Which Way Will CPI (M) Choose to Go, 1977 or 1989?

The year, 2019, like 1989 will be a watershed moment for the Indian Left, particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Already there arewidespread discussions on the political tactical line that will be adopted by the upcoming 22nd Congress of the Party. Unlike earlier, discussions in the social media have also added new angle to these in-party discussions, focusing on several unconventional aspects of the tactical line. Often, historical parallels provide a better understanding of situations, allowing us to grasp their implications and fallouts, better. This is the time for the CPI (M) to look for historical parallels while it works towards finalising the political and tactical line,at Hyderabad.


‘To be or Not to Be’, is the key question that hangs over the heads of CPI (M) Polit Bureau like a Damocles’ sword when it comes to the question of having any kind of understanding with Congress in order to oust the present dispensation under the leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supported by its multi headed behemoth, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). Those who have piloted the ‘Not to Be’ stand have argued that the Congress is no less a class enemy than the BJP whereas the rest have made an attempt to distinguish the dangers posed by the Congress vis a vis and BJP.

It is a matter of historical fact that, it was under Congress rule that the Left in India gained some traction among the public and youth as an alternative political option and even galvanized considerable sections of the Indian people which, among other things, helped them to form governments in Tripura, West Bengal and Kerala and also win more than a handful of seats in various state assemblies. For example in Rajasthan, it was under the alliance with the Congress, that the CPI (M) managed to obtain its highest ever assembly presence in 2008. The same is applicable in case of undivided Andhra Pradesh as well.

Significantly, it is also important not to forget that it was the struggles epitomized by the wider Left in India, that shaped real agenda when it came to key questions, be it the slogan for complete independence during the freedom movement, bringing the agenda of land reforms to mainstream policy framework in early 1950s, rallying forces against Indira Gandhi’s authoritarianism in late 1970s, or fighting for national unity and integrity in late 1980s. Even for that matter, championing the cause of the downtrodden burdened by neoliberal economic policies.  The question now before India is, whether the CPI (M), a vocal contingent of the wider Left in India will play the same role in awakening the nation against impending danger to its secular democratic fabric posed by the BJP-RSS.

The Draft Political Resolution released for discussion for the upcoming Congress, has stated that the four years of Modi government, has built the architecture of authoritarianism by curbing parliamentary democracy, subverting constitutional institutions and democratic rights. It has also recorded the attempts by the RSS and its affiliates attempts to advance their communal agenda, which is a step prior to complete authoritarianism.

The architecture of authoritarianism that the BJP under Modi ‘s stewardship exemplifies, is in clear contrast to the authoritarian tendencies adopted by the then Indira Gandhi which culminated in clamping of the Emergency. Unlike now under the hegemonic and majoritarian RSS,  the authoritarian tendencies then took shape under a small coterie of Indira Gandhi’s inner circle. It did not have awide-rangingorganisational architecture with a clear-cut chain of command. It functioned, malevolently, in fits and starts. The architecture of authoritarianism under the present dispensation, with its troll armies that use all means –foul and malignant—to shape public perception and also implement vigorously the mandates that comes either from 7 Race Course Road or from Nagpurare equipped with a far better structured (or semi-structured) organizational mechanism than the one before.

To substantiate my argument: according to documented sources, more than three crore people visits fake news pages created and run through the social media outfits of the RSS – BJP and they are also running Facebook pages with a reach of hundreds of thousands. The statement by the RSS chief on the preparedness of its cadres (to take an army like position) must be seen and understood in this light. Hence, this authoritarianism, even if we agree with the CPI (M) document, which states, is ‘under construction’has the dangerous ‘flesh and blood’ potential to fuel direct action through its multi layered cadres of visceral Kar Sevaks. A manifestation of this we witness now in the tiny state of Tripura where the demolition squads were out on the streets the day after counting of votes came to a close.

Another important difference between two shades of authoritarianism is the vengeance wedded to an ideology instead of simply personal loyalty. The authoritarianism, which gives birth to vengeance wedded to an ideology akin to that of RSS, is far more dangerous than the one wedded to personal loyalty. The authoritarianism of the 1975-76 variety imposed a temporary emergency and is nothing when compared to its 21st century variant under the present Modi regime that has created the situation of a permanent, undeclared emergency.

