A call for Left unity

Print edition : September 26, 1998

The 17th CPI congress held in Chennai resolves to bring together Left and other secular, democratic parties on a common platform against communalism and the "anti-people" policies of the BJP-led Government.

THE Communist Party of India (CPI) concluded its 17th congress in Chennai on September 19 with a spirited call to its cadres to build a strong party oriented towards mass struggles, a united Left movement and a coherent front of secular and democratic parties. Addressing a mammoth rally at the Marina beach at the end of the six-day event, CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said: "This is the Left's answer to the dangerous swing to the right in Indian politics that has come with the Bharatiya Janata Party's advent to power." He said that apart from fulfilling its communal agenda the BJP-led Government had accelerated the process of liberalisation and privatisation. "This will ruin the country," he warned.

The political resolution adopted on September 18 after four days of deliberations says that the party will launch "a massive campaign against communalism and unleash broad-based mass struggles against the Government." The party's long-term strategy will be to fight the "anti-people" policies of the Government inside and outside Parliament in association with other Left and secular-democratic parties.

In order that the Left parties are able to play an effective role in this struggle, the political resolution says, "Left unity has to be further consolidated and as far as possible extended." It says: "The present political context and the developing situation require that the Left-minded and Left-led organisations come closer together in actions, as well as organisationally." The resolution particularly sought greater co-ordination between the CPI and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and between their respective mass organisations.

Failing this, the resolution warned, "the communal, rightist and reactionary forces and their opportunist allies will be able to further consolidate themselves and become even more formidable." Referring to the prospect of the Communist parties uniting, the resolution says: "Although it has become desirable and possible, it requires the willingness of at least two to unite."

The theme of "Left unity" dominated the inaugural session on September 14. Bardhan observed: "The increasing relevance and the important role of the Left in national politics becomes evident with each passing day. But this requires the further strengthening and consolidation of Left unity, and the unity of trade unions and other mass organisations led by Left parties. There have to be united mass struggles and unity in action." He said that the strengthening of the Left movement meant the strengthening of each of its constituents.

CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan delivering the inaugural address at the 17th party congress in Chennai.-V. GANESAN

Leaders of other Left parties at the congress shared Bardhan's sentiments. CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet said that changing the correlation of class forces would provide the answer to many problems in the country. "For this, we must take as the highest priority the strengthening of Left unity and also the unity of Left and democratic forces," he said, adding that this could be done by "unleashing mass struggles and mass movements" against the Govern-ment's "anti-people" policies.

CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Polit Bureau member Nagabhushan Patnaik said that the immediate primary agenda should be political cooperation among all sections of the Left and this co-operation must enter a decisive phase of popular political assertion of a united Left. Among the other speakers was All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) general secretary Debabrat Biswas.

IN the CPI's 73-year history, this is the second time that the party congress was held in Tamil Nadu, the earlier one being the third congress held in Madurai in 1953-54. The venue of the Chennai congress was named after M. Singaravelu (1860-1946), a Chennai-based advocate and a pioneering Communist organiser, who presided over the party's foundation conference in Kanpur in 1925. Over 1,000 delegates from 23 States and 57 delegates representing 26 fraternal parties from 20 countries attended the congress.

The draft political resolution is said to have provoked a spirited discussion. The CPI has ruled out an alliance with the Congress(I) in its long-term strategy to counter the BJP and has made it clear that the party will oppose a polarisation around the BJP and the Congress(I); it has recommended a tactical line to be taken in case the BJP-led Government falls "owing to its internal problems" or is pulled down.

Bardhan explained: "In such an event, given the equations in the 12th Lok Sabha, the CPI will take a positive attitude towards the formation of an alternative Government by the Congress(I) by lending it issue-based support." The party ultimately wanted to build "a renewed United Front" consisting of Left, secular and democratic parties as the third alternative, Bardhan said. According to him, the third alternative will "evolve" in the months to come and it is difficult to predict "at this stage" as to which parties will be involved in it.

The idea of the third alternative, also favoured by the CPI(M), registered its first major gain within hours of the adoption of the resolution. In a swift follow-up, Bardhan, accompanied by CPI national secretary D. Raja and Tamil Nadu secretary R. Nallakannu, convinced Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi in Chennai on September 19 of the need to initiate the formation of a third alternative. Giving up the vacillation that he showed at his meeting with Harkishan Singh Surjeet on the same issue on September 14, Karunanidhi agreed to meet Left leaders in Delhi in October. The modalities of forming the third front at the national level would be worked out at this meeting.

