Party Affairs

Clear agenda

Print edition : May 25, 2018

Veteran party leaders V.S. Achuthanandan (sitting, left) and N. Sankaraiah (sitting, right) being felicitated by CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury (standing, extreme left) at the party's 22nd national congress in Hyderabad on April 18. Also seen are Politburo members S. Ramachandran Pillai, Prakash Karat and Manik Sarkar. Photo: G. Ramakrishna

CPI(M) red shirt volunteers taking out a rally in Hyderabad on April 22. Photo: G. Ramakrishna

The five-day-long party congress of the CPI(M) in Hyderabad witnesses an intense debate on the draft political resolution even as it reaffirms the party’s stand that its main fight is against the fascist Hindutva forces.

IN a brief interaction after the conclusion of the 22nd congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) held in Hyderabad from April 18 to 22, former Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, the oldest living founder-member of the party, summed up his perception of the triennial gathering with a pithy remark: “Uniquely different in dimensions, but steadfast in continued commitment to cherished values, ideals and principles.” He went on to explain: “The Visakhapatnam congress [in April 2015] had portrayed in unmistakable terms what the biggest political challenge before the country was when it identified the advent of the Narendra Modi government, its welding together of the neoliberal economic agenda and the Hindutva sociopolitical drive as concrete factors threatening the interests and livelihood of the people. Over the past three years, these threats have become more rampant and concrete and that is exactly why this congress in Hyderabad has accorded primacy to the political and tactical task of ousting the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] government, simultaneously inflicting body blows on the fascist pursuits of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh [RSS] and its associates in the Sangh Parivar. Thus what we have basically done is to ensure the persistence of the political line as well as the continuity of the organisational direction, the latter manifest in the re-election of Sitaram Yechury as general secretary.” Achuthanandan did admit, however, that the organisational methods that led to the reassertion of a continued political line were indeed different from those seen in CPI(M) party congresses traditionally.

Departure from convention

The veteran leader, known for his sharp mind and sharper political-organisational interventions, did not elaborate on the different organisational methods that came into play at the Hyderabad party congress, which were evident to all close observers of the party. The most pronounced organisational difference at the Hyderabad congress was in the very presentation of the political resolution—one of the most important documents that are taken up for consideration at the triennial conclaves—before the delegates. In a departure from convention, the political report was presented by Prakash Karat, former general secretary of the party, and not Sitaram Yechury, the incumbent general secretary, who was first elected in 2015 at Visakhapatnam. The roots of this extraordinary procedure were in the Central Committee of the CPI(M) held in January 2018, which finalised the draft political resolution. The CPI(M)’s normal practice is to circulate the draft resolution to all its units and members well in advance so that they can discuss and come up with suggestions and changes before the party congress. When the draft political resolution was approved by the Central Committee in January 2018 for circulation among party members, it was not completely in consonance with the position of the incumbent general secretary. There were significant and nuanced differences in the approach of the general secretary and the majority view in the Central Committee.

While there was general agreement on the need to defeat the BJP and its allies as well as on the need to maximise the pooling of anti-BJP forces, the draft approved by the Central Committee ruled out any electoral understanding with the Congress or treating the Congress as an ally or a partner in a united front. It was argued that this was because the Congress had the same class character as the BJP—both being parties of the ruling classes. The draft resolution also noted that the Congress party had proved to be incapable of fighting communal forces consistently. This line was primarily advanced by Prakash Karat and senior Polit Bureau member S. Ramachandran Pillai, with firm support from Kerala Chief Minister and Polit Bureau member Pinarayi Vijayan. Yechury, on his part, was not in favour of an outright rejection of any understanding with the Congress, though he, too, was of the view that there could be no political alliance with the Congress, given its class character. These contending formulations were put to vote in the January Central Committee and the majority view, which was not represented by the general secretary, was carried by a 55-31 margin. Consequently, the responsibility of presenting the draft approved by a majority in the Central Committee fell on Karat.

Amendments to draft resolution

However, as the discussions on the draft political resolution unravelled at the Hyderabad party congress, it became increasingly evident that the draft approved by the Central Committee did not have the support of the majority of delegates. In fact, the mood of the party congress, as some of the delegates who interacted with Frontline stated, seemed to be decisively against marginalising the Left forces from the widespread anti-BJP, anti-fascist sentiment building up among vast sections of the population as well as among secular opposition parties. This mood was not lost on the CPI(M) leadership, especially on the steering committee led by former Tripura Chief Minister and Polit Bureau member Manik Sarkar, which intervened to suggest amendments to the draft resolution approved by the Central Committee. These amendments were based essentially on the understanding that “pursuing a line of treating both the BJP and the Congress as equal dangers” was not the mood of the party congress. In concrete terms, the amendments involved the following:

The word “understanding” was removed from a clause that earlier read: “However, this has to be done without having an understanding or electoral alliance with the Congress party.” The amended clause read: “But this has to be done without having a political alliance with the Congress party.” Another clause was added: “However, there can be an understanding with all secular opposition parties including the Congress in Parliament on agreed issues. Outside Parliament, we should cooperate with all secular opposition forces for a broad mobilisation of people against communalism.” These amendments were overwhelmingly endorsed by the delegates.

