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Caught in a time warp

The CPM does not seem to have the will to leave the safety of its comfort zones and confront the people of India

Written by Paul Zacharia | Published: April 13, 2012 3:56 am

The CPM does not seem to have the will to leave the safety of its comfort zones and confront the people of India

The CPM’s 20th party congress in Kozhikode could be compared to a money-splurging mega-ritual a feudal lord in doldrums would conduct because family pride demanded it. Of course,in this case,money was the least of the problems,because the CPM’s muscle power for money collection is beyond belief. The congress had two sides to it. One,a show of strength for the benefit of whomsoever it may concern,especially the United Democratic Front in Kerala. And two,a show to recharge the cadres — and leaders — with the feel-good euphoria of a super-event. Like somebody waking up from a coma,the party was checking that it was still in one piece and capable of shouting slogans,collecting money and making speeches — the vital signs of life.

Of course,the 20th congress also had much business to conduct under the glare of the publicity the event produced,so that it would be seen to have been conducted by cadres,the public and other parties. The hardcore business was that of re-determination of inner party power equations and finding an answer to that enthralling question,who are the Big Bosses? Arguably,the CPM is one of the two national parties not controlled by a dynasty or a single owner-cum-investor,but a collective. That the collective often turns into a coterie has to do with the nature of power. The other party with the same credentials,let us admit,is good old BJP,because it inherited the habit from its progenitor,the RSS,which is utterly given to collective covertness.

For the Kerala wing of the CPM,the congress was an important milestone in the bitter power-struggle between the “official” faction led by Pinarayi Vijayan,and the motley,no-holds-barred crowd of ancient believers led by V.S. Achuthanandan. For the Pinarayi faction,the biggest gain from the congress is that Achuthanandan has been,for the time being,checkmated. The Politburo (PB) girded up its loins and denied him the coveted PB seat,giving it instead to M.A. Baby,a Pinarayi man.

What makes Achuthanandan,despite the utter disregard he flaunts for party discipline,a tempting commodity in the eyes of the PB? They think he’s a good vote-catcher,being a cunning demagogue. Could be so. But Achuthanandan,at 89,with his band of fanatic and reactionary followers can still give a hard blow to the Kerala CPM’s very soft underbelly. Very soft indeed.

The CPM today stands between a rock and a hard place. The 16 seats it has in the Lok Sabha represent just four states — West Bengal,Kerala,Tripura and Tamil Nadu — from India’s 28 states. The TN tally is just one. The CPM is 48 years old (undivided communism is nearly a hundred) as against the BJP,which is almost a baby at 32 but has managed to leave its pug marks all over — for all the wrong reasons.

What happened to the revolutionary fervour of the CPM? It would seem that on the one side,the apparatchiks of the party coming from its traditional strongholds,West Bengal and Kerala,and in its central bodies,are more than content with the lifestyles they have earned and are not bothered whether the Hindi heartland and other deprived areas of the nation need communism or not. It is much too hard a work to start communism from scratch in those god-forsaken places. Leave it to the Maoists.

On the other,if one were to go by the Kerala example,the party lives for itself,pampering the greed of the white-collared babus and pampered by them,arrogant to the core,cut off from the people and more ruthless than the mafia.

Prakash Karat spoke at the congress about the need to redefine the party-state relationship and how the lack of demarcation between the party and the state had a deleterious impact on socialist societies. He also stated the need for communism to learn from history and to build a socialism that would suit the contemporary world. These are fine thoughts,but it seems that at the end of the day,the CPM is simply unable to face up to the reality of India. Even the fledgling BJP in 1984 gambled on the Indian reality with a candidate positioned in every parliamentary constituency. And thereby hangs a devastating tale.

The CPM does not seem to have the will,the ideological daring,to leave the safety of its comfort zones and confront the people of India across the 28 states and seven union territories. In ordinary parlance this behaviour is called sitting pretty. Thus the poor voter,say,in a Haryana village,going to the polling booth dreaming of voting for the revolution,draws a blank. Because communism is elsewhere,busy setting the nation right and conducting public executions.

Reports presented at the congress accept that the party’s presence is limited to five states (including Andhra Pradesh) and in two of them,West Bengal and Kerala,it lost power. Even in these five states,membership growth is nil or meagre,and trade union memberships also are on the decline. But strangely,no attempt was made to analyse this immense failure,which seems central to the profile of a party that claims the national label. Instead,the reports talked about putting in more work in the old strongholds.

The conundrum of how a party that set out to create a pan-Indian revolution lost its will and decided to sit back and enjoy the fruits of bourgeoisie power in just three states is something that calls for historical scrutiny. Was it that it couldn’t compete with the Congress behemoth in the mid-years of the 20th century? Or was it that gurus like E.M. Sankaran Namboodiripad had led it up the garden-path of dry,lifeless Stalinist theory,and by then it was too late to redeem anything? Or were there other considerations and compromises? Whatever it was,communism backed out from the very societies of India which were ripe — and still are — for a revolution of the kind they preached. It was no Himalayan Blunder. It was a Himalayan Deception.

If there was ever a time in Indian history when the Left was most needed,it is now. The secular,democratic,pro-poor space it has messed up could turn into the haunt of monstrous forces. But does that matter when life is so good any way?

Paul Zacharia is a Malayalam writer

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