Had Prasenjit Bose not quit the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM, he would have been busy researching and preparing the party’s strategy for the monsoon session of parliament. Instead, he is relaxing at home, reading the works of a forgotten Peruvian Marxist, José Carlos Mariátegui.
In June, when the CPM decided to support Congress nominee Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature for the post of president, Bose, convenor of the party’s research cell and its face on TV debates, submitted his resignation in protest. The party expelled him the next day.
He did react by making public his long resignation letter, detailing all his objections to the party’s blundering ways. More than a month later, the day he decided to break his silence, Trithesh Nandan caught up with him, analysing threadbare what is wrong with one of the three big national parties and why the man who was considered the super PM three years ago now counts way behind a host of regional party leaders.
People have read your resignation on internet but we want to know your side of story. Why did you resign?
This was not the first time that I had serious differences with the party on a major issue. For the last six years, I have been raising certain political issues, especially in the relation to West Bengal – land acquisition, the policy orientation of the [former, CPM-led] state government, Nandigram/Singur and on the Indo-US nuclear deal [CPM allowed the Manmohan Singh government to approach the IAEA for the safeguards agreement]. On the nuclear issue, the party narrowed its political consideration, so it politically suffered. There was a huge delay in recognising those mistakes. The formal admission of those mistakes came only in 2012 at the party congress in Kozhikode. My point is that if the party committed mistakes four years back and admits it now, how would you rectify those mistakes?
Has the party continued to make new mistakes even after the Kozhikode conclave?
By supporting Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature despite opposing the Congress, apparently to drive a wedge between Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Congress party. Within weeks, the strategy fails and CPM lands up voting along with TMC in favour of the Congress nominee in the presidential elections. This miscalculation shows that there is something very wrong in the decision-making process of the leadership.
But Mukherjee’s is not the only issue. In the background, a lot of issues had happened and I took a certain position. I was forced to take a decision of this nature (resignation) because I felt this was not going anywhere.
Why did you make resignation public?
I have been in the party since 1992 (first as a member of the Students’ Federation of India or SFI, the party’s student front). The reason why I made it public is that you can only raise issues when you are outside the party. There is a serious problem with the political direction of CPM. Policy decisions are not taken in a participative democratic manner; rather, decisions are taken in a non-transparent and arbitrary manner. That is creating a lot of misgivings, confusion and political inconsistencies – the charge of doublespeak in the decision-making.
This is eroding credibility in the eyes of people and creating gross disconnect with the younger generation. The party structure is a relic of the past. Nobody is held accountable for faulty decisions. So, the party structure has failed to evolve in keeping up with changing aspirations of the ordinary people. People want to be informed why you are taking certain positions, what your considerations are, what the rationale behind it is. I think structurally party has failed to evolve.
The flow of information and opinion has become unidirectional. It is coming only from top to bottom, not from bottom to top. The leadership has become impervious to critical opinions from below. The decision-making bodies, like the party congress, have become increasingly formal. They will decide on certain things. Later the party workers find in three months that the decision is overturned. Nobody knows why that is happening.
Where is the problem then?
The problem is on two fronts. First, the party lacks a clear-cut political direction. Second, the organisational structure does not allow decisions to be taken in a democratic and participative manner. I am making a critique of ‘democratic centralism’ from the point view of operational efficiency. The way democratic centralism is practised by the CPM today has made it impossible for itself to rectify its mistakes.
In recent times, eminent leftist commentators like Prabhat Patnaik and Ashok Mitra too have spoken out against democratic centralism. Patnaik goes a step ahead and calls it feudal Stalinism in the party.
There are many kinds of criticisms on democratic centralism that have come up in recent times from various left intellectuals. I sympathise with many of them. There are theoretical problems with democratic centralism. My experience is that under democratic centralism it is very difficult to correct mistakes and one continues to keep repeating similar kinds of mistakes.
Has anybody from the party got in touch with you after your resignation? Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury?
No. Two-three days after my resignation, I got calls from several central committee members, but no politburo member called me.
But you were quite close to the two leaders, you were called a ‘blue-eyed boy’ of Karat and had a rapid rise in the organisation. You represented the party on TV debates.
I was given certain responsibilities in the party. Till the time I was there in the party, I fulfilled them to the best of my ability. I have the highest regard for Comrade Karat. What I am doing is nothing personal. I am making a political critique of the CPM leadership as a whole, not talking about any individual. That is not my purpose. I would appreciate if there is a democratic political engagement.
