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India: CPI(M) has proved to be a ‘useful idiot’ for BJP | Aniket Alam / Comrade Karat and the poverty of philosophy | Antara Dev Sen

19 February 2018

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[two articles on CPI(M)’s hardline posture that sees the Congress party and the BJP as the same], 5 February 2018

CPI(M) has proved to be a ‘useful idiot’ for BJP by rejecting alliance with Congress

By foreclosing any possibility of a united electoral challenge to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the communist party only strengthens Hindutva communalism.

by Aniket Alam

One could argue that despite socio-economic conditions in India being conducive for its politics, the Left regularly manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Indeed, the manner in which the central committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) recently rejected any possibility of a united electoral front against Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party suggests we are in for a repeat show of that most successful play of the communists: “historic blunder”.

This time the battle pivots on one word: “understanding”. Should there be any room left for electoral understanding between the parties opposed to the BJP so that the anti-Modi vote does not split? Shorn of all verbiage, the majority in the CPI(M)’s leadership believes that 15 months before the next general election, the very possibility of such a united front needs to be firmly closed. For any party invested in an electoral battle, or for that matter in any political contest, this does not make sense. The only sensible tactic is to keep all options open until the end and maximise the potential from all possibilities of victory.

There is consensus within the CPI(M) on two points, as indeed within almost any group opposed to the Modi government. One, that the BJP is a clear and present danger to the Indian republic, which is less than perfect but enshrines the ideals of democracy, justice, secularism and socialism for which we strive. Two, that another term for the present dispensation would mean the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s parent organisation, would push its agenda of Hindu Rashtra – an authoritarian, anti-secular, anti-democratic nation – much further, perhaps irreversibly.

The debate is about how to prevent this. Can there be an understanding with the Congress to prevent opposition votes from splitting and handing the BJP a victory? This happened in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election in 2017 when the non-communal vote was split and enabled the saffron party to win an unprecedented number of seats. It appears that Prakash Karat, the former general secretary of the CPI(M), has convinced enough of his comrades that irrespective of whether the split in opposition votes hands the BJP victory in 2019, there can be no possibility of “any understanding” with the Congress.

This position has been dressed up in complex argumentation and claims to some form of ideological and political purity among communist parties. In reality, it is merely another version of Arun Shourie’s (in)famous line that the BJP is merely Congress plus cow; that there is basically no difference between the two parties. In the language of India’s communist parties, these are both “ruling class parties” with little to differentiate them. In other words, tweedledee and tweedledum. Looking at independent India’s political history, it is clear that this formulation has only helped the BJP gain respectability. The perception that it is merely a more Hindu version of the Congress has allowed the Hindutva party to regularly divide its opponents and, more dangerously, to ally with non-communal parties in the name of anti-Congressism.

Historic blunder

Interestingly, this “Congress and BJP are the same” formulation did not stop the Left from having an understanding with the Hindutva party to defeat the Congress in 1977 or in 1989; the latter time at the height of the BJP’s campaign to demolish the Babri Masjid. Somehow, this equating of the Congress and the BJP has mostly stopped the communists from forming a united front against Hindutva fascists, it has rarely stopped them from coming together with the latter.

In any case, at no point in India’s history has this “Congress and BJP are the same” line been reasonable. A comparison with Pakistan, where Muslim communalism – Hindutva’s twin – has been in power since 1947, would show how absurd this equation of the Congress with Hindu nationalism has been. One has led to an imperfect but democratic republic, the other has led to a society deeply divided by religious fundamentalism, oppressed by military rule, and with a weak democracy. An unbending anti-Congress position perhaps made sense for the communists when the Congress was the “natural party of government”. It is not any more, and deploying political tactics from 1977 in 2017 is not merely anachronistic and silly, but opens the door for the political consolidation of the most bigoted, authoritarian, criminal and incompetent government independent India has seen.

The record of the previous United Progressive Alliance government, led by the Congress, also belies this false equivalence between the Congress and the BJP. Coming after six years of BJP rule, it delivered massive improvement on every social, political and economic indicator. Despite regular parliamentary obstructions by the BJP, the UPA’s decade in power saw some of the most progressive pieces of legislation and policies in the history of independent India put in place. In the given global context, it was a classic social democratic government that empowered people and widened the ambit of rights, while also helping the private sector prosper. This does not mean there were no blemishes, but given all its shortcomings, the UPA was a giant step forward towards a progressive India. The last two Congress presidents, Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul Gandhi, have been consistently pushing a rights-based social democratic agenda.

The Left, in which the CPI(M) was then the largest constituent, played a crucial role in formulating and deepening the UPA’s progressive agenda. The UPA is proof that a coming together of the Congress and the Left is not just feasible, it can play a crucial role in shaping a progressive, secular and pro-people agenda to unite the broadest sections of the Indian population to challenge the BJP in the coming general election. To foreclose that possibility is to be a “useful idiot” for the Amit Shah-Narendra Modi election machine. History may not forgive this blunder.