The authoritarianism of the earlier phase was rightly termed as a danger to constitutional democracy. Such an understanding paved the way for the widest possible rainbow alliance within which the Left played a crucial role against Indira’s declared emergency. Will the upcoming 22nd Congress of CPI (M) have a similar appreciation of the ground-situation remains to be seen?Whatever, the outcome, discussions must reflection a historicity and not become self-defeating as they tended to be, before the release of Draft Political Resolution. A look at the historical parallels could provide an insight to overcome the confusion over the strategic goals set forth.

TheNinth Party Congress has already pointed out, “ The Party of ruling classes itself was rapidly and systematically moving towards authoritarianism and a one person rule”. Against this threat to democracy, the Ninth Party Congress, in 1972, called for a united resistance,through the unity of Left and Democratic forces. The Party also critically examined its own approach towards the growing resistance to the authoritarian rule. In its 10th Congress resolution, the Party recognized its failure to realise the possibilities of the growing resistance to the authoritarian rule of the Congress from the other parties from within the ruling classes themselves. Until then we had this simplistic understanding, which held that in the wake of any developing economic crisis, a resistance to authoritarianism would come only through and from a unity of Left and democratic forces.
During the elections of 1977, that were announced after the lifting of the emergency, the CPI(M) did not hesitate to join hands with the Janata Party to put an end to the authoritarian rule of the Congress, headed by Indira Gandhi. The move was aimed towards a dismantling of the authoritarian framework and a restoration of democracy. There was no illusion on the part of the then leadership that the Janata Party represented any class interest that was different from that of the bourgeoisie and landlords as represented by the Congress, today.In it’s Review Report, the party document, stated: “The PB and the CC instead of noting the changing moods of these bourgeois opposition parties continued to emphasise the fundamental class character of these parties and their right reactionary and counter-revolutionary nature as was described in our Party Programme and further explained during the 1969-72 period when these parties were holding the banner of the so-called “grand alliance”.
However, despite this historical understanding and the stand that the party then took, when it comes to a response to the current situation, a section of the party has piloted a majority resolution arguing that, since, it is the Congress that has initiated economic reforms, there is no question of allying with it for defeatingthe BJP and its unique brand of authoritarianism. It would not be inappropriate to draw the attention of so called purists to the opening of remarks of B.T. Ranadive, who, whilepiloting the draft political resolution at its 13th Congress, Trivandrum, said that left parties would have to support the secular bourgeois opposition parties despite their shortcomings and vacillations so that a combination of secular and left parties was able to defeat the Congress (I).

Until the 13th Congress, the CPI (M) has had theluxury to delineate BJP as only a ‘secondary threat; to Indian democracy and hence all its might was focused against Congress (I). Until 1988, the Party vehemently opposed the Congress (I) and even sailed with all vacillating secular bourgeois opposition parties despite their shortcomings, so that their main enemy could be unseated from power. Today, the draft resolution released on the eve of the party’s 22nd Congress, such a pragmaticapproach is lacking.

The political tactical line released for discussion is filled with more confusion than clarity. When the DPR says that no alliances will be entertained with Congress but at some times also suggests that it will workout a strategy to ensure that the anti BJP vote pool will be maximized, there is one level of confusion. At another place in the DPR, there is a reference to flexible electoral tactics. This playing around with vocabulary is not going to help the Party in devising a clear-cut strategy to fight its enemy.

Dithering in its fight to oust BJP will also go against the spirit of the Party programme, which clearly states, “The threat to the secular foundations has become menacing with the rise of the communal and fascistic RSS-led combine and its assuming power at the Centre.
Systematic efforts are on to communalise the institutions of the State, the administration, the educational system and the media. The growth of majority communalism will strengthen the forces of minority communalism and endanger national unity. The support of sections of the big bourgeoisie for the BJP and its communal platform is fraught with serious consequences for democracy and secularism in the country.” While the DPR pledges to wage an compromising fight against all forms of intrusion of religion in the economic, political and administrative life of the nation and uphold secular and democratic values in culture, education and society, the strategy if not clear-cut but confused. The danger of fascist trends gaining ground, based on religious communalism must be firmly fought at all levels.

There is more. If it wants to rally all the Left Secular and Democratic forces behind it, CPI (M) will need to survive the ongoing onslaught on its foundations as well as the foundations of Indian constitutional democracy. This is the time to rekindle the examples and experiences of its struggle against the authoritarian framework of Indira Gandhi and learn lessons from that struggle. If it wants to learn lessons from its earlier struggles against authoritarianism, it should opt for a tactical line similar to that of 1977. With clarity and without confusion
(The author is an advocate with the high court of Andhra Pradesh and a close sympathizer of the CPI-M)



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