AN UPBEAT LEFT

Print edition : May 06, 2005

The confidence generated in the Indian Left by the victories secular forces scored in the past one year with its help stands out at the congresses of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India and in their plans for the future.

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in New Delhi and Chandigarh

CPI(M) leaders Prakash Karat, Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Sitaram Yechury and Harkishan Singh Surjeet join hands on the concluding day of the 18th party congress in New Delhi.-SANDEEP SAXENA

AS the triennial congresses of the two mainstream communist parties of the country - the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India - unfolded over the last week of March and early April in New Delhi and Chandigarh respectively, it was evident that the delegates who had gathered were bonded together not only by shared political and ideological concerns and perceptions but also by an exceptional emotional quotient, marked by an upbeat mood. This mood was in stark contrast to the atmosphere that had prevailed at the last national conferences of the two parties held three years ago in Hyderabad and Thiruvananthapuram respectively.

The reason for the change was not far to seek. It was firmly grounded on the successes that secular forces in general, and the two communist parties in particular, had scored in the recent past. It was also clear from the deliberations in New Delhi and Chandigarh that these successes had filled the cadre and leadership of the two parties with a new sense of optimism and enthusiasm about achieving their short- and medium-term political goals. The shadow of the February 2002 communal carnage in Gujarat had hung heavily over the earlier conferences, held in March and April that year. The carnage, as well as the political context in which it had happened, demonstrated an aggressive advancement of the Hindutva agenda and the situation seemed bleak for the Left and other secular forces.

In the words of veteran CPI(M) leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the Hyderabad congress was held in "such a situation that the rightist politics of hate and communalism that began to gather strength at the turn of the 1990s had acquired a disturbing legitimacy on the national scene". In such circumstances, the two parties had resolved to " leave no stone unturned" to bring about a positive change in the socio-political climate of the country. As explained by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury during interactions with the media at the New Delhi congress, the party had identified three priority tasks at the congress in Hyderabad. First, to defeat the communal forces represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre. Second, to work for the establishment of an alternative secular government. Third, to strengthen the CPI(M) and the other Left forces in Parliament. Between the two congresses, all the three objectives had been fulfilled.

The BJP-led NDA has been displaced from power and replaced with a secular, Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. But more significantly, the CPI(M) and other Left parties had their best ever tally in Lok Sabha elections. With a total of 61 Members of Parliament (MPs), the CPI(M) alone accounting for 44, the Left is now in a position to influence and intervene in policy formulation and implementation by the UPA Ministry, which depends on Left support for survival.

The achievement of the goals set three years ago and the favourable political situation this had created seemed to impart a remarkable sense of clarity to the deliberations in New Delhi and Chandigarh, particularly in terms of the political resolutions moved at the congresses and the debates on them. The delegates at both the congresses were unanimous in accepting that the political direction of the parties was correct.

CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan at a rally on the eve of the party congress in Chandigarh with Tong Thi Phong, secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam.-

Broadly, the political direction affirmed by the two parties hinged on tri-pointed struggles on national and international fronts, these being the struggles against communalism, neoliberal economic policies and imperialism. In practical terms, the struggle, the congresses iterated, would reflect as continuing support to the UPA government in the immediate context, as part of the fight against communal forces, and at the same time as part of the exploration of the possibilities to build up a `third alternative' founded on a common policy platform and mass agitation on people's issues. In a clear exposition on the `third alternative', the CPI(M) firmly stated that it would not be pursued as a mere electoral alliance of non-Congress and non-BJP parties, and that the alternative cannot become a reality in the absence of a common policy platform.

Commenting on the debates on the political resolution at the CPI congress in Chandigarh, party general secretary A.B. Bardhan said he could not remember having seen "such widespread unity on the political line in any other congress" before. "Party workers from all over the country are convinced that we are on the right track," he said.

Immediately after the defeat of the NDA in the Lok Sabha elections last year, the CPI held the view that all Left parties should join the Congress-led UPA Ministry. But the party retracted that opinion since the CPI(M) and the other Left parties - the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the Forward Bloc (FB) - did not agree. Even this retraction was hailed unanimously at the Chandigarh congress, as the delegates agreed that the CPI was better off as a party supporting the government without participating in it. According to CPI spokesperson Shameem Faizee, the experience of the functioning of the UPA Ministry in the last 11 months has shown that the Left needs to make critical intervention from time to time. He said this was a pervasive realisation among party workers across the country.

