Friday, 11 April, 2008

CPM as kingmaker

Balbir K Punj writes for Deccan Chronicle


The Communist Party of India (Marxist) blew its trumpet hard at its recent party congress in Coimbatore concluding it with party boss Prakash Karat setting out to form his “third alternative.” In his own words, the third alternative “can offer people a policy platform distinct from the two mainstream political forces led by the Congress and the BJP.”
Karat’s third alternative partners are expected to be the United National Progressive Alliance, yet another stillborn coalition along with regional, personal and name board organisations. The TD, SP, NLD, NC and the AGP are the constituents of the UNPA after the AIADMK distanced itself from this hotch potch soon after its birth. Add them up and they still are far from even the prospect of a working majority in Parliament. And even if they manage to get it by some fluke, the emerging pattern would make it impossible to find a mutually acceptable Prime Minister. Even if some new Deve Gowda is found, the resulting government would be a cacophony with no one party in the commanding position. Perhaps this is what Karat wants so that he could again play the kingmaker and hold the resultant Cabinet under his thumb.
The Coimbatore resolution of the CPI(M) hints at the game the comrades want to play. At one point it says that the “Left will not take a lead role, but will provide the larger political and policy framework for the proposed alliance.” In other words, the Left will win the head and the others can take the tail of this multi-legged creature. That is, Karat will dictate the framework and the others could just slip into it. This is the classic “salami tactic”: the Left, which is a minority in the United Front, has all the trump cards.
But it gives the impression to the front partners that they are in charge till finally, the comrades close in on the partners. By the time the partners realise this, it is too late to stop the comrades. The CPI(M) thinks it can mislead others on policy matters. According to the Coimbatore resolution, the third alternative is supposed to be against neo-liberal policies. But will the other partners of the third alternative agree to be led by the Marxists on economic policy matters? Is the TD really against neo-liberal policies, considering its support base of the entrepreneurial class in Andhra Pradesh?
To expect Chandrababu Naidu to return to the old licence-permit era is to ask for the impossible. He had pioneered private enterprise in his state when he was the chief minister. As for the SP, the Mulayam Singh government in Uttar Pradesh had allowed the private sector to swamp the sugar mill areas and even proposed an airport in the village of the then chief minister.
For that matter, the Left itself has internal differences over economic policy issues. In fact, at the conclave the CPI(M) had to issue guidelines to its governments in three states (West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura). While West Bengal’s chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has embraced the Tatas in his state, his party colleague V.S. Achutanandan is railing against the Tatas and even threatening to confiscate their tea plantation in Munnar district of Kerala.
As for special economic zones, while West Bengal has already given permission to many, Kerala, though opposed to them, has allowed a “smart city” project incorporating a SEZ. The party’s resolution takes an ambivalent stand: “It will not be possible for the Left-led states to prohibit SEZs till the time basic changes can be accomplished at an all-India level.” And adds: “It is unrealistic to expect the Left-led government to initiate any basic changes.” In other words, the party is saying that let the Left governments get the capitalists in while we oppose capitalism on an all-India basis.
The Marxists seem to be very adept at such double speak. After criticising the neo-liberal policies of the “two mainstream parties,” the CPI(M) resolution goes on to say that it cannot any longer see governance as a “tool for people’s struggles and mass mobilisation.” “People in the Left bastions cannot be told to wait indefinitely for their problems to be addressed till a change takes place at an all-India level.” There are several other instances of double speak in the Coimbatore resolution. For example, the party promises to “defend national sovereignty.” Where does this patriotism disappear when it comes to the Chinese claim on Arunachal Pradesh?
Finally the Marxists promise to “continue to adopt tactics for isolating and defeating the BJP.” And what is the national and regional strength of this party that sees itself in a larger than life role? The party report admits: “Without making a breakthrough in weaker states, it is very difficult to sustain the present strength and influence both in strong and weak states.”
The party base continues to be less than marginal in big states — UP, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Assam, Jharkhand, Maharashtra to just name a few. Maharashtra, the state that had given the party stalwarts like B.T. Ranadive and S.A. Dange, hardly has CPI(M) presence. Even in Andhra Pradesh it has to hang on to other parties to maintain a foothold. The party document acknowledges the “need to penetrate more states.” Otherwise the base in the three states may flounder as well.
The party that proudly calls itself the “people’s voice” is confined to only three states. Even there its base seems to be eroding. It was revealed during the Coimbatore meet that only 17 per cent of the full-time members in the party are below the age of 30 years. Clearly, the new generation is not so interested in Marxism. In Kerala, the party’s bastion, membership attrition rate is 10.62 per cent (one out of every four member is lost). In Kerala, where the party is now in power, and had been in power on and off earlier, dalit membership has dropped from 15.86 per cent to 14.97 per cent.
With membership-base in just three states and virtually nothing in the rest of India, this party talks of deciding the framework for structure and policy for the so-called third alternative, which is as yet nowhere in sight, and capture power at the national level.

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