EVERYONE WHO’S someone in politics wants his party to grow. There are two ways to achieve this: one, try it out through a media-led engagement with the public; two, take up people’s causes and through positive action, get people to swell the party’s ranks. The first is by far easy. All you need do is cultivate influence with the media to push your cause. The second path is arduous and painstaking.
Arvind Kejriwal took the second route even before he entered politics. He served the poor through community work in Delhi’s slums, won a Magsaysay, and gained credibility. No one questions his commitment to the cause. Media helped him, though he never asked for it. By contrast, those who led the Indian left in recent decades opted for the easy route. Problem with this route is, its results might not last for long. Decades of deceitful behavior brought the Communists to a level where the left has, by now, turned out to be a near-total washout. The hypocrites who presided over the two Communist parties failed to earn people’s goodwill. So much so, the only hope to the left for survival today is outlying Kerala, the tiny state where it and the Congress alternate in power for the past many years. In the minimum, the leaders there have mass base and some credibility.
Worldwide, Communist parties were known to be the ultimate refuge to the poor, the disadvantaged, the marginalised sections of the society. Or so it is understood, though it is increasingly being proven that the political philosophy of the left and its governing styles are not the way forward for social progress. As a political philosophy, it proved to be a disaster world-wide, and none other than Fidel Castro stated as much in the evening of his life. Where the Communists held power, societies failed to be upwardly mobile. Examples are not only Cuba and North Korea, but also the erstwhile Soviet Union, where too a stage came when hunger was the dominant worry for the masses by the 1980s. This resulted in the breakup of the nation, and Russia ultimately stopped yapping about Communism. Vietnam started progressing after it bid goodbye to Communism and joined hands with the Americans it once detested and fought. Notably, Communist leaders excelled in one thing everywhere in the world: being bluff-masters. As the adage goes, ‘You can fool some for some time; you can’t fool all the people for all the time’.
Communist ideology has inherent problems. For, growth has a different dynamics, something that’s alien to Communism. Communists refuse to think out of the box, which is the prime requirement for societies to advance. At best, they can quote a few sentences from Das Kapital; or keep yapping against “imperialism”, “fascism”, and so on and so forth. Reason why they are a laughing stock in today’s societies. They have no interest in social development or human progress. They are characters of a kind. So with India too, as was evident in West Bengal as also Tripura. But, even the Communists could not undercut social progress in Kerala because of its inherent strengths; namely, the great roles played by Christian missionaries in the spread of education and health care; and the help from local Muslims to draw in large masses of people to the oil-rich Gulf region for jobs and business. Credit Kerala’s Christians also with the introduction of rubber, what was until recently a money-spinner that helped even small landholders earn enough to keep the family hearth burning.
What Communists did in Kerala was to retard the process of growth. Had it not been for the Gulf, or for Mumbai or Chennai in the distant past, educated Keralites would have had little opportunity back home to get a job other than as school teacher or as government staff. There are very few industries in Kerala even today, thanks to the Communists’ obstructionist tactics and penchant for labour militancy. Funnily, a Pinarayi Vijayan sitting in the chief minister’s chair now understands as much. Calcutta – now Kolkata – had been treated to similar offensives by the Communists under Jyoti Basu, resulting in the fleeing of industrial units and gradual erosion of the city’s job opportunities. The unalloyed fact is that the Communist (or more specifically the Marxist) leaders have no understanding of the present; and they have no vision for the future. They are morons of a kind.
Communism in India is an enterprise led by self-styled “intellectuals” with an elitist mindset. They sit in air-conditioned rooms, lead the life of elitists, and hijack the causes of the common man; the causes of serving the nation’s poor and the deprived ones. Their slogans are specially fashioned to catch the attention of the middle class, the urban, English-savvy crowds; so with Sitaram Yechury’s nasal intonations and JNU-English flowing from the party podiums.
The sweat of the poor is alien to Indian Communists’ way of thinking. They are, rather, in the forefront to grant more benefits to the government servants – mostly comprising men as also women who take not only high salaries but also make money through questionable means, to end up being pensioners for life. Pinarayi Vijayan wants to introduce menstrual leave for women white collar workforce, as proposed by Brinda Karat. He might not propose the same for the labourers sweating it out in agriculture fields. He, by now, is part of the elitists’ club. The Adivasis or tribals, or the Dalits who struggle in their lives are not in the Communists’ mental orbit. Even ageing former CM, VS Achuthanandan. did no more than lip-service to the cause of the poor.
In Tripura, the obsession of the CPI(M), true to its class character, was to ensure the well-being of the migrant Bengali and Assamese communities, mostly those who man the government and live in comfort; but with just marginal interest shown to the native tribals and their causes. BJP caught on this, worked its way through tribal hamlets, and tightened the screw on the CPI(M). Will it suffice to say a Manik Sarkar has no house of his own, or walked/cycled his way to office, or has just a few penny as bank balance? What did he do to improve the lot of the poor, the tribals, when he had a lifetime’s opportunity? Instead, as a hard-core Bengali, he pandered to the educated, well-heeled Bengalis’ interests. No industry, no jobs, and no welfare measure other than a literacy drive! Communists get great kick in organising literacy drives, for there is a spark of elitism involved in it.
Across India, fact is that the Communists neither tried to understand the plight of the ordinary masses nor tried to come up with a helping hand. English media has been a fertile ground for their verbal and ideological acrobatics, big talks, and foolish assumptions and arguments. Fact is also that the poor had never been in the Indian Communists’ scheme of things after the first jab of land reforms in Kerala, followed by West Bengal. Inertia crept in; power loosened their ideological grip; and the goodies that democracy offered became their main obsession. Decadence set in. The cause of the poor suffered at the hands of these charlatans.