According to Jyoti Basu, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and former West Bengal Chief Minister, this twin approach of supporting and criticising a government led by the Congress at the Centre and strongly pursuing an alternative, people-oriented policy formulation will form an important component of the party's action plans for the future. There was little doubt at both the congresses as to what the parties wanted to achieve through the pursuit of this twin approach. This was to build up and expand their political and organisational base across the country, particularly in areas where the parties have not registered significant growth.

With this premise, naturally, there was a special focus at both the congresses on strengthening political and organisational activity in North India. A couple of resolutions passed at the CPI(M) congress could well turn out to be crucial in this regard. These resolutions, which dealt with issues such as caste oppression, agrarian reforms and women's empowerment, gave a broad indication as to how the party itself was going to be directly involved in the struggles on these fronts. Deliberations on the resolutions pointed out that if the party could properly advance the concepts highlighted in the resolutions, it would open up new possibilities for the party and enhance its strength in northern India (see separate story).

The emphasis at the CPI congress was on "strengthening the struggles for land reforms" in northern India. Bardhan said that the CPI was already carrying on struggles for land reforms in States such as Bihar and that these would be intensified in the next few months. According to Benoy Viswam, CPI leader from Kerala, the new, favourable national political situation and the gains that the Left parties have made have indeed created unprecedented verve and enthusiasm among party workers in the North Indian States. "I have attended the last eight congresses of the CPI, spread approximately over two decades, and I can say for sure that there is a new vigour in the party cadre," Viswam said.

Subhashini Ali, CPI(M) Central Committee member from Uttar Pradesh, was of the view that the directions emerging out of the New Delhi congress had imparted a new dynamism to the plans to strengthen the party in northern India. The CPI(M) had visualised plans in this direction right from the 1978 Salkia plenum and reviewed and redesigned it at the 14th congress in Chennai in 1992. But, as the party admits, these efforts have not borne much fruit.

Commenting on these failures, Surjeet pointed out there were several factors that contributed to the non-realisation of earlier initiatives, principal among them being the rise of communal and casteist politics since the late 1980s. "But the situation is changing now," Surjeet said. "Communal politics no longer commands the kind of sway it had in North India and people are getting disillusioned with totally caste-oriented politics and are realising that it does not ultimately deliver them from oppression. It is this climate that the CPI(M) proposes to capitalise on," he pointed out.

According to him, the very fact that the CPI(M) has been able to hold successfully a congress in a place like New Delhi, where the party is not strong, along with the reality that even those sections of the media that do not agree with the party's policies have been forced to cover it extensively, is indicative of the changing situation.

Surjeet was of the view that the organisational report adopted at the congress as well as the changes brought about in the organisational structure would greatly help the CPI(M)'s new initiatives. The organisational report laid emphasis on a rectification process for the party cadre in order to strengthen their commitment to communist values and to get rid of negative trends like factionalism. The rampant factionalism in the CPI(M) in Kerala, one of the strongest units of the party in the country, was of special concern to the leadership in this context.

The changes brought about in the CPI(M)'s organisational structure included the stepping down of Surjeet as general secretary and the election of Prakash Karat to the position. The changes also saw the induction of four new members into the Polit Bureau, including its first ever woman member, Brinda Karat. The CPI congress re-elected A.B. Bardhan as general secretary.

A notable organisational aspect that found reflection at the CPI(M) congress was the changing age profile of the party cadre. As many as 199 of the 697 delegates at the congress were between 30 and 50 years of age; 257 delegates were between 51 and 60; there were only 159 delegates between 61 and 70. This change, according to several delegates, pointed to the growing acceptance of the CPI(M) among younger sections of society.

While all this could be factors in favour of the CPI(M), and other Left forces, the party faces a paradoxical socio-political phenomenon, tellingly depicted by Sitaram Yechury during one of the interactions with the media. He admitted that there was a sort of tradition, especially in Hindi-speaking areas, in which large numbers hold up the red flag in mass agitations but vote for the green or the saffron flag. Yechury hoped that the New Delhi congress would mark the beginning of a change in this paradoxical condition. The tendency of the various caste groups, including the oppressed ones, to identify with leaders from their own caste, and the urge to look up to a rough and tough mass leader could also become problems in the path of the Left's growth in northern India.

Prakash Karat, the new general secretary, counters these projections by saying that there are no short-cuts to build communist parties and argues that well-designed mass agitations can throw up mass leaders who go beyond caste identities.

The success or failure of the plans formulated by the Left in New Delhi and Chandigarh could well depend on building up these well-structured agitations on people's issues, in spite of the generally favourable political climate in the country.

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