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India: 2015 Congress of the CPI(M) - Selected Commentary

India: Do we need a communist party? / Colour of the mice to catch

by Jawed Naqvi, 28 April 2015

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DAWN - 21 April 2015

Do we need a communist party?

At a Moharram majlis in my native village of Mustafabad, which is part of Sonia Gandhi’s parliamentary constituency today, a believer was overcome with grief during a recitation of the tragedy of Karbala. “How I wish I was there to be of help, o lord,” the mourner sobbed. “Then you too would have joined the ranks of the noble souls,” an elderly gentleman said, offering him a hanky.

There is a time and occasion for what you can do to be of help. There are human limits too to consider. Moreover, together with the confidence of being of help we need clarity about the objective. A person with confidence but no clarity could die crossing the road, or at any rate end up causing an avoidable pile-up.

Addressing the tragedy of the more contemporary world Karl Marx had offered a sharper view of objective reality. He said the previous philosophers had interpreted the world in their own ways, now the point was to change it. That exhortation gave a sound objective to the early communists to pursue, India’s included.

They aligned on two fronts with the Congress party. They fought the British in territories governed by the British, and also fought the native rulers who were not aligned with the objectives of the wider anti-colonial struggle. The latter offered the comrades a chance to prove their mettle in what we know as the Telangana struggle of 1948.

The Indian state under the Nehru-Patel leadership, and the communists, watched and inspired by Josef Stalin, joined hands against the Nizam of Hyderabad’s exploitative rule. The communists sang songs of liberation penned by Makhdoom and others. They also learnt the use of firearms. The new Indian state crushed the nizam’s resistance without remorse. An official report about widespread rape and cold-blooded murder of civilians by the Indian paramilitary remain hidden from erstwhile partisans and public view.
There is something else about which we only hear in whispers from India’s communist leaders — their support to the Pakistan movement.

We haven’t heard a full and comprehensive appraisal of that horrific mistake in Telangana, particularly the alliance the comrades forged with the rightist Sardar Patel-led state. When the comrades disagreed about continuing the armed struggle, they took the issue to Stalin in Moscow who called for a map of Telangana. He studied the map and saw no point in anyone continuing the stand-off, not least because there was no secure supply line to arm any purposeful upsurge. The heroic Telangana campaign was over in a jiffy.

There is something else about which we only hear in whispers from India’s communist leaders — their support to the Pakistan movement. Did they make a mistake, and if so, how? We know many Pakistani comrades concluded it was a blunder. Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, who delivered the message of her party’s support to the Quaid, was never comfortable about it. Who let her down? Is there as much as a mea culpa from anyone in command?

Came Indira Gandhi’s 1975-77 emergency rule. The pro-Soviet communist flank supported her suspension of civil liberties citing a threat from right-wing opponents including the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. The remaining communists opposed the emergency. They joined the mass upsurge unaware perhaps that it contained the seeds of their own wrack and ruin. The seeds sown in 1977 with communist support sprouted in May 2014 as Modi victory. Any regrets?

Sitaram Yechury was a student leader aligned with the Communist Party of India-Marxist at the Jawaharlal University in Delhi when the emergency was declared. He was arrested briefly unlike his other comrades who served their full stints. Yechury became president of the students union for three consecutive terms. I nearly fell off the terrace of the five-storeyed history faculty hanging upside down, pasting large stencils of the 14 letters that make up Sitaram Yechury. On Sunday, he became CPI-M’s general secretary at the 21st party congress in Vishakapatnam.

There is a hasty view that Yechury is less doctrinaire than Prakash Karat who he succeeded as party chief. That Karat too was a student leader climbing up the party ladder could be more problematic, an indication perhaps that the CPI-M has not thrown up worthy mass leaders from the working class arena or the peasants’ front to lead the party.

A relevant question is how culpable were Yechury or Karat in the policies that led to the party losing its sheen in Nandigram and Singur. Share the details. There is a view that the CPI-M could have invested its political capital in shoring up the pro-peasant and working class character of the party instead of squandering it on the questionable Nano car project. Other examples of bad choices come to mind, some of which were responsible for the cadre defecting to the Hindutva flank after last year’s electoral rout.

Yechury said in Vishakapatnam that the main task now was to counter right-wing consolidation and the Modi government’s neo-liberal economic policies. He didn’t have to travel to Andhra Pradesh to find that out. Noam Chomsky in faraway Boston has known it for years.

It might be worthwhile for the new CPI-M leadership to ponder why when Chomsky visited Delhi some years ago he addressed jam-packed halls of students, of lay followers. Why don’t they show up for the CPI-M’s meetings? The party could also consider how neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are managing to put up amazing popular resistances without overt communist leadership. They must wonder how so many former comrades are running great resistances in India, from Kudankulam to Niyamgiri without any structured communist cadre. Have communist parties become irrelevant?

