In an interview with Governance Now, Reddy discusses the problems and prospects of the Indian Left
Pankaj Srivastava | June 22, 2016 | New Delhi
Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), is confident about the revival of the Left. Reddy, who has been a member of Lok Sabha twice, believes that reunification of the Left parties can help consolidate the communist movement. Talking to Pankaj Srivastava, Reddy discusses the problems and prospects of the Indian Left.
The Left Front ruled West Bengal for more than three decades. After the latest assembly elections, it is placed third, after the Congress. How do you analyse this situation?
To some extent the result of the Bengal elections came as a shock to the Left. As a matter of fact, it was only after some kind of understanding with the Congress that the Left could openly campaign in many places in West Bengal. For the last two-three years, there has been a lot of ‘gundagardi’ [hooliganism]. People are not being allowed to participate in the ‘Jatha programme’ [rallies in rural areas]. Even the 70-80-year-old CPM leaders were made to hold their ears and do sit ups by the Trinamool workers. So, initially there was a feeling that the campaign could not be carried out. But when the campaign started, a large number of people participated and we possibly got more support than we had expected. Thus, when the seats reduced to 32 [from 60], we were taken aback. But I understand that what has been said is not completely correct. For example, it has been said that the Left vote has been reduced by 10 percent. But the comparison should be with the 2014 [general elections] and not 2011 [previous assembly elections]. Between 2011 and 2014, the Left lost quite a chunk of political space. 2014 onwards, it managed to increase its vote base.
Still, I do not understand what exactly went wrong. In spite of antisocial elements gathering under the banner of a single political party [TMC], we lost. I think the influence of Mamata Banerjee’s so-called welfare schemes and the subsidies given to imams was also miscalculated by the Left.
CPM’s politburo had criticised the strategy of forging an alliance with the Congress. What is your take?
They said it was not a consilience as per the central committee decisions. While some sections of CPM believe that the decision to support the Congress was incorrect, others feel that there was no other way. Though it was initially proposed by the Congress, the real initiative was taken by CPM. As part of the Left, though we had some reservations in joining hands with the Congress during pre-poll stage, the matter was closed once we had agreed. But there were regular talks in the ranks of not having a common manifesto, non-alliance, no joint campaigns, and a tendency of shying away from the understanding [of an alliance]. An understanding is an understanding, why should anybody try to hide it?
One important factor [for the loss] was that the Left honestly voted for the Congress but the Congress votes could not be shifted in the same proportion towards the Left. CPI contested only on 11 seats. In every constituency, votes have increased from 10,000-23,000 in the last elections as compared to the 2011 and 2014 elections, but that was not enough for a win. The Left did not contest from all the 97 constituencies; that is one reason for our low vote percentage.
CPI had emerged as the main opposition in the Lok Sabha in the first election after independence. But now, it is struggling to save its status as a national party. What are the reasons behind this downfall?
I can’t say exactly [why]. There may be many reasons. In the pre-independence and early post-independence period, the struggle was against feudalism. In that period, it was easier to identify the real enemy. But during the transition from feudalism to capitalism in our society, it became a little difficult for the poor to identify its main enemy. The system of landlords disintegrated or they disappeared and a rich peasantry emerged which was not so alienated from society, as before. In the initial stages, capitalism creates illusions about opportunity and development for the poor (This happened in India too.)
In the post-independence period, majorly there was the Congress, the communists and those with socialist ideologies. Though there were also some right-wing forces, they never had a big following. For example, the Swatantra Party tried to gain a foothold, but failed miserably. The Jana Sangh too did not have much of an impact. But later, with the emergence of a strong capitalist structure and a big trade section in the country, an atmosphere was created for the right forces to form a political party. Naturally, the Sangh Parivar, with its right wing policies and communal agenda, has become the main political force. The Congress has also slowly shifted towards a little rightist economic policy.
The split in the communist movement in 1964 weakened the Left force at a time when the initial development of capital in the country was in a crisis. Rupee devaluation was a big concern and the Congress was thrown out of power in many states in the 1967 elections. So, taking advantage of the weakness in the Left movement, regional parties started taking shape. The Dravidian movement took a powerful shape in Tamil Nadu. Caste-based parties also sprung at some places. And these casteist, communal and regional parties tried to marginalise the Left. And instead of fighting against the ills of capitalism like poverty and exploitation, we had to fight against such rightist tendencies. In the 1970s, we supported the Congress for some time and that too created confusion. During her fight with the Congress Syndicate, Indira Gandhi had agreed to nationalise banks and abolish privy purses, so we decided to strengthen that section of the bourgeoisie against the most rightist section of the bourgeoisie. But we failed to make our people understand that this was only a temporary strategy of the Left. And because of this, the poorer sections have crossed over to the Congress. I think these are some of the reasons why the left movement has become weak.
A few years ago, the CPI leadership had proposed merger with CPM. What happened to that idea?
