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The problems with CPI(M) and why it must reinvent itself to survive

Monobina Gupta | Updated on: 21 June 2016, 17:29 IST
QUICK PILL

  • The alliance
  • The Congress, CPI(M) alliance was formed just before the recent Bengal polls
  • The tie up however benefited only the Congress. CPI(M)\'s popularity fell further

The issues

  • CPI(M) needs to sort its issues within if it wants to survive as a party
  • There is a need to reinvent the party itself but they probably do not have the imagination

More in the story

  • What are the issues plaguing the CPI(M)?
  • What can be done to fix it?

The credentials of the Communist Party of India-Marxist [CPI(M)] as a Stalinist organisation are well known.

The recent resignation, followed by the summary expulsion of Jagmati Sangwan from the party, is one more in the long list of such undemocratic actions, buttressing that reputation.

But there is yet another fundamental political distortion that the just-concluded central committee's acrimonious proceedings have revealed: and this is the CPI(M)'s failure to rethink its political and tactical line.

Also read: All you need to know about the West Bengal elections

We have witnessed, for the umpteenth time, the party's inability to analyse the changing political scenario and reinvent its politics.

Problems within

The distortions within the CPI(M) are visible at multiple levels. If the CPI(M) is unwilling to democratise itself, it is equally resistant to abandoning the conventional bankrupt political strategies.

Never mind that these strategies have only dragged the party into a deeper morass than before. But the CPI(M) is still determined to walk that well-trodden path which has led it to its political wilderness.

At the centre of the recent inner-party face-off has been the CPI(M) alliance with the Congress in Bengal's Assembly polls.

That the alliance has been disastrous for the CPI(M) is evident in the party's tally slipping even further down from its 2011 position.

While the party's vote percentage has plummeted to 19.7% from 29.58%, its seat tally has nosedived from 40 to 26.

The Congress on the other hand, has emerged as the main beneficiary of the alliance. It has increased its seats and replaced the Left as the primary opposition in Bengal.

Moot points

Let's get some basics clear: The alliance with the Congress was pushed through not only by the Bengal state committee, it also had the blessings of party general secretary Sitaram Yechury.

A section of the politburo, including former general secretary Prakash Karat, was opposed to the tie-up.

One of the primary arguments was the political-tactical line adopted by the CPI(M) at its congress last April. The new tactical line mandated the party not to have any "understanding or alliance" with the Congress.

Yet, the CPI(M) yielded to what it described as "pressure" from its grassroots workers.

A section of the politburo was opposed to the CPI(M), Congress tie up

At the recent central committee meeting, the CPI(M) resolution stated that the seat adjustment was not "in consonance" with the party's decision clinched at its last congress.

Jagmati Sangwan wanted the party resolution to be phrased differently, and to mention that the adjustment was "in violation" of the line at the last party congress.

Sangwan told The Hindu: "I had asked why the word 'violation' was not there in the statement referring to the tactical line adopted in Bengal."

Also read: West Bengal: Left-Congress tie-up makes sense at every level. But can they win?

That difference, which may superficially appear to be a difference of language, is actually a signifier of deeper inner-party differences- more specifically, differences between the Bengal and the central line of the party.

Party differences

The Bengal party leadership, for the time being, seems to have got what it wanted. In fact, it seems determined to continue with its alliance with the Congress.

When asked by media whether the joint action with the Congress against the Trinamool Congress would continue, Yechury said: "Movement of resistance against terror will continue."

Yechury's response signals that notwithstanding the fractious debates, the Bengal leadership - probably with Yechury's tacit endorsement - would continue its joint programmes with the Congress.

The question is: Would such tactics help the CPI(M) rebuild its organisational strength and regain public credibility? The answer would be a categorical 'no'.

Congress alliance will not help CPI(M) rebuild its organisational strength and credibility

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, even while she hasn't broken away from the CPI(M)'s culture of political violence, has put in place a far more responsive governance system.

Her welfare schemes have been electorally rewarding, the public distribution system (which had gone to seed under the Left Front government) is now functioning well. The work culture in Writers' Buildings has improved.

"We were quite curious about Bengal as there were no detailed story about the PDS...we were happily surprised to find out that it is working pretty well. PDS was really bad in Bengal but it is certainly (doing) enormously well now. Exclusion errors were also relatively few," economist Jean Dreze told The Hindu this week.

Given the Left's abysmal governance record of more than thirty-four years, the CPI(M) would find it difficult to emerge as a credible critic of Banerjee's governance model.

At least not as long as Banerjee continues with her welfare programmes and provides a more efficient administrative system than what the Left provided.

Strategy change

If the party is planning to focus on corruption, any joint programme with the Congress (which itself is mired in scams) is going to put the CPI(M) in a bind.

As for political violence, which no doubt is a serious concern in Bengal, the CPI(M) which is the architect of this culture, can hardly hope to be taken seriously by the people on this issue.

The only way the Left can then start the process of regaining credibility is by reinventing itself. But the CPI(M) is no Aam Aadmi Party. It singularly lacks such imagination.

Moreover, the Bengal state committee is in an unseemly hurry to regain visibility in Bengal politics. It is therefore ready to lock horns with the central leadership.

If the recent acrimony is any measure of things to come, the divisions within the party will only deepen.

Deepening fissures

Media reports suggest that the central committee meetings were fractious enough to lead to a split in the party.

Such deep fissures had also appeared between the Bengal and the central leadership in 1996, when the CPI(M) central committee refused to allow then Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu to become Prime Minister of the United Front government.

The Bengal party, as opposed to the politburo, had pulled its weight behind Basu's prime ministership. And the CPI(M) had appeared to be on the verge of a split, which was averted through some procedural manipulations.

Bitterness between Karat and Yechury adds another dimension to the Congress-CPI(M) alliance

Another interesting dimension to the present row has to do with the well known bitterness between Prakash Karat and his successor Sitaram Yechury.

Yechury's Bengal line of an alliance with the Congress has boomeranged on the party. It has made him more vulnerable to attacks from his critics within the party. But that Yechury is not beating a full retreat, is apparent from his comments to the media.

Ultimately, it is the CPI(M)'s lack of political imagination and an utterly ineffective party leadership, which have contributed to making it irrelevant in times as volatile as these.

Whether it is the Bengal line or the AKG Bhawan line that dominates the party, little will come out of such contrived tactics, unless the party severs its links with the politics of bankruptcy that has become its hallmark.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

Also read: Explained: Why the CPI (M) Plenum is crucial for the Left

First published: 21 June 2016, 17:29 IST
 
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