The 22nd party congress of the CPM that concluded in Hyderabad on Sunday revealed a party divided on the tactics to arrest its continuing decline. The congress endorsed a second consecutive term for the general secretary, Sitaram Yechury, and approved an expanded central committee, without any serious dissent. However, the differences among leaders regarding the political resolution, the party’s guiding document on electoral tactics, came to the fore.
While the party is united in its opposition to the BJP, it seems divided on relations with the Congress. The Kerala and Tripura units argued against any electoral alliance or understanding with the Congress while other states, especially West Bengal, preferred to leave the question open. These two views have almost got crystallised as two political lines, with former general secretary Prakash Karat articulating the anti-Congress position and Yechury endorsing a tactical understanding with the Congress to fight the BJP. The congress has weighed in favour of the “pro-Congress” line, by removing the bar on an electoral “understanding” with the Congress. However, it is early to assume that the issue has been settled. Politburo member Brinda Karat has since clarified that the amended resolution doesn’t allow any political understanding of the sort the West Bengal unit of the party had with the Congress during the last assembly election. This is in contrast to Yechury’s comment that state units will be allowed to develop electoral tactics according to the local political situation. The history of the communist movement is replete with examples of such “two-line struggles” turning into factional wars, that have often resulted in the decimation of the minority line or a spilt in the organisation. The CPM itself was born out of such a struggle in 1964, after a section of the CPI left the parent outfit over differences with its political line and programme. One factor that had sharpened the divisions within the party then was its reading of the national situation and the relations to be pursued with the Congress. With the Kerala and West Bengal units refusing to review their positions and the politburo and central committee divided on the issue, the “Congress” debate could resurface closer to the general election in 2019.
The Congress debate is also revealing about the rut the CPM is stuck in. The argument within the party is taking place against the background of the country experiencing a major political, social and economic churn. The decline of the Congress has opened up the political space nationally. Farm distress, the exhaustion of Mandal politics, fraught communal relations compel a new kind of politics. However, the communists seem to be in no shape to respond imaginatively to this opportunity. If Hyderabad is any indication, they are still trapped in cliched ideological positions and they would prefer a marginal existence in the national imagination to risking a radical reinvention.