A significant process

Print edition : October 28, 2000

The adoption of the updated programme marks the culmination of an elaborate democratic process that began in the CPI(M) in 1992.

THE significance of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) special conference in Thiruvananthapuram to complete the exercise of adopting an updated programme for the party may not be obvious to many people. A section of the mainstream media, in the run-u p to the conference and in the daily reporting on the conference, tended to see the whole exercise as merely one of finding a justification for the CPI(M) to enter a coalition government at the Centre, should such an opportunity arise. Implicit in this r eading was the argument that having mistakenly passed up an opportunity to lead a coalition government at the Centre in mid-1996, when the then CPI(M) Central Committee decided against participation in government, the party leadership had changed tack an d was now desperate to get the official sanction of the party to join such governments in the future. Such a reading, and reporting based on such a reading, completely miss the point that the CPI(M) had undertaken a prolonged exercise to update its progr amme.


N. Prasada Rao, Central Committee member and the seniormost delegate to the special conference of the CPI(M) in Thiruvananthapuram, hoisting the party flag to mark the beginning of the conference, in the presence of party general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Polit Bureau members (from left) Anil Biswas, P. Ramachandran, Sitaram Yechury, M.K. Pandhe and E.K. Nayanar.

In order to assess the significance of this exercise that has culminated at the Thiruvananthapuram conference it is important to understand what a programme document of a party like the CPI(M) is all about. Most political parties of the non-Communist var iety in India - and for that matter in most other countries as well - do not have anything like a "programme document", let alone one discussed at various levels of a party before adoption. Given the highly personalised nature of functioning of many of t hese parties and the non-existence, by and large, of the practice of discussing long-term political, economic and social issues in the forums of these parties, the mis-reading of the CPI(M) exercise to update its programme is not surprising. Most of thes e parties also stand for the status quo, and usually argue that one or another party or combination of parties needs to come to power or be dislodged from power in order that the existing political system can be run better. At best, there may be d ebates within and among these parties on questions of current tactics such as the choice of allies in a poll or on matters of current policy such as the stand to be taken in Parliament or outside on one issue or the other. The Communist parties, however, have always considered questions of long-term strategy to be important, and the programme of a Communist party is in fact a document setting out strategy.

For a Communist party, the programme document spelling out a long-term strategy is predicated on three key aspects: a goal consisting of a vision of the desired social order; an analysis of the existing social order; and, linking these two, the identific ation of a path by means of which, starting from the existing social order, the desired social order can be reached. While tactical questions - involving the response to changes in the political situation that arise from time to time - are also important for a Communist party, the point to note is that answers or responses to tactical questions and issues have to be sought within the broad guidelines set out by the strategy, and must help advance towards the strategic goal. For instance, whether the CPI (M) should or should not participate in a government in the State or at the Centre in a particular set of political circumstances will have to be decided, not on the basis of any apparent or immediate political expediency, but by the criterion of whether it will help advance towards the party's chosen goal of bringing about what it calls "a people's democratic revolution".

A second important aspect to be noted specifically about the CPI(M) exercise of updating its programme is that this has been under way for quite some time. In the 14th Congress of the CPI(M), held in Chennai from January 2 to 9, 1992, a decision was take n to update the programme originally adopted by the party's seventh Congress in 1964. A committee was set up by the CPI(M) to carry out the exercise of producing a draft of the updated programme. However, a number of factors, including an enhanced politi cal role played by the CPI(M) in national politics in a period of considerable political instability throughout the 1990s, had delayed the completion of such a draft document. It was only at a meeting of the Central Committee of the CPI(M) held towards t he end of April 2000, that the draft of the updated programme was finally adopted. The fact that the decision to update the programme was taken by the CPI(M) way back in 1992 should make it abundantly clear that the current exercise is by no means a resp onse to the events of 1996 pertaining to the CPI(M) Central Committee's decision not to join a government at the Centre, and the subsequent approval of this decision by the CPI(M)'s 16th party Congress in October 1998 in Calcutta.

The third significant aspect of the CPI(M) exercise is the process by which this exercise had been carried out. The first step was the directive to update the programme. This directive was given in 1992 by the CPI(M)'s highest forum, the national Congres s of delegates elected through the multi-stage process starting from the basic units of the party and proceeding through area, district and State conferences, each of which elects delegates to the next higher level. The next step was the preparation of a draft by a small committee set up by the Central Committee, a body elected by the national Congress of elected delegates. The third step was the discussion of this draft by the Central Committee. The fourth and most significant step was the release of t he draft document after adoption by the Central Committee, translated into all major languages, for discussion by all the units of the party. Three months - June, July and August of this year - were provided for amendments and suggestions pertaining to t he draft to be sent to the Central Committee by individual party members as well as committees at various levels. Between end-August and the start of the special conference on October 20, these amendments and suggestions were processed. A draft report on amendments accepted as well as those not accepted was adopted by the Central Committee and presented for the consideration of the delegates to the special conference. A press release issued by the CPI(M) during the conference stated that 5,725 amendment s and 530 suggestions had been received, of which 160 amendments reflecting the spirit of more than 400 similar amendments had been accepted by the Central Committee and placed before the conference. Further amendments were proposed at the conference by the delegates. According to CPI(M) press releases, 42 delegates participated in the discussion on the updated draft. The discussion took a little over nine hours. A total of 249 amendments and two suggestions were received from delegates. After the Centr al Committee's discussion and response to all these amendments, the modified document was moved for adoption. Individual delegates could also move amendments. Finally, the delegates to the conference voted on the amendments and adopted the updated progra mme.

This elaborate process of arriving at the updated programme acquired significance in the context of media reports alleging lack of democracy in the CPI(M). In the case of most of the major national parties, it would be very difficult to find a similar pr ocess of decentralised and democratic discussion by the entire membership of the party in the course of adoption of any policy document, let alone a programmatic document.

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