Communists in India are the main upholders of elitist obsessions like democracy, freedom of thought, fundamental rights of citizens, and right to protest in the streets. Do governments allow all these in Russia and China? Why not extend their campaign to these countries too?
Fighting the government at the Centre, be it the Congress in the past or the BJP at present, has been the Communists’ favourite obsession. Result, hardly any major project came to Kerala, West Bengal or Tripura for the past many years or decades. They are coming up by the dozens every month in other states. The members these three states sent to Parliament perpetually sat on Opposition benches, disrupted parliament, and failed to promote the interests of the state through liaising with various ministries. Sitaram Yechury was in the forefront of the obstructions to parliamentary proceedings in Rajya Sabha until his term ended recently. His target: Narendra Modi, a lowly tea-seller’s son who fashioned himself as PM. The three states’ interests suffered because of the leftists. Mamata Banerjee does the same, fighting the Centre, and with the same result. Bengal’s progress suffered again. Not many have understood the harm these cynics have done on these states. Contrast this with the development in states like, for instance, Tamil Nadu. Every Union Government has had the involvement of either the DMK or the AIADMK, and their ministers worked for the state’s growth. The people were benefited.
The obsession of Communist leaders like EMS Namboodiripad was to teach a lesson or two to the outside world, and not to learn from the happenings around the globe. Communists always played a negative role in Kerala’s growth, though some positive contributions from some individual leaders in various governments – like the introduction of a civil supplies system that guaranteed sale of essential items at reasonable prices through government stores by CPI’s late E Chandrasekharan Nair — cannot be lost sight of. After that, this highly corrupt party kept Nair in a corner! The foreign countries the Communist leaders visited in the past were Romania, Cuba, Soviet Union and the like – nations that have nosedived in the matter of social and economic progress. If ever they took a lesson or two from abroad, they did from those nations of the past. China saved itself by bidding goodbye to ideology, adapting itself to some capitalist ideals, and adopting market economy as the prop for progress; and with impressive results. What of Cuba and North Korea?
Sitaram Yechury, a product of student activism in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), or his predecessor Prakash Karat, spent almost their entire post-education life in the party office in New Delhi. Both are self-styled theoreticians but have had little of time or opportunities to understand the ground realities or the plight of the poor. They are the anti-thesis of an Arvind Kejriwal. Yechury’s present obsession has been to “set things right” in the Kerala unit of the party, which by far is the only party unit that retains some zest and public appeal. A week before the Tripura election disaster for the party, he made a statement at the Kerala CPI(M) state conference: “Mind you, the CPI(M) is not Communist Party of Kerala (Marxist), it is a national party, it decides on matters at the national level.” The warning: If you do not want an alliance with the Congress, don’t say there should be no alliance at the national level.
For sure, Kerala’s peculiar situations would give the CPI(M) a longer lease of life. BJP can win anywhere, but not in Kerala, because about half the population comprises Christians (18 per cent) and Muslims (28 per cent). They are solid anti-BJP vote banks. Hindus, split between the Ezhavas, Dalits and Nairs in that numerical order of population strengths, are a deeply divided house. Getting them together in BJP is next to impossible. The two Communist parties are populated almost exclusively with Hindus. Brahmins are fewer in number in Kerala. Big question is, where will the BJP get its votes from, in a communally divided state? In this scenario where minorities hold the trump card, no BJP strategy works; not even the installation of an Alphonse Kannamthanam as Union minister. He can be of help in liaising with the Church leaders outside the state, though. Christians in Kerala are in no mood to suffer the BJP; just as Muslims are not. The dynamics of religion in the North-East is different and hence the BJP won the votes there.
The Congress in Kerala is steadily losing whatever support it had; and the BJP is the gainer in a small way. So far, the Congress rode piggyback on the strength of two communal outfits: the ‘Kerala Congress’ parties that drew their support from various sects of Christians; and the Muslim League that had equally strong support from Muslims. The strength of the UDF is essentially the strength of the KC groups and the Muslim League. The strongest KC group, led by KM Mani that had recently quit the UDF, is toying with the idea of an alliance with the Left, after it lost its initial enthusiasm last year to be in the BJP camp. Mani found out that if the party allied with the BJP, it would lose its mass base. So, why take a risk, he asked his partymen.
Communism might survive in Kerala for a while more. But, worse, there are death knells being sounded on the two parties –CPI(M) and CPI — on the trade union front everywhere, and mostly outside of Kerala. When it comes to trade unionism, Communist trade unionists raised their heads in placid waters and took the safe route with no serious commitment to the blue collar workers’ causes; here now are choppy waters on all sides.
BJP, through its BMS, is aggressively cutting the left trade unions to size in city after city. So far, the leftist unions ruled the roost, be they in the railways, the ports, the postal sphere, or in industries. INTUC was losing its strength over the years and didn’t mind yielding ground to the reds. Now, the BMS is increasingly gaining strength and left unions are being hijacked overnight to the saffron side, lock stock and barrel. So, the new left strategy: look out for new pastures, make a ‘bakra’ out of farmers (as they did from Nasik, Maharashtra, the only constituency that elected a CPI(M) member in the last assembly polls.) A specially deputed Keralite, and no Maharashtrian, was at hand to organise the farmers and lead them in a rally to Mumbai!
Little wonder, then, that the two Communist parties are at their wits’ end; and the struggle for survival requires of them to stand united. Divided they stand, united they fall. Neither a rootless wonder like Sudhakar Reddy nor Sitaram Yechury desires a disaster for the left.
.. The writer is a media consultant, former Editor, and an activist of India Against Corruption- Author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org