The mourner in Mustafabad has always wanted to live up to his beliefs. He will wait to sight the Moharram moon to rekindle the quest. Neither Yechury nor his remaining cadre though have the luxury to leave the urgent next steps to the sighting of the new moon.

The writer Jawed Naqvi is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

o o o

DAWN, 28 April 2015

Colour of the mice to catch

JOSH Malihabadi was houseguest for a few days at S.M. Mehdi’s modest second-floor flat in Karol Bagh in Delhi. A few comrades assembled there one evening to hear Josh Sahib’s new verses. Theatre guru Habib Tanvir came, so did Sardar Jafri. Tanvir had an excellent singing voice and he kicked off with a Momin composition. Josh stopped him abruptly. “That sounds like a Momin ghazal. Why don’t you recite one of your own?” Tanvir said he didn’t have one to offer. If you will read the great ustads, we can only redeem ourselves by reading something ineffable, Josh smiled as he took the floor.

Brinda Karat, re-elected this month to the once formidable politburo of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), quoted Oscar Wilde in an essay in which she tried to explain the party’s new lines.

The so-called line was not terribly clear though the Wilde quotation was a welcome departure from the usual invocation of Marx.

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, Wilde had said, a witticism Karat quoted to suggest that her party welcomed the media attention, including bad press.

Someone might have suggested another Wilde quote — as relevant, if not more. If you are not too long, says Wilde, I will wait here for you all my life. Had Wilde presciently described the long vigil, the CPI-M’s partisans would be waiting for the promised people’s democratic revolution to arrive. PDR is the comrades’ shorter name for the promised change, as vital to them as elusive monsoons are to small farmers across India.

I don’t feel particularly qualified to get into a debate about the difference between the CPI-M’s concept of PDR and how it offers a superior understanding of the Indian reality than NDR or national democratic revolution ideated by the rival formerly pro-Soviet CPI. My instinct is that we don’t have any time left to debate PDR and NDR.

In this season of quoting quotable quotes, why leave out Deng Xiaoping? It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches the mice, the communist sage said. Reading the literature from the two mainstream communist parties that held their separate national conferences recently, I fear the dear comrades have successfully put Deng’s aphorism on its head.

They are not just quibbling about the colour of the allegorical cat, but seem to persist with differences about the colour of the mice too.
Since the advent of the Modi regime, India’s communist parties have been reminding one of a scene from ‘The life of Brian’.

Is it the big landlord or the big bourgeoisie that deserves their urgent attention? And how do we regard the supposedly national bourgeoisie? Are they a myth like the Saraswati river? Do we have the time for the answer?

To keep the humour from fraying, let me confess that at least since the advent of the Modi regime, India’s communist parties have been reminding one of a scene from The life of Brian. While attending Jesus’s sermon on the mount, Brian developed a hatred for the Romans and joined the People’s Front of Judea, a rival of the Judean People’s Front, who spend more time fighting each other than the Romans.

Having somewhat beaten about the bush let me come to the point. There is a welcome reference to the issue of Dalits in Karat’s promised sharper focus for the future, a mandatory move if her party ponders expansion in the north. It’s time the comrades read Ambedkar and reclaimed his legacy from the Hindu right.

There is no reference to the tribespeople in Karat’s essay, which leaves her comments open to interpretation. Is it because the Maoists claim to have captured the imagination of the tribespeople in much of central India? Neither of the two social constituencies — the Dalits or the tribespeople — has been the CPI-M’s strong suit. There could be an opening though. Will CPI-M’s new general secretary Sitaram Yechury take up the issue of G.N. Saibaba’s bail application?

Saibaba, a Delhi University teacher, was picked up in May last year for his alleged links with Maoists. Saibaba denies any link with the group but assuming he subscribes to the banned group’s ideas should he be abandoned to the mercy of a police state? The Maoists in Bengal have unfairly targeted CPI-M cadres, killing many young people. But let’s play Brian. By raising the issue of Saibaba, who is 90pc disabled and wheelchair-bound, will the party gain support or lose it? Moreover, should popularity be a consideration at all?

There was a time when CPI-M’s supporters would carry out humanitarian tasks. The flood relief campaign in Delhi’s Najafgarh area comes to mind. Students lined up to donate blood to help the cancer-stricken father of a senior comrade. A humanitarian gesture for the wheelchair-bound and seriously ill prisoner could be a game-changer for left unity.

Reports say that an ongoing government assault on NGOs is meant to target people like Teesta Setalvad who has been bravely if precariously fighting a grim battle against religious fascism in Gujarat. The hatred for her work is so strong that the government has taken on the well-connected Ford Foundation. Would the CPI-M lose its sheen if it spoke up for the NGOs, including the Ford Foundation, an American funder?

As Josh Sahib suggested to Habib Tanvir, it is time we stopped quoting the great gurus and began to look inward for inspiration.

The writer Jawed Naqvi is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.



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