A section of the audience, including some foreign delegates, at the inaugural session.-V. GANESAN

ALTHOUGH there was general approval of the observations in the draft resolution on the BJP-led Government and the agitational courses proposed against it, it was felt in some quarters that the draft resolution did not adequately reflect the strong anti-Congress(I) mood that was apparent among the delegates. The draft, which was prepared a few weeks after the BJP's ascent to power, obviously had little to say on the Congress(I) and its role.

With regard to the Congress(I), the resolution observed that the party, despite its record of "opportunist compromises and failings", has "undeniably a major role to play in fighting the communal BJP and dislodging it from power." It acknowledged the Congress(I) as "the main force against the BJP" at the national level and in some States. According to observers, these points may have caused misapprehensions about the CPI's attitude towards the Congress(I). Further, during the run-up to the congress, the perceived haste with which the leadership offered to support the formation of a Congress(I)-led Government in the event of the fall of the BJP-led Government has also caused some misgivings.

The major grounds for criticism against the Congress(I) were that as the ruling party for over four decades, it was responsible for the present ills of the country; that several of its leaders faced corruption charges; that it introduced economic liberalisation and globalisation in the country at the instance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and that it was to a great extent responsible for the growth of the Hindutva forces owing to its acts of commission and omission.

The CPI leadership, which took great pains to explain that an electoral alliance with the Congress(I) was out of the question, asserted that the party would not surrender its political space to the Congress(I) and would extend only conditional support if a Congress(I)-led government was formed. Issue-based support was the only realistic option as the Congress(I) had a significant presence in the 12th Lok Sabha and also because fresh elections in the near future were unacceptable to any party.

Of the hundreds of amendments to the draft made by party committees, 47 were accepted. In the draft resolution the party had expressed the hope that the Congress(I) would make some "serious introspection". The amended resolution noted that the Congress(I) in its Pachmarhi declaration had renewed its commitment to fighting communalism and mentioned its faith in the socialistic pattern of society as envisaged at the session of the Avadi Congress in 1956, but said that these measures were not enough. It noted that the Congress(I)'s stand on the core issue of economic policy remained unchanged and that it had not made a review of the political corruption and criminalisation of politics that took place during its rule.

THE organisational report also seemed to have generated a prolonged debate. The party appears to have come a long way since its previous congress in 1995 in Delhi, which was overshadowed by a steep fall in its membership. There has been a 20 per cent increase since then (5,60,723 by end-1997). Old-timers, however, noticed the steady fall in the number of peasants attending the congress and wanted the leadership to look into this.

The congress noted with concern repeated occurrences of caste-related clashes and pledged to fight to end caste inequality and oppression and strive for the empowerment of depressed sections.

A section of the rally that marked the conclusion of the congress.-V. GANESAN

The congress passed 45 resolutions touching on several issues. One resolution demanded the resignation of Union Home Minister L.K. Advani as the Babri Masjid demolition case in which he has been charge-sheeted was scheduled to come up for hearing soon in the Allahabad High Court. The congress opposed the dismissal of the Rabri Devi Government in Bihar. One of the resolutions was critical of the BJP-led Government's economic policies, which it said had led to "double-digit inflation" and caused "unprecedented distress" to the common people.

The congress expressed its support to the declaration of the National Platform of Mass Organisations (NPMO) on the "deteriorating economic situation" and supported the NPMO's programmes of conventions and mass demonstrations, which would culminate in a general strike on December 11. A resolution on relations with China condemned "the sudden belligerence" of the BJP-led Government against China and wanted the country "to take immediate initiatives for undoing the damage" and for improving relations with China.

The congress elected a 125-member National Council, which unanimously re-elected Bardan general secretary. A 31-member National Executive was also elected. The conference wound up with a procession of party workers from different States.

At the Marina rally, Indrajit Gupta, former general secretary of the CPI, said that the party congress felt that only a united Left could displace the rule by the Right and resolved to strengthen Left unity. The party, he said, looked forward to the 16th congress of the CPI(M) to be held in Calcutta (October 5 to 11) in order to carry forward the message of Left unity.

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