The proposal was about reunification, not a merger; and there is a difference between the two. Yes, we are for a reunification of the communist movement on principled basis. CPI decided to initiate this proposal because we think that a split in the communist movement was not in the interest of the country. Several points over which the split took place, like definition and character of Indian bourgeoisie, have now become irrelevant. Communist parties fight against each other for support in the same area. As long as several communist parties exist, fight among them is inevitable. When our policies and understanding is same; and we are working together - even in elections - then why can’t we unite? I believe that a reunification is possible.
What has been the response of CPM?
In the beginning they opposed, later they were reluctant, and now they say that the time has not come. Naturally, reunification cannot be done by force. Not only CPI, but other Left parties should also work for this.
Can the Left give an alternative to the country after reunification?
Only reunification can’t do this. The Left would have to reinvent itself. We are the champions of the downtrodden; we have to take up their issues in a bigger way. Militant mass struggles are required to take on poverty, unemployment and exploitation of people. Reunification may bring in new enthusiasm and attract young people to the party, but we don’t think that just unification of two or three parties can make us an alternative. The alternative will emerge through a bigger battle and struggle. Not only communists, other sections of the society who agree with our economic policies should also be brought together.
Critics have pointed out that the Left has never addressed identity issue like brahminical social order because the party’s leadership mainly comes from the upper castes. Do you agree?
This is a new phenomenon. As caste-based political parties become stronger, this issue has come up. Actually, instead of debating ideology and politics of the Left they [critics] just point out the caste of the leadership. We are not against any caste. We never promote [cadres] on the basis of caste. Only those who are active emerge as leaders in our party. In the earlier days, the educated upper caste people had first joined the freedom movement and subsequently also the communist and the socialist movements. We did have a large number of members belonging to the deprived castes, but they could not attain the leadership at that time because of several reasons. One such reason was that many students from the downtrodden sections had joined us and later they left us to take care of their families. On the other hand, members from the upper castes had comparatively less pressure. Now the situation has changed.
Many believe that the rise of Aam Aadmi Party should have made the left realise its mistakes of many a missed opportunities . Your comments?
I respect Arvind Kejriwal and all the AAP leaders. We are happy for their success. They clearly said that they are against crony capitalism, but not against capitalism. See, the media and the vocal section of society are against the communists, because communists are against property rights. But the AAP is working for that only. Capitalism and corruption are interlinked. We never say that AAP can’t succeed, or that they will fail. But they also never say that they are against capitalism. That is where big difference between the two parties lies.
It is true that there is a communication gap between people and communists. There is a large section of deprived people in the country: still, why are they not with us? We have failed to communicate with them. There is a gap. How to fill that gap, how to get in touch with that section of society, not just contacting them but also creating confidence amongst them as AAP has done? We will try to find new methods and reinvent our slogans.
Though Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU – associated with your party – has emerged as a popular young leader, the perception remains that the CPI is a party of older people. Is it true?
Our party is getting a good number of people, though not as many as it used to get earlier. Definitely, there is some sort of semi-stagnation. Kanhaiya Kumar is a new phenomenon and people are attracted towards him. Wherever he goes, people come in large numbers to listen to him. Even when there is a poisonous propaganda against him by Hindutva forces and their supporters in the media. I think this type of phenomenon is coming up because of the crisis in capitalism across the world. The Labour Party in Britain is bending more towards the Left. A leader like Bernie Sanders, who is openly talking about socialist ideas, can become a challenging candidate from the Democratic party in the US. In Greece too, the Left has become a powerful force. Ten years ago, this was unimaginable. Here in India, it is the Hindutva fundamentalists who are trying to create hurdles for this new generation through radicalisation and politicisation. They are trying to saffronise universities and other institutions. They are not even ready to give people the right to free speech. They can kill people but they cannot kill ideas. We believe that the future is going to be a turbulent period in which a large number of people will come forward to join the struggle.
Further on the JNU episode, is the government targeting the Left?
Yes, I do believe that the Sangh Parivar has got plans while Modi is only an instrument. Modi has no idea about his role; it is the RSS which decides what he has to do. Modi is not like Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vajpayee was a statesman; Modi is an event manager as properly described by LK Advani at one time. He [Modi] is a big demagogue and demagogues have little to offer.
Rajnath Singh has said that the prime minister is an institution and it should be respected by all. But his [Modi’s] act and his talk are not of the level of a prime minister. He speaks more like a sangh pracharak. As a national leader, he doesn’t impart confidence to the people belonging to different cultures. I have a feeling – and I am sorry to say that – prime minister Modi is not a wise man. He is a person with a closed mind. He will only follow the dictates of the Sangh Parivar.
What is the future of the Left in India?
We feel that as long as exploitation and poverty will be there, a need to fight will also be there. Communists are the most sincere people who fight on behalf of the people. Naturally, the Left will have its future because we not only stand for the downtrodden, but we also stand for democracy, overall development, for secularism and for India’s diversity. How long it will take to revive, how it will reflect, I can’t say. But it will not take very long. We are confident that in the present circumstances, if we are able to provide the leadership, the Left will make a huge impact in coming years.
(The interview appears in the June 16-30, 2016 issue)
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