could take on the BJP in 2019. It does seem like the BJP has infiltrated the CPI(M). Because the systematic sabotage of the Opposition’s chances against the Hindutva party defies logic. Don’t these erudite Communist ideologues understand the enormous gravity of the situation? This is not the time to seek out differences between possible allies, it’s time to put differences aside and build on common, larger ideological goals, to come together to fight the greater enemy that is uprooting pluralism and democratic freedoms and trying to change the very idea of India.
This refusal to have even a tactical understanding, let alone an alliance, with the Congress for the Lok Sabha polls is yet another historic blunder by Mr Karat and his friends, one that many in the party and country will regret forever. The CPI(M)’s Stalinist authoritarianism has flourished under Mr Karat’s stewardship, and has faithfully prioritised its scorn for sundry conceptual enemies above the country’s greater good.
So this poll strategy is the latest feather in Mr Karat’s joker’s cap. The first was in 1996, when he wouldn’t let the party join the Central government, not even with Jyoti Basu as Prime Minister. What spectacular scorn he displayed for parliamentary governance, what stunning arrogance in believing that people would elect them to merely be critics in Parliament. And what spectacular imagination to believe they would step in to rule once they had a majority. So charming. So unworldly.
Since then dear Karat has collected quite a few feathers for his cap. One for not allowing comrade Somnath Chatterjee to become President of India. One for its muscular ejection of Mr Chatterjee from the party for doing his duty as Lok Sabha Speaker and not putting party before country. One for confounding the people by ignoring issues of hunger, price rise, healthcare and governance to focus squarely on the India-US civil nuclear agreement, clearly something that would endear the pro-poor party to its voters in villages and slums. Then another for joining hands with the BJP to pull the plug on the secular UPA government they had helped set up. The UPA government survived, though, but the CPI(M) didn’t. From that day in 2008, the CPI(M) has been in free fall.
For years the older generation of CPI(M) leaders — like Harkishen Singh Surjeet, E.M.S. Namboodiripad or Jyoti Basu — had worked to get the party to that position of power. Where they had the numbers in Parliament, where they mattered, they could help form government policy. They developed a humanism that was attractive to young idealists dreaming of an equal, just, secular country. The powerful Karat chop squashed all that and took the party back to a fundamentalism that disrespects the democratic process and throttles dissent.
It has had disastrous consequences. The Left did terribly in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections — where the UPA won handsomely. And in 2011, it faced the historic defeat of being routed in West Bengal after 34 years of rule. Finally, it weakened the anti-Hindutva bloc that had come together, which helped the BJP come to power.
Instead of carrying on the work started by Surjeet and comrades to find ways of halting the rise of right-wing fascism, Mr Karat and company are busy preserving party tenets as fossilised as flies in amber. With weird logic. They agree that it is crucial to defeat the BJP by bringing together all secular and democratic forces in the Opposition, yet they refuse to befriend the largest, national, pan-Indian, secular Opposition party.
This is particularly silly when the CPI(M) has had many close ties with the Congress — from P.V. Narasimha Rao’s time, through the Third Front and till Manmohan Singh’s first UPA government. Brilliant scholars as they are, they must remember how Stalin joined hands with “imperialist forces” to fight Hitler. Guess they can only follow suit when the situation is perfectly replicated.
The erudite Mr Karat had announced that Mr Modi’s government is not fascist. Nor is the RSS — it’s merely semi-fascist. So any coming together of the CPI(M) with secular democratic forces, including the Congress, must wait till the RSS, and then its political partner BJP are totally fascist. And perhaps reach Nazi proportions?