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Home > India > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy

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'Gandhi' may be Comrade Karat's salvation

September 09, 2008

'Under our general secretary's leadership the CPI-M is sure to become a 24-Karat party... We might get only 24 MPs in the next Lok Sabha!'

That is a joke I heard recently, but, like all good jokes, there is a kernel of truth to it. The CPI-M is more isolated today than it has been for decades. A combination of factors -- the Singur and Nandigram [Images] outbursts in West Bengal, total lack of discipline in Kerala [Images], the green signal for the nuclear deal by the Nuclear Suppliers Group -- seems to have left the CPI-M on the wrong side of history.

All that is not really entirely Comrade Karat's fault but as the chief executive of the party he has to accept much of the responsibility. He was definitely one of the chief players in the quarrel over the nuclear deal, taking the tiff with the Congress to breaking point -- not without public misgivings from some party elders it must be said.

To be fair, Karat and his comrades were opposing the nuclear deal on ideological grounds. It is stupid to claim that any such deal will not lead to closer ties with the United States, or, potentially, to increased tensions with China. (One can be reasonably certain that China will now encourage Pakistan in its own 'competition' with India.) But is the average Leftist's dislike for the United States greater than his dislike for the BJP?

Prakash Karat [Images] is on record that his aim is to torpedo the nuclear deal in the life of the next Lok Sabha if not this one. How far is he prepared to live up to this noble sentiment?

Here is a hypothetical situation: Assume that the BJP and its National Democratic Alliance allies are short of a majority by twenty or thirty votes in the next Lok Sabha. Would the CPI-M really consider supporting a ministry led by L K Advani [Images] if that hypothetical government proposed to cancel the deal? Is it not far more likely that the CPI-M would then prefer to back the Congress once again in the name of 'secularism'? And if you can do so in 2009, what made Prakash Karat shatter the alliance with the Congress in 2008?

Since I have brought up the BJP, I think it is necessary to take a look at that party's behaviour too. Where the Left Front's enmity to the nuclear pact was ideological the BJP's opposition was purely tactical. The BJP cannot have any objection to a strategic relationship with the United States, it simply states that it could have negotiated a better deal. (Given the opposition within the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it is hard to see how but one of the benefits of being in the Opposition is to be delightfully vague about precise policy positions!)

Frankly, I do not see the nuclear deal winning any votes for the Congress come the next general election but nor do I see the BJP losing any votes because of its stance. The major talking point in every state where the BJP and the Congress face off is sure to be the economy, specifically the never-ending rise in food prices. There will be other issues of course -- like the Gujjars' demand for Scheduled Tribe status in Rajasthan -- but the chief issue will be prices.

This is simply not true of the major Leftist bastions, namely Kerala and West Bengal. I think the constant sniping between the chief minister and the party boss has taken a toll on the image of the CPI-M in Kerala. And we all know for a fact that everything that has happened in Singur and in Nandigram has scarred the Left Front at least in rural West Bengal.

As I said above, Prakash Karat has limited room for manoeuvre when it comes to cleaning house in Thiruvananthapuram or in Kolkata. He tried reading the riot act to his colleagues in Kerala, even removing Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan and the local party chief Pinarayi Vijayan from the innermost councils of the CPI-M, but none of it seems to have worked. And what do you expect him to do in West Bengal, force Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to give in to Mamata Bannerjee's demands?

Yet Prakash Karat's stewardship of the party must be judged by results rather than circumstances. How does his report card read? When Harkishen Singh Surjeet gave up the reins as general secretary of the CPI-M, the party enjoyed unquestioned mastery in West Bengal, it stood on the cusp of power in Kerala, and possessed unprecedented power over decision-making in Delhi [Images]. Today, the relationship with the Congress is at its nadir, it has lost at least one ally, the Samajwadi Party, and may lose more (the DMK and the Rashtriya Janata Dal). It has lost face in Kerala, and it has -- as the local body elections demonstrated -- lost its grip in some parts of Bengal. What does all this say of Comrade Karat's capacity to lead the party?

I cannot conclude without musing over the thought that Prakash Karat's salvation may lie in 'Gandhi' both in Delhi and in Kolkata.

If the CPI-M cannot mend relations with Dr Manmohan Singh [Images], it may find that Congress boss Sonia Gandhi [Images] is still willing to talk.

And to douse the fires in Singur and Nandigram it may have to call on the good offices of West Bengal's Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi. Does Karat's CPI-M have the humility to approach the Gandhis?

T V R Shenoy

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