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An idea: A Left-Cong merger

There is now a chance to think calmly about the election. Let us forget the experts who say that nothing very much changed.

Written by Meghnad Desai |
May 31, 2009 1:01:03 am

There is now a chance to think calmly about the election. Let us forget the experts who say that nothing very much changed. The 2009 election results are a milestone and will shape the politics of India for the next generation.

The Congress is not only back in harness but it has a clear idea of what it would take to entrench itself more firmly. The most important person at the Cabinet appointments was the man who wasn’t being sworn in. Rahul Gandhi has realised that the Congress does not exist below the top. So he will go around the country,state by state,and build up the moribund structures. The party could once again be a genuinely national party by 2014.

The next step the Congress will take is to persuade the many fragments of itself to get back into the mother party. What is the point of the NCP? Sharad Pawar broke away on the grounds of Sonia Gandhi’s foreignness but actually because he fancied his chances of becoming Prime Minister. This illusion was alive till May 15,but alas,no more. The NCP has done well to get three slots but it may as well give up and join the Congress.

Next will be the Trinamool Congress. Perhaps not immediately,but after the West Bengal Assembly elections—if they win. The Congress always had a wayward Bengal branch ever since the Mahatma got Subhash Bose sacked form his presidency of the Congress. Though B.C.Roy did manage to make it behave for a while,for nearly forty years,the party has had no serious control over West Bengal. Now it can get back via Mamata.

There is an even bigger prize awaiting the Congress—the Left. Their defeat has shocked both the CPI and the CPI(M) to the core. They will no doubt introspect. But the question that has to be asked is,what is so special about the Left that keeps it separate? Why does India,alone among democracies,have not one but two communist parties? In Western Europe,Communist parties began to mutate from the mid-1970s onward. There was Euro Communism which took the Spanish party out. The Italian Party,the largest and the most successful in parliamentary terms,has now dissolved itself and the Italian Left parties now have an Olive Tree coalition. The French have small Trotskyist fractions and the Communist Party has shrunk. British Communists and even Trotskyists joined New Labour and are now in office. Why does the Indian Left not learn from them?

If the Communists were to seriously introspect,they would realise that away from the Congress,they have no future. They have been parasitical on the Congress since the mid-1950s . When after Independence,they swore that Azadi Juthi Hai,they got only 16 seats in 1952. They recanted and snuggled up to Nehru under the banner of Indo-Soviet friendship and their fortunes improved—up to 27 seats in 1957. Indira Gandhi ensnared them into supporting her after 1969. They forgot her record in dismissing the Kerala Government in 1959 and lapped up all the patronage which came their way. Indira gave them a free range of the academic honeypots,set up JNU for them and the Left loved it. In 1971,they had 47 seats and suffered with Indira in 1977 down to 29 and rose again to 47 in 1980.

After 1980,the next big win for the Left with 49 seats was in 1991 when the Congress returned. Then as it lost its way,the Left dwindled till in 2004 when it got its highest score—53. It broke with Manmohan Singh and now it is down to a level not seen since 1952.

The lesson for the Left is clear. There is no future for Leninist parties anywhere in the democratic world. They have to transform into social democratic—moderate Left parties if they want to survive. For the CPI(M),the writing is there on the wall. Make peace with the Congress,change your spots and merge. India may still have a broadly left-of-centre party if that is done. The Congress is where the Left needs to end up.

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