Sitaram Yechury’s time starts now

Can CPM learn from AAP and revive itself by going to masses?


Ashish Mehta | April 20, 2015

“Frankly speaking, the Left has become irrelevant India.” That was the pithy diagnosis from LK Advani, when he addressed a press meet after releasing the party manifesto for the 1999 elections. Of course, this was not the first time Advani, or anybody, made that observation. It has been largely true – not counting the time when CPM was able to call shots, as it supported the UPA 1 from outside. When Prakash Karat became the general secretary of CPM, there was a hope that the generational changeover at the helm will bring fresh thinking, but party has only made itself more irrelevant in his term. Since Sitaram Yechury is of the same generation, the hope this time centres on his flexible and non-dogmatic approach: maybe, that will save the party.

The decline of the Left in India, in a way, is predictable. After a series of communist regimes – notably the USSR – toppled in the late 1980s and the pro-market approach became the default mode of economic policy in the developing world, the Left was marginalized.

Paradoxically, this crisis was also the opportunity to reinvent itself. Workers, farmers, salaried people and lower middle class came under direct pressure of the market forces, and a platform was needed to give voice to their concerns. That platform could have been provided by the CPM, but ultimately it was raised by civil society – by the likes of Medha Patkar and Aruna Roy with organizations like the NBA and MKSS.

Aam Aadmi Party is the perfect example of how CPM missed the bus: an NGO metamorphosed into a political party has been able to thoroughly trounce BJP when CPM has spent decades of debating how to counter the rightwing forces.

Also, in search of purely political power, the Left has been hobnobbing with the Congress and other parties which are as pro-market as BJP. The sharing power during the UPA 1 might be a tactical move to keep BJP out, but it did nothing to consolidate CPM in economic liberalism.

Prosenjit Bose, the head of the CPM research cell who resigned and was expelled from the party two years ago, summs up the party’s dilemma.

“At the heart of the dilemma faced by the CPI(M) today is the political-tactical line to be adopted in the backdrop of BJP’s ascendancy across the country and the rightwing offensive unleashed by the Modi regime at the centre alongside the threat of political marginalization faced by the CPI(M) in what was once its citadel, West Bengal. The options apparently being debated within the CPI(M) – either align with the Congress against BJP or maintain the status quo – are both inadequate for its own revival or to take on the resurgent rightwing in India.

Unless the Left mobilizes forces from below and seeks to build alliances based on struggles with like-minded progressive and democratic forces, the ‘political line’ debate will be fruitless, abstract and of no yield.”

Yechury need no advice from somebody he mentored 15 years ago, but what he needs to do first and foremost is to “mobilise forces from below”, the way AAP has.

At JNU, where Karat, Yechury and Bose leartn their basics of political mobilisation, there was a tradition: at the end of the month-long campaign and speeches from various political leaders for their student organizations, the last big event would be a speech by Yechury, for CPM’s students wing, Students’ Federation of India (SFI). After his inspiring, rousing speech would be the time for carefully moderated Q and A. And some wag would manage to pose this question: “Sir, CPM was originally supposed to be a mass organization. When do you plan to make it so?”

Beyond rhetorical vague answers, Yechury now has the chance to reply to that question on ground.




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