Updated: April 30, 2015 12:00:07 am
“Liberate your thoughts, seek truth from facts.” Deng Xiaoping said these prophetic words in 1978. This was when Deng was to consolidate his grip over post-Mao China and liberate China from poverty. Mao was still the most eulogised leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC). But Deng had realised that China could not be a prisoner of the past. He believed that “Mao made China stand on its own feet as an independent country”, but to move forward the “productive forces” had to be “unleashed”.
Deng was an original revolutionary.
He fought alongside Mao and suffered at his hands. But his conviction was based on both theory and facts. I cannot say the same about the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Sitaram Yechury has been elected the new CPM general secretary and it is expected that he will do a Deng with the party. The CPM is going through its worst crisis, which is existential. It has been wiped out in West Bengal, with no sign of a revival. The recent civic body elections are a grim reminder. The Left Front could barely win 15 wards out of a total of 144 in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, and only six civic bodies in the state. The Left’s only solace is that the BJP drew a blank. In Kerala too, the party does not inspire much confidence. But the biggest worry is the erosion of the Left-dominated national discourse. The process began long ago with economic reforms. Narendra Modi’s entry caused a paradigm shift. To make the Left attractive again is Yechury’s most important task.
Yechury was always perceived as a leader with a more open mind, unlike Prakash Karat, who is a great intellectual but does not look beyond the Communist Manifesto and Dialectical Materialism. The CPM has a natural affinity with the CPC but under Karat’s leadership, it did not learn any lesson from either Deng or Jiang Zemin. Few people are aware of Zemin’s contribution to the Chinese revival. According to his biographer, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, “Zemin was not an ideologue. He was an engineer.” Zemin believed that “the party was an essential force for unifying and leading the people; without it… the country would disintegrate into chaos, but he also recognised that some of its ideology was no longer applicable.” Kuhn writes that Zemin sought to combine communist goals, free-market methods and traditional Chinese values in a way that worked in the contemporary world. If he talked about “material civilisation”, he also talked about “spiritual civilisation”. In his theory of the Three Represents, the second Represent stressed on “advanced culture”, which “signals the pride-filled return of the glories of thousands of years of Chinese civilisation. Zemin sought to restore the values and virtues of Chinese civilisation, integrating them with Marxism.” This was the same communist party that had called Confucius a feudal. During Mao’s time, the party was for the working class only. Others were branded bourgeois and the doors were shut on them. Zemin realised that if China had to grow, it had to welcome “the most dynamic strata of the society — managers, entrepreneurs and private business owners”.
When one looks at the CPM and Yechury today, one does not feel confident that they have Zemin’s depth, let alone Deng’s. Because, for the CPM, talking about Indian culture and values is still retrograde, talking about the Vedas and Upanishads is still reflective of a communal mindset.
For the CPM, the mention of religion is traditionalism and revivalism. The party still believes that secularism has nothing to do with religion. This mindset has to change. Religion and Indian culture cannot be left only to the RSS and BJP. The RSS and BJP have a unidimensional understanding
of Indian civilisation. Secularism, in the Indian context, has to be redefined. It can’t be the discarding of religion. It has to understand religion. It has to imbibe the good things from India’s past. The CPM has to take a lead in this endeavour if it has to reinvent itself, if the Left has to further dominate the national discourse and mindspace. This is its toughest challenge.
Also, the CPM has to learn from Modi.
He reinvented himself and made himself attractive. He did not commit the mistake of defining himself by the 2002 riots and the obscurantist Hindutva ideology. He projected himself as a man of development. Yechury also has to reinvent himself, as I am reminded of a man who came to JNU in 1989 and proclaimed that “Not a drop of blood was shed at Tiananmen Square”.
That was the beginning of the decline of the CPM in India and of the SFI at JNU. I still carry the impression of the same Yechury, who had just returned from Czechoslovakia and submitted a report that things were all right there. Within a month, Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu was executed by its citizens. Thereafter, it was interpreted by leftist intellectuals and CPM cardholders that the disintegration of the communist bloc was due to the evil designs of American imperialism.
That logic will not work in the 21st century. Today’s India is more aspirational and self-confident. Yechury has to come up with a plan that generates confidence that the CPM no longer delves in the past and no longer believes in centralisation. And that everything about the market is not bad. The lumpenisation of the unions has to stop and the individual as a unit has to be given importance. Private initiative has to be respected. Religion has to be understood in a new light and nationalism has to be seen as a new vehicle for the collective self-expression for an awakened India. Today, people do not worry much about ideology. What concerns them is delivery. A new normal has been discovered by the people. In the words of Leng Rong, “Jiang Zemin made the party Normal.” What Kuhn says is apt for Yechury. China today is a normal country — virtually no one wants to return to the Maoist past. The people will not tolerate it. Yechury, too, has to make the CPM “normal”. For that, he has to “liberate” his thoughts — and those of his party, too.
The writer, a former journalist, is a spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party.
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