Aniket Alam is a historian and journalist who teaches at IIIT-Hyderabad

o o o

Deccan Chronicle, Feb 17, 2018

Thinking Allowed: Comrade Karat and the poverty of philosophy

The erudite Mr Karat had announced that Mr Modi’s government is not fascist.

by Antara Dev Sen

On Sunday, the CPI(M) faces what may be its biggest battle in a long time. Tripura, the state it has been ruling for 25 years, goes to the polls. And this time the fight won’t be with a dwindling Congress, but with a shrewd, ruthless and well-organised BJP that is steadily gaining ground across the Northeast. Manik Sarkar, the incorruptible, dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool Communist leader has been an outstanding chief minister for a quarter century. But the times are odd. And after its spectacular loss in West Bengal, if the CPI(M) loses Tripura, it may as well forget about being taken seriously as a national party. It must reinvent itself as a godless party in God’s own country. Curiously, the godless grand theorists from God’s own country have surreptitiously been supporting their god-peddling opponents for years. Prakash Karat and his cosy comrades from Kerala have helped the BJP climb into power and are now busy making sure it stays there. That’s suicidal, of course, for the CPI(M) and for the democratic, secular, egalitarian nation it dreams of. But they developed that trait when they decided to be led by a theorist who couldn’t get his nose out of tenets to appreciate urgent practical needs. We saw this suicidal trait of the CPI(M) again last month, when its central committee rejected the suggestion by Mr Karat’s successor, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, that it have a tactical understanding with the Congress to form a united Opposition against the BJP for the 2019 general election. Of course, this decision to not join forces will help the BJP, by splitting anti-BJP votes and weakening a united front against the Hindutva brigade.

“BJP wins in central committee by 55 to 31 votes!” lamented disappointed liberals, who had hoped for a strong, united, democratic front that could take on the BJP in 2019. It does seem like the BJP has infiltrated the CPI(M). Because the systematic sabotage of the Opposition’s chances against the Hindutva party defies logic. Don’t these erudite Communist ideologues understand the enormous gravity of the situation? This is not the time to seek out differences between possible allies, it’s time to put differences aside and build on common, larger ideological goals, to come together to fight the greater enemy that is uprooting pluralism and democratic freedoms and trying to change the very idea of India. This refusal to have even a tactical understanding, let alone an alliance, with the Congress for the Lok Sabha polls is yet another historic blunder by Mr Karat and his friends, one that many in the party and country will regret forever. The CPI(M)’s Stalinist authoritarianism has flourished under Mr Karat’s stewardship, and has faithfully prioritised its scorn for sundry conceptual enemies above the country’s greater good. So this poll strategy is the latest feather in Mr Karat’s joker’s cap. The first was in 1996, when he wouldn’t let the party join the Central government, not even with Jyoti Basu as Prime Minister. What spectacular scorn he displayed for parliamentary governance, what stunning arrogance in believing that people would elect them to merely be critics in Parliament. And what spectacular imagination to believe they would step in to rule once they had a majority. So charming. So unworldly.

Since then dear Karat has collected quite a few feathers for his cap. One for not allowing comrade Somnath Chatterjee to become President of India. One for its muscular ejection of Mr Chatterjee from the party for doing his duty as Lok Sabha Speaker and not putting party before country. One for confounding the people by ignoring issues of hunger, price rise, healthcare and governance to focus squarely on the India-US civil nuclear agreement, clearly something that would endear the pro-poor party to its voters in villages and slums. Then another for joining hands with the BJP to pull the plug on the secular UPA government they had helped set up. The UPA government survived, though, but the CPI(M) didn’t. From that day in 2008, the CPI(M) has been in free fall. For years the older generation of CPI(M) leaders — like Harkishen Singh Surjeet, E.M.S. Namboodiripad or Jyoti Basu — had worked to get the party to that position of power. Where they had the numbers in Parliament, where they mattered, they could help form government policy. They developed a humanism that was attractive to young idealists dreaming of an equal, just, secular country. The powerful Karat chop squashed all that and took the party back to a fundamentalism that disrespects the democratic process and throttles dissent. It has had disastrous consequences. The Left did terribly in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections — where the UPA won handsomely. And in 2011, it faced the historic defeat of being routed in West Bengal after 34 years of rule. Finally, it weakened the anti-Hindutva bloc that had come together, which helped the BJP come to power.

Instead of carrying on the work started by Surjeet and comrades to find ways of halting the rise of right-wing fascism, Mr Karat and company are busy preserving party tenets as fossilised as flies in amber. With weird logic. They agree that it is crucial to defeat the BJP by bringing together all secular and democratic forces in the Opposition, yet they refuse to befriend the largest, national, pan-Indian, secular Opposition party. This is particularly silly when the CPI(M) has had many close ties with the Congress — from P.V. Narasimha Rao’s time, through the Third Front and till Manmohan Singh’s first UPA government. Brilliant scholars as they are, they must remember how Stalin joined hands with “imperialist forces” to fight Hitler. Guess they can only follow suit when the situation is perfectly replicated. The erudite Mr Karat had announced that Mr Modi’s government is not fascist. Nor is the RSS — it’s merely semi-fascist. So any coming together of the CPI(M) with secular democratic forces, including the Congress, must wait till the RSS, and then its political partner BJP are totally fascist. And perhaps reach Nazi proportions?

Antara Dev Sen is Editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: sen[at]


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