In claiming that it is the only party that can offer an “alternative policy” agenda, the CPI(M) has to fully and finally resolve the crisis within.
By changing its position on the Congress, as a potential partner in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and afterwards, the CPI(M) has finally acknowledged that the BJP and its parent organisation — the RSS — is the “main threat”. And, it cannot pursue a politics that treats the BJP and the Congress as “equal dangers”.
The internally divisive and tortured process of arriving at this rather obvious conclusion at the just ended 22nd Party Congress in Hyderabad was evident to everyone outside the CPI(M), including the BJP, it must be assumed. To think that a political line to perverse and protect the purity of the CPI(M) by treating the BJP and the Congress as equally untouchable was as misguided as it was mischievous.
To justify equating the Congress and the BJP, the Karat line had drawn up a list of characteristics shared by the two parties — equally committed to neo-liberal economic policies, with the caveat that the Congress had “pioneered” it, practitioners of communal polarisation, the Congress being clubbed with the BJP because it tactically deploys “soft Hindutva”, and equally enslaved to US imperialism. As it happens, in the Karat worldview, these are characteristics shared by the regional parties as well, making them almost equally untouchable.
It took a series of shocks, the biggest being the decimation of the CPI(M) in Tripura and the real possibility of the same happening in Kerala, to convince the so-called hardliners led by former general secretary Prakash Karat and his backers the most prominent and eminent being Manik Sarkar of Tripura and a galaxy of leaders from Kerala that they had got it wrong. It took a series of further shocks to convince them that the political space is rapidly reforming itself in the run up to 2019 elections reflecting a change of mood and choice of India’s voters across states, including the crucial states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and more.
And, it took the threat by clearly a much larger number of the 765 delegates at the Party Congress than the Karat liners anticipated that the unprecedented should happen, of a secret ballot to find out what was the majority view and a couple of resolutions that suggested that the party should split to finally reach a settlement on what should be the CPI(M)’s political position, otherwise known as its tactical line. The Karat-led hardliners would need to take responsibility for having brought the CPI(M) to a position where it is seriously weakened, politically rudderless and unattractive as a running mate for almost every regional party of consequence to the point of near destruction.
For almost a year now, starting with the 2016 West Bengal state elections when a seat sharing arrangement with the Congress was powerfully advocated by the state CPI(M), the internecine war of tactics has been wrecking the innards of the party. In January, the CPI(M) was so absorbed in its internal crisis over the now rejected draft — on what distance it ought to maintain from the Congress and other regional parties — that it forgot to notice what was happening in Tripura. General secretary Sitaram Yechury had been forced to submit his resignation and till the Hyderabad Party Congress, there was serious uncertainty of who would lead the party and how.
There are two questions that the CPI(M) needs to answer in public now that it has adopted a resolution that enables it to negotiate an arrangement with the Congress before and after the 2019 elections. First, how does this make it any more politically attractive as a proposition in the emerging race to put together partnerships and alliances by the regional parties against the BJP? (Despite its claims of being scientific and consequently empowered to read the trends, it failed to foresee that the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party would join forces to fight the BJP.)
Second, how is the CPI(M) going to take forward the fight against the BJP, which is now clearly identified as the paramount threat to the “secular, democratic, republican, constitutional values of our country”? Does this change the identity of the BJP as being authoritarian but not fascist as Mr Karat once famously said?
In claiming that it is the only party that can offer an “alternative policy” agenda, the CPI(M) has to fully and finally resolve the crisis within. By averting the secret ballot and rejecting a resolution proposing a split, the party has merely salvaged itself.
The Karat line has been a key in the crisis of the CPI(M) for a very long time. It had prevailed in determining its relationship with the Congress in 2004 and again in 2008, by posing the crisis as a problem of exactly measuring the distance it should maintain from the Congress to avoid the risk of being compromised and complicit. In 1996, it had pushed the CPI(M) into what Jyoti Basu, then West Bengal’s formidable chief minister, had described as a “historic blunder”. It was the same line that undermined the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s legitimacy by questioning his policy and actions on land acquisition for industry in the context of Singur and West Bengal’s pursuit of investment partnerships that reflected a compromise with globalisation and neo-liberal economics.
The dilemma of the CPI(M) is how does it remake itself. It is at its lowest ebb today. Its failure to resolve the distance that it wants to maintain between its role as a party of the government and what it does when in power has queered its ideas of what it is — a Communist party that has incidentally opted to pursue parliamentary electoral politics within a democracy that is ideologically ambiguous about neo-liberalism and the constitutional commitment to socialism. It has never been able to draw the line and make it appear as a Lakshman Rekha between the party and the government, unlike the BJP, which has, till now, successfully convinced voters and supporters that it is separate and distinct from the RSS. Can it sort out what the “party” will do and what the party will do as and when it needs to govern?