A cohesive agenda

Published : Apr 13, 2002 00:00 IST

The 18th congress of the Communist Party of India concludes in Thiruvananthapuram with a call for Left unity and for the creation of a Left, democratic and secular alternative.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

THE six-day-long 18th congress of the Communist Party of India concluded in Thiruvananthapuram on March 31 with a huge rally and an appeal for communist unity and for the creation of an effective alternative of Left, secular and democratic forces to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress(I).

In a way, the congress, which followed the Communist Party of India (Marxist)'s congress in Hyderabad from March 19 to 24, ended on the same note it began. At the inaugural session, party general secretary A.B. Bardhan had made a similar appeal - for Left unity and the formation of a political alternative. The appeal was made in the presence of the guest of honour, CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, who was accorded a warm and visibly eager reception.

Yet there was disappointment when Surjeet, who responded positively to almost all other political and economic issues raised by Bardhan, including the need for a political alternative, refrained from saying anything on the call for communist unity.

The picture that emerged at the end of the congress was this. Both the CPI(M) and the CPI, the two major Left parties in the country, were in total agreement about the critical political and economic situation at the national and international levels. Both parties agreed in their assessment of the threat posed by communal and fascist forces, by imperialism and by the neo-liberal economic policies pursued by the BJP and Congress(I) governments and their impact on Indian agriculture and industry. They also agreed on the nature of the solutions. However, there were subtle, significant differences on the way the two parties thought how these could be achieved.

Soon after the congress, Bardhan, who was re-elected general secretary, told Frontline: "In this congress we emphasised that the continuation of BJP rule is disastrous. But the restoration of Congress(I) rule is not sufficient to solve the problem. It will not mean salvation for the country. So there has to be a credible alternative, but obviously such a credible alternative cannot just be simply anti-BJP or anti-Congress(I). It has to provide a programme for the people, an alternative path not only on the issues of defending national unity and integrity and bringing about communal harmony and peace among the people, but also defending and protecting the livelihood of the people."

As the CPI(M) congress did, the CPI congress acknowledged the growing demand for an alternative economic policy. "We think that such an alternative programme must start with land reforms and agrarian reforms, because without that domestic demand cannot increase, which is essential if our industry and our economy are to flourish. So the basic demands of the masses have to be met. The questions of the self-employed, of traditional and small industries, and of major industries that are being threatened, have to be addressed by the economic programme. This we think is an important component of the struggle for an alternative path," Bardhan said.

Bardhan said that the CPI felt that some of the centrist parties which were not with the Congress(I) were not clear about their economic policies. The party therefore considered the formation of an alternative, a process that involved a harder struggle than was generally thought. The CPI congress was of the view that "merely bringing together a number of non-Congress(I) parties would not create such an alternative" and that an alternative would have to be forged through a process of people's movements and struggles, Bardhan said. Moreover, the congress felt that since the situation differed so much from one part of the country to another, a simplistic solution was not enough.

Bardhan said that it was from such a point of view that the party appreciated the formation of the People's Front (P.F.). "We are a part of it and we think it has to be carried forward. But we think that even today the People's Front has been restricted. We will do everything to expand it but we also have to take into account the fact that the political situation is different in different parts of the country. There are many places where the Left is weak and most other parties (of the P.F.) do not even exist. So, unless steps are taken to overcome these shortcomings, the alternative will not be effective," Bardhan explained. "So we are also concerned with some of the interim stages through which the country may have to go. In these interim stages, we are prepared to support a secular government. Whether we take part in it is a matter of the concrete situation."

On the divergent perceptions of the two Left parties about the Congress(I), the CPI general secretary said that "there was not much talk or bother about it" in the congress. "After all, the Left is our main concern. Building our party is our main concern. Our own ideological and political campaign is our main concern. Incidentally, the question of a relationship with the Congress(I) comes up. There we do think that there is one difference between the BJP and the Congress(I), even though the class origins (of the two parties) are the same. We think that the Congress(I) is basically secular. And today, not being in power, it has certain differences with the BJP, which should be utilised. So though there is no question of a blanket... We do not treat it (the Congress-I) as an untouchable. In the struggle against communalism, in the campaign for secularism, I think the Congress(I) matters and the Congress(I) ranks also have a role to play."

The CPI believes that there is a silent majority in the country which is secular and that this section has to be organised and brought into action "so that secularism is all powerful and communalism is buried for ever". The party believes that "other secular parties like the Congress(I) also have to play a role" to achieve the objective.

Another important issue of discussion at the congress was communist unity. Bardhan said: "We think these are compulsions of the present situation. Without the Left playing a very decisive role, a credible alternative to the BJP and the Congress(I), with a programme of its own and going through a process of struggle, will not emerge. That is the objective reality. And that is why we say that in order to offset the politics of communalism, bringing the communists together is important. It is not a question of two party organisations coming together. That we can always coordinate and achieve. It is also a question of the Left masses and their expectations. It is from that angle that we are talking. We never mean it as a weapon against any other party." Bardhan said that the congress admitted that it was not an easy task. "There are conflicts and differences. How much of this is basic is a question of debate. All differences are not basic. Several differences occur because two parties and rival organisations exist. Statesmanship of the leadership of these parties demands that they should look beyond them. Harping on the differences and entering into mutual accusations will benefit none," he said.

The CPI congress also discussed the party's shortcomings on the basis of the draft Report on Organisation. The party felt that it faced a temporary decline in its influence, especially in its representation in the elected bodies, and that its bases were eroded in several places. The congress concluded that several factors, such as the failure to organise militant struggles on mass issues, communal and caste influences aggressively advocated by certain parties and the party's failure to guard against them, were responsible for the decline.

Explaining the party's plans to address the problems on the organisational front, National Executive member and former Kerala Chief Minister P.K. Vasudevan Nair said that the congress had decided to launch a "campaign for reactivisation and rectification of the party" by weeding out inactive members and improving the standard of membership and their activities. He said the party had decided to launch a six-month campaign at all levels for the political and ideological education of its cadre. The campaign will include periodic appraisals of the role of individual members, monitoring of the implementation of party decisions, and special efforts to reactivate the student, youth and trade union wings. The CPI will also make a "decisive turn to the villages" by intensifying its activities on issues of concern to farmers and agricultural workers.

The congress also drew attention for the rare step of inviting two non-communist leaders, former Prime Minister V.P. Singh and Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, to address the delegates. The CPI sees the invitation as being part of its efforts to attract broader sections of the masses into its struggles. Interestingly, both leaders concluded their speech on a similar note. V.P. Singh reminded the Left parties that communal forces could be countered only through mass action that brought the focus back on economic issues. Medha Patkar appealed for closer association between political parties and independent people's movements in order to take on "exploitative political structures and their ideologies".

A total of 697 delegates from 26 States, representing 5.5 lakh members of the party, attended the congress. There were 50 women delegates from 19 States. Fraternal delegates of Left parties from 26 countries participated in the congress.

Bardhan said: "The wide response that our party congress evoked is an indication of what exactly the Left masses are thinking today. Namely, that there is no time to lose and the communists must set their own house in order and take steps to play a decisive role in national politics."

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