The Left stands diminished in legislatures and the popular perception is that it is because it has wilfully misread the signs of the times. Its economic anxieties seem dated in a rapidly liberalising and globalising world. Clinging to the idea that caste is class by another name has denied it access to the Dalit resurgence across the heartland, which it should have owned. But it has been quick to absorb one of the less savoury fashions of contemporary politics. In a move that has left partymen red-faced, a rash of expensive jacket advertisements appeared in Delhi newspapers (including this one), marking the day Pinarayi Vijayan took office as chief minister of Kerala. Further embarrassing the party, the ad included two grammatical errors.
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury has sought refuge in a logical technicality, protesting that Vijayan’s government could not be held accountable before he took office. However, partners in the Left Democratic Front (LDF), which has formed the government, agree that the advertising expense was un-communist. Anyway, since the left ostensibly abhors cults, any advertising should have promoted the LDF rather than the chief minister, profitably leaving such tasteless stratagems to the BJP and the Congress.
Of course, the left does have cult leaders. But it also has a politburo which exists principally to put them down, sometimes at the expense of its own interests. V.S. Achuthanandan, the nonagenarian force behind the CPM victory in Kerala, is one such leader. Jyoti Basu, and Harkishan Singh Surjeet, who tried to make Basu prime minister, were others. Commendably, Yechury appears to have reached out to Somnath Chatterjee, who was shamefully expelled from the party while serving as speaker of the Lok Sabha. Since the party does not know how to treat its leaders who develop a persona that may seem larger than the party, it should desist from amateurish attempts at cult culture.