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The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

Defeat BJP, defeat Congress: CPI-M

January 28, 2009

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'Defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party and defeat the Congress' is the Communist Party of India-Marxist's mantra for the coming general election.

According to a high-level party source, "2009 is not 2004. Our party cadres in West Bengal and Kerala [Images] are very much against the Congress and its politics. They want no truck with the Congress before, during or after the election."

The CPI-M leadership has already discounted the possibility that this time round the party will not repeat its stunning performance of the 2004 Lok Sabha election when the Left parties won 61 seats.

A senior party leader told "We are ready to sit in the Opposition."

Even if the Left parties are somehow in a position to influence the formation of a new government at the Centre, they will not, under any circumstance, support from inside or outside "a Congress-led government."

The resolve to "oppose the Congress" is, so far, quite well-pronounced within the CPI-M.

The anti-Congress feeling is so sharp that when party General Secretary Prakash Karat [Images] proposed to the all-powerful CPI-M Politburo that for the 2009 election the party's policy should be 'Defeat BJP, Reject Congress', the Politburo sent back the revised slogan of 'Defeat BJP, Defeat Congress.'

As the election is less than 80 days away, India's political parties are gearing up to define their dos and don'ts and the minimum parameters under which they will work before, during and after the election.

It is expected that most regional parties will change their so-called ideological stance after the election depending on which bloc has more seats in the Lok Sabha. Like in 2004, the race so far seems to be between the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

However, the political permutations and combinations are yet not finalised in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh [Images], West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and this will make a huge difference to the final result.

One thing most political parties agree is that the Left will win less seats than it did in 2004.

The CPI-M is fighting an unprecedented identity crisis since its formation in 1964.

The party claims its membership has grown from 118,683 in 1964 to 976,622 in 2007, but proximity to power in New Delhi [Images] after 2004 has eroded the CPI-M's image amongst its cadres.

The combined Left has a strength of 61 members in the current Lok Sabha, with the CPI-M being the third largest group in Parliament. In the Rajya Sabha, it has 14 members. In recent general elections, the CPI-M contests 15 percent of the total seats on an average and gets around 6 percent of the vote.

In the 2004 election the CPI-M won 44 Lok Sabha seats, its highest tally ever. In the 1999 election it won 33 seats. The CPI-M also has representation in 12 state legislative assemblies.

But the party's sympathisers are confused and dismayed to see the difference in its identity and issues they are fighting for in West Bengal and Kerala.

In West Bengal, the CPI-M confronts the displeasure of Muslims who comprise almost 30 percent of the state's population; in Kerala, Christian voters led by the Church are rallying against Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan's government.

The issue of governance and corruption charges against Pinarayi Vijayan, the CPI-M's secretary in Kerala, has made the party defensive. While the CPI-M took time to defend Vijayan in public and in the media, Achuthanandan has refused to defend Vijayan with whom he has had a political feud going back many years.

Vijayan believes he will emerge unscathed because he secured a clean chit from Upendra Verma, the now retired director, state Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau, who investigated the case against Canadian firm SNC Lavalin Inc.

Vijayan was the power minister in the E K Nayanar government when the state electricity board signed a deal with SNC Lavalin to renovate three hydel projects.

The Central Bureau of Investigation has sought the Kerala governor's sanction to prosecute Vijayan in what is called the SNC Lavalin corruption case.

The CBI decision is termed as the final nail in the relations between the CPI-M and the Congress-led government at the Centre, under whose purview the CBI operates. Vijayan has Karat and the CPI-M Politburo's support.

In West Bengal, the issues raised by Muslims against the state CPI-M government are more serious.

The Sachar Committee report, which highlighted the backwardness among India's Muslims, revealed that Muslim participation in government jobs, education and their overall economic condition is worse in West Bengal than in most Indian states.

Also, the suicide of computer professional Rizwan-ur Rehman has affected the CPI-M's leadership. The state government's initial soft stance over Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen [Images] irked conservative Muslims whose agitation last year was so intense that the army was called out in Kolkata. Almost one-third of the agitators in the Singur and Nandigram [Images] agitations were Muslims. All these issues make the CPI-M jittery ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

Also, the real separation from the Congress at all levels is not possible and advisable for the CPI-M due to the West Bengal factor.

As they say, in West Bengal only two kinds of voters exist: Those who favour the ruling Left Front and those who are anti-Left.

If Mamata Bannerjee's Trinamool Congress party and the Congress patch up before the election, the anti-Left votes could give this alliance a handsome tally of the state's 42 Lok Sabha seats.

But Karat and Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya may be in a position to ensure that Mamata does not get Congress support. The duo only need to convince External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee [Images], arguably the most influential Congressman in Bengal.

Talks on an electoral alliance have been going on between the Congress and the Trinamool for some time, but nothing has been finalised yet. Mukherjee recently took over the state Congress president's post after Priyaranjan Das Munsi's prolonged hospitalisation. He will go to West Bengal in early February. If he resists the alliance with Mamata then it is a sure sign of the Congress's olive branch to the Left with an eye on the future.

In West Bengal, the Congress must dump Mamata and harm its own electoral prospects to give the CPI-M some breathing space to go to the election with confidence.

But CPI-M insiders claim that contrary to media reports, the party is trying to solve its internal contradictions and disputes to take on the Congress with a clear and cohesive policies.

A senior editor of a Left-leaning publication told "it doesn't matter to us if we remain relevant in forming the next government at the Centre or not. In this election we will regain our identity of a party that is opposed to sectarian politics and we will present a real alternative to the existing bourgeois-landlord policies. Take it from us, we are in a win-win position because the battle of consolidating our identity is the most important battle. While sitting on the Opposition benches we will be helping the class we identify with and represent."

The Rediff Specials

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