CPM central committee says 'no' to Congress alliance, has no concrete plan to stay relevant
Much before Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury got marginalised within the party’s central committee last week over the possibility of an alliance with the Congress, is learnt to have had an interesting conversation with Arun Jaitley, his fellow student-politician back in the 1970s and now the union finance minister.
Just days before the end of his Rajya Sabha term in August last year, Yechury apparently walked up to Jaitley and asked him how he (Jaitley), as leader of the House, would describe him (Yechury) in the upcoming customary farewell message retiring members. Jaitley in his characteristic manner remarked, "I would say to the effect that you came here as a Marxist ideologue and would be leaving this house as a Congress apologist." "Don’t say that. I will be in trouble with my party," Yechury pleaded. Jaitley, of course, only praised Yechury in his formal remarks.
Perhaps nothing highlights the dilemma of the CPM leadership as its inability to choose the correct path for political action. At the same time, the above anecdote, though unsubstantiated, is indicative of the BJP's deep understanding of the Marxist predicament in Indian politics and its marginalisation. This is not the first time that Yechury was making efforts to break the Marxist mould in order to adapt the party to Indian realities.
During the hey days of the Indo-US nuclear deal, he initially hobnobbed with Amar Singh, late Digvijaya Singh of JD(U) and Yashwant Sinha to topple the Manmohan Singh government. Later, he went all out to save the nuclear deal along with Amar Singh-Mulayam Singh combine, much to the chagrin of the traditionalists within his own party, then led by Prakash Karat. He was clearly out of tune with his party leadership. But he found support in the then Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee who openly favoured the deal and was sacked from the primary membership of the party.
Of course, Karat presents himself as a classical Marxist who is quite averse to revisionism. He was marginalised when the CPM was completely decimated in the 2009 Lok Sabha election after its unsuccessful attempt to pull the rug from under Manmohan Singh’s feet. Two years later, as the party also lost its citadel — West Bengal — to Mamata Banerjee, the CPM leadership veered towards moderation and found Yechury as an answer.
During his Rajya Sabha tenure, Yechury developed a cosy relationship with the Congress and was often seen as a "Congress apologist". On the theoretical plane, he could justify his proximity to the Congress leadership as siding with the “lesser evil” to checkmate the “bigger evil of communalism” – in the form of emergence of Narendra Modi. Yet, his thesis turned out to be nothing more than a theorisation of his tendency to be amenable to the Congress-style politics.
Instead of bringing dividends, Yechury's efforts to align his Marxist party with the Congress-led opposition further marginalised the Left forces. Today, the party retains a semblance of base only in two smaller states: Kerala and Tripura. In both the states, radical elements in the party have been feeling the heat as the BJP is gradually replacing the Congress as the effective rival of the CPM. And quite evidently, in these states the Congress politics often conforms to the BJP’s Hindutva line which is anathema to the CPM.
Apparently, the recent churning within the CPM over following either Yechury's line or Karat's line is directly related to the upcoming polls in Tripura, the Left bastion which has been showing signs of cracks. Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar is a pragmatist and has been running the government since March 1998. He is seen as a chief minister liked by the people for his simplicity, accessibility and his understanding of Tripura’s society.
After the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he was the first in his fold to read the message on the wall and tried to mend fences with the BJP and build a good rapport with prime minister Narendra Modi. Remember the manner in which he insisted on inviting Modi to his own office in Agartala to hold a meeting with the state’s cabinet ministers. The idea was apparently to develop a good relation with the Centre in order to speed up developmental projects in the state and neutralise the belligerence of the BJP. However, Sarkar was stopped in his tracks by CPM traditionalists who saw a semblance of bonhomie with the BJP in general and Modi in particular as political sacrilege of the highest order.
Perhaps the CPM leadership is oblivious of the fact that in the BJP's imagination of India, the Northeast plays a critical role. After Independence, during Nehru's time, the entire region was found to be emotionally alienated from the mainland for a variety of reasons, ranging from geography to culture. The Sangh Parivar has made huge emotional and organisational investment to make a breakthrough in the region which was considered practically inaccessible for the Hindutva forces.
Few know that the RSS and its affiliates had the first major run-in with the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the issue of the northeast where its activists were abducted and killed ostensibly by insurgents owing allegiance to the Church. The RSS leadership accused the then home minister LK Advani of inaction. This issue emerged as a major flashpoint between Vajpayee-Advani on one side and the RSS and its affiliates working in the region on the other. Modi is quite conscious of the importance the Sangh Parivar attaches to the northeast. Ever since he assumed power, he is consciously focusing on the region and building up a strong organisational network to challenge the CPM in Tripura.
Of late, there are reports of violent clashes taking place between the BJP and the CPM all over the state. That is a clear indication of the BJP taking the place of the main opposition and emerging as a formidable challenge to Manik Sarkar whose long stint of rule has many weak spots. But what is clearly ruining the CPM’s position is the inability of the leadership to choose correct political course. It faced decimation when it adhered to the traditionalist approach. And its marginalisation is complete when it aligned with the Congress. In either case, the country’s biggest Marxist party is doomed to be tottering on political margins in India. If it loses Tripura, it may prove to be the proverbial last nail.
[This comment has first appeared on FirstPost.com]