Anti-BJP thrust

Clearly, with these amendments, the anti-BJP thrust of the CPI(M)’s current political position got sharpened. This is exactly what was referred to by Achuthanandan as the continued commitment to follow the line of the past Visakhapatnam congress in fighting the Hindutva communal, fascist forces and ousting the Modi-led BJP government. Elaborating on the new nuances on the political line, the resolution stated as follows: “As far as the word understanding is concerned, we have defined the scope of that understanding with the Congress party. Within Parliament, we have understanding with secular opposition parties including the Congress on agreed issues. We take forward the Visakhapatnam Party Congress resolution that we need a broad mobilisation of all democratic and secular forces against communalism.”

Interestingly, discussions on the draft political resolution across CPI(M) units, between January and April, had already given an indication of the mood in the party congress. According to official statistics of the CPI(M), a record 8,174 amendments to the draft political resolution were moved; of these, 6,924 were related to the national section of the document. Among these, as many as 1,318 were specifically on the political line and many of them sought the deletion of the “no understanding with the Congress” line while many others sought the deletion of “no alliance with the Congress”. Some other amendments referred to the characterisation of the present regime (at the Centre) as authoritarian or fascist while some other amendments asserted that fascist tendencies and trends existed. Amendments conveying the latter were accepted.

During the deliberations, delegates moved 373 amendments, out of which 37 were accepted. A number of delegates at the party congress pointed out that these statistics were broadly indicative of the dominant political perspective that existed among party units and the rank and file across the country. Significantly, Achuthanandan had also moved an amendment, which stated as follows: “The ‘growing authoritarianism’ under Modi Raj that we observed in the 21st congress is now growing towards fascist goal. It is not at all static or stuck amidst. It is in motion led by one of the most seasoned fascistic forces in the world: the RSS. The said international and domestic developments working corroboratively become extremely favourable for RSS to lead its Parivar in the fast execution of the said fascist goal. This becomes faster especially amidst political crisis that has struck the other bourgeois political parties creating a political crisis altogether. Thus, the objective and subjective conditions have become extremely conducive for generation of fascist danger.” Commenting on the amendments as a whole, a group of delegates from States in northern and western India told Frontline that the urgency to fight and defeat the fascist, communal forces was the paramount concern among a vast majority of the party cadre and activists.

Demand for secret ballot

The uniquely different dimensions of the Hyderabad party congress cited by Achuthanandan reportedly involved discussions that were more intense and heated than usual. At some stages during the proceeedings, the impassioned exchanges led to calls for voting and even the demand for a secret ballot on the political resolution and related issues. Though there is no official confirmation of their number, representatives from as many as 13 State units of the CPI(M) reportedly demanded a secret ballot. Leaders, including the re-elected general secretary Yechury, did confirm that demands for a secret ballot had been raised during the discussions. Talking to Frontline, Yechury stressed that the concepts of internal democracy and their advancement had to be commensurate with the precepts of democratic centralism, and what happened at the Hyderabad party congress was in keeping with this. (See interview on page 43.)

Message of unity

The passage of amendments as well as the conclusion of other engagements of the party congress was marked by proclamations of unity by the senior leaders who had presented contrasting perspectives before the delegates. Yechury repeatedly emphasised the need for unity in the party: “We all agreed that our main fight is against the BJP-RSS and to defeat this government. After this party congress, we will go back in a unified manner, take this fight throughout the country to mobilise the vast mass of our people on the guidance of the political resolution.”

Yechury added that he was proud that the CPI(M) was the only party in India today that could undertake such a widespread and open democratic exercise to decide its future direction. Prakash Karat also pointed out that it was “unprecedented” that two views were put before the party congress. Karat added: “The Central Committee had decided that since this is a political issue, it should be decided in the highest body of the party, the party congress. It is not a question of the words ‘understanding’ and ‘alliance’. It is the approach of how best to fight the BJP-RSS and ensure their defeat. A large number of comrades asked the leadership to resolve the issue so as to go back from this congress with the message of unity.”

While these theoretical parameters have been broadly identified and accepted, it remains to be seen what concrete forms they would take in terms of practical politics. What is clear, however, is that the changes were essentially made on the draft approved by the Central Committee, which had expressly ruled out any understanding with the Congress. Since changes have been made to that line, it opens up possibilities of a limited understanding with various opposition parties, including the Congress; but with the latter, the understanding would fall short of a political alliance. Broad suggestions from a significant number of delegates are that in practical terms, the 2004 model could well come into play, where both the CPI(M) and the Congress will have an understanding with the same regional forces, albeit not as part of the same alliance or coalition. However, both Yechury and Karat have maintained that it is too early to speculate on electoral alliances since the general elections are still some way off.

There are also signs that some of those who have been part of the intense and heated exchanges in the party congress and on its sidelines are persisting with the same passionate differences even after the conclusion of the deliberations. These have found intermittent expression in social media platforms. It needs to be seen if this trend will persist. But leaders like Achuthanandan are convinced that one should not read too much into these residual expressions. “Doomsday predictions abounded for the CPI(M) when I walked out of the undivided CPI’s National Council along with 31 others in 1964. But the political will that my party and I gained in 1964 has become stronger through all these years. Now, in the context of the 22nd congress, too, certain political pundits foresaw a possible split in the CPI(M). They wasted reams of newsprint and online space to ‘analyse’ the differences over fascism, the fascistic attacks on people by the RSS and the RSS-led government at the Centre. But all these crisis-mongers have been squarely disappointed by the Hyderabad party congress and the CPI(M) shall continue to stay with the people and defend their rights.” The 94-year-old veteran’s exuberant conviction was indeed infectious, inspiring many younger delegates of the CPI(M) at the party congress.