You left CPM right when the party is at a crossroads. It is not doing well externally and internally. Was it the right time to quit?
I did not hold any senior position in the party. Because of the work I used to do, you can say I had more opportunity to interact with senior leaders of the party than a regular activist. From my position, I wrote letters to the politburo members. And those letters were detailed ones like my resignation letter but I did not make those letters public. In the party congress, if I had to intervene in a debate, I did. Even in the recent Kozhikode conference, I raised issues when I got an opportunity.
The interventions I was making basically ran their course. I felt that my criticisms were not making any difference.
Do you mean to say that the party has no inner democracy?
My point is that the structure of the party has to change and has to evolve. It has got ossified. There is more and more of centralism and less and less of democracy.
How many letters did you write to party?
I wrote six letters from 2006 to 2010.
Can you share with us the gist of those letters?
The first letter was in 2006 on the issue of industrialisation in West Bengal. In February 2007, I again put my words on Nandigram and Singur. In January 2009, it was not like a letter but a kind of note on the performance of the West Bengal government. After the Lok Sabha elections in May 2009, when CPM performed badly, I again wrote. The same year in October, I sent a letter after the party made an appeal for “congress voters” to vote for the Left Frontin by-elections to the West Bengal assembly. And the last one was in 2010, after the Kolkata municipal elections when the TMC and Congress fought separately and yet the TMC won. CPM had supported the Congress candidate as Mayor of Siliguri Corporation in 2009 to drive a wedge between TMC and Congress. That was clearly not working. Sections of our party base was already shifting to TMC. This was a wrong tactic and a reflection of our inability to look within and accept our own problems.
Somebody said you enacted the “resignation drama” because you were denied the membership of the central committee.
No. If I wanted to become a central committee member why should I resign? This way I would never become a central committee member. Least I could have done was to stay back in the party [if that was my aim].
Talking about the external problems, why is CPM not engaging with progressive groups?
Yes, there is a problem with CPM on working together with smaller political groups or progressive social movements. There may be a formal acknowledgement of their demands but the party is not involved in many such struggles. That is the missing part. They should have a less sectarian approach towards genuine people’s movements.
Why did you not join the ‘Bengal pride’ bandwagon and supported Mukherjee who is from your state?
There is nothing personal about Pranab Mukherjee. Things like ‘Bengal pride’ never works in West Bengal. In Bengal it is less about Bengali identity and more about who stands for what politics – and issues like land, livelihood, tribal rights, people’s welfare, these bread-and-butter issues, or class or livelihood issues, dominate the state’s politics.
A decade ago, your political career got a boost when you headed the Jawaharlal Nehru University unit of SFI. Today that unit stands dissolved for supporting you.
What the SFI unit in JNU has done, they have a mind of their own. They have taken a political position which is similar to the position I have taken. When there is dissent, it could have been resolved in a different manner. And I fail to see why the unit was dissolved. I have full solidarity with that“dissolved” SFI unit.
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Who is to be blamed for the state of affairs in CPM?
I have no idea. How the party deals with differences shows itsmaturity. The best way is to democratise the party so that individuals become less important.
Given a chance will you go back to CPM? What is your future course of action?
Definitely not right now. My immediate plan is to write about my experiences and raise issues about the left movement in the country. There are a lot of things happening in the world. There is a new left coming up that is throwing up new questions while retaining some of the old virtues of the left. In the medium term, I am open to the option of joining a left political party, including the CPM.
Will you form any party?
The last thing India needs is another communist party. There are already too many of them. I don’t have any disillusionment with the left or Marxist ideology but my question is what kind of left can make a comeback in the Indian context today. I want to make contributions towards a left rejuvenation.
But you abstained from voting on an ideological resolution in Kozhikode conclave.
No. That is a motivated campaign by some sections. An amendment was moved by a comrade, proposing that ‘dictatorship of proletariat’ should be restored in the CPM ideological agenda. A few of us abstained [from opposing] that amendment, as we were not satisfied with the response that came from the leadership. It was a complex inner-party issue. The second amendment was on criticising North Korea for its dynastic rule and military dictatorship. I supported the amendment. But when the ideological resolution was put to vote, I had supported it. There was another comrade who opposed the ideological resolution but it was not me.
Have you become a victim of the ‘Bengal lobby’ in the party?
I just want to say that because of my political positions I have faced a lot of hostilitywithin the party. That was my experience. I did not expect it. I thought I was raising political issues and even now I am raising political issues. I won’t like to comment on any lobby.