The Left perspective

Print edition : January 02, 2004

In the Left parties' perception, only a programme-based secular platform can present a viable alternative to the BJP's communal politics.

in New Delhi

THE electoral setback to the Congress(I) in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh has raised doubts about its credentials as an effective secular alternative. The Left parties, which only have a marginal presence in these States, have been particularly concerned about this mandate in favour of the BJP. In their opinion, the Congress(I) has learnt little from its experience in the Gujarat Assembly elections where it adopted a soft Hindutva line. It is being increasingly felt in Left circles that principled alliances with parties with a common approach on economic policy issues may have helped the Congress(I) prevent this debacle.

The Left parties, especially the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India, have been critical of the Congress(I) for underestimating the problems of the people. In their opinion, the Congress(I) failed to gauge the strong anti-incumbency wave in the States where it was in power. According to them, the public anger was to a large extent the result of the economic policies pursued by the Congress(I) governments. But of equal concern to the Left parties is the nature of the BJP's electoral campaign, which was essentially based on caste, communal and regional appeals.

The Left has criticised the Congress(I) for practising its own Hindutva brand and, in the process, failing to check the spread of the BJP's communal politics in the tribal-dominated areas of the three States.

In Rajasthan, the Ashok Gehlot government took pro-active measures to check the distribution of tridents by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) only in the last few months preceding elections. The tensions that ensued helped the BJP to make substantial gains in the southern parts of the State. Only the Left parties and some civil rights groups protested against the Sangh Parivar's ploys. They had also objected to Ministers in the Gehlot government openly participating in casteist and religious functions. The Rajasthan government even gave a special minority status to an influential business community in the State, Left leaders point out. It passed an order allowing for special investigation procedures in cases involving leaders with a significant religious following, ignoring the protests of democratic organisations.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, say Left leaders, tried to outdo Hindutva with his own brand of religious politics. A reckless "privatisation drive" in the power sector added to the anti-Congress(I) wave.

According to the Left parties, one significant aspect that emerged from these elections is the steadily growing vote share of non-Congress(I), non-BJP parties. Over 22 per cent of the votes polled in the four States have gone to candidates from these parties. However, they won only 52 of the 590 seats at stake. Despite the overall political polarisation in the four States, the CPI(M) candidate from Dhod in Sikar district of Rajasthan defeated the BJP candidate by more than 20,000 votes. "Wherever people found a viable and credible alternative, they voted for it," said CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury.

Said Yechury: "The question of Hindutva was always there. What else was Uma Bharati if not Hindtuva? Unfortunately, the Congress(I) too was competing with the BJP on this front. This is also why it got completely routed." Yechury said the only way the Congress(I) could have countered the Hindutva campaign was by doing something perceivable for the welfare of the people. "Rural unemployment being such a big issue, the Congress(I) even failed to lay the blame at the doors of the NDA government which everyone knows has put in place a central ban on recruitment. This happened because the Congress(I) did not have an alternative economic agenda," Yechury said.

The Left is apprehensive that one direct implication of the BJP's electoral success would be the emboldening of communal forces. Since the Congress(I) appeared to be in a state of disarray, Yechury felt that a non-Congress(I) secular combination had to be forged nationally to take on the BJP. "Our priority is to defeat the BJP... Our objective is to forge a third alternative," he said. But he also pointed out that several regional parties that are secular have tended to compromise with communal forces. Emphasising that alliances should never be a one-time "electoral patchwork", he said that alternatives would emerge only through popular struggles. Any form of alliance with parties calling themselves secular would have to be on the basis of a set of commonly agreed principles.

Criticising the Congress(I)'s dalliance with Hindutva and its inconsistent secular commitment, he stated that mere declaration of intent was not enough. "It is up them to work it out. They have to put it into practice," he said.

The Left believes that the elections were not fought on issues of development as claimed by the BJP. The Central Secretariat of the CPI stated that the issue of development was over-simplified and the real socio-economic issues like growing unemployment, closure of factories, mounting difficulties for farmers and the reckless implementation of the policies of liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation were not discussed at all.

D. Raja, national secretary of the CPI, said that the latest Assembly election results may set the parameters for the future political course of the country. "The Congress(I) lost the secular battle even before it started. There was no need for it to succumb to communal forces," he said. Criticising the Congress(I)'s approach to electoral understandings, he said that the party did not have a sincere approach as far as an understanding with secular democratic forces were concerned. The party's Shimla Sankalp had been all about pre-poll adjustments to defeat communal forces but yet the Congress(I) failed to carry out its professed commitment to secularism. "The Congress(I) must become realistic. It is an era of coalition politics. It has coalition governments elsewhere and it should realise that such a trend has come to exist at the national level too. Common issues which are also in national interest therefore have to be identified," he said.

Of immediate concern to the Left parties is the Assembly election in Andhra Pradesh where the Congress(I) is the main rival to the Telugu Desam Party-BJP combine.

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