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What the CPI-M needs to do to rejuvenate politically

July 24, 2012 20:23 IST

The CPI-M's decision to support Pranab Mukherjee came at great cost, and given Mamata's Banerjee's decision to back him, clearly without any political dividends. Left unity at this crucial juncture was cracked, with the CPI deciding to abstain, says Seema Mustafa.

Communist Party of India-Marxist leaders rushed to open doors for President-designate Pranab Mukherjee, jostling with Congress diehards to beat the queue of door openers when he visited West Bengal. The grand strategy as many of them confided to media hounds was to isolate their arch rival Mamata Banerjee, and draw fissures in her relations with the Congress. Why? Well the answer to their simple minds was simple. So that the CPI-M could get a good number of seats in the general elections, benefiting from the Congress-Trinamool Congress discord!

Good thinking. Or so they thought refusing to listen to words of caution pouring in from their cadres, particularly the youth who clearly seem to be more politically savvy than many of those who continue to lead the party in their twilight years.

So the inevitable happened. After the usual round of high drama, Banerjee came around and decided to vote for Mukherjee. As if she was going to do anything else. And now both the CPI-M and the Trinamool Congress were on the same side of the fence supporting the UPA candidate for President.

The only difference is that the CPI-M had claimed to be working for non-BJP and non-Congress politics and their neo-liberal policies. No one has yet explained how Mukherjee, finance minister of the Congress, has convinced the Left of his credentials on this front.

The decision to support Mukherjee came at great cost, and given Mamata's decision now, clearly without any political dividends. Left unity at this crucial juncture was cracked, with the CPI deciding to abstain. A key youth leader and rising star within the party Prasenjit Bose resigned. The strongest youth unit of the party protested and demanded a level of autonomy in taking decisions, and instead of accepting the well reasoned arguments they were thrown out with the entire unit in Jawaharlal Nehru University being dissolved. Instead of listening to the young people, the leaders are now involved in breaking their unity by singling out the weaker elements to join the 'official' Student's Federation of India!

There is gloom and doom all around as the prospects of a Left revival are seen as bleak by their well wishers and supporters. This blinkered approach does not herald well for a party that has refused to listen to its cadres and instead acted summarily to throw them out.

Ashok Mitra, an intellectual of great repute, wrote almost a year ago, "The chemistry of cronyism and democratic centralisation is fatal. Leaders at different levels are told only what they love to be told; dissenters are either ostracised or thrown out." And he was talking not of the Congress but of the CPI-M in West Bengal. And again as he said so clearly, "the ego factor has another consequence: whoever ventures to offer a friendly admonition not to the liking of ministers and leaders is treated as an enemy, thereby creating enemies of former friends."

The support base of the CPI-M has dwindled in the villages as a result of this authoritarianism that distanced the West Bengal leaders from the people. The tragedy for the party is that the ego that Ashok Mitra has written about like only he can, has come in the way and prevented the party leaders from re-connecting to the mass base that had kept it in power in the state for over 30 years.

There seems to be little worry about the fact that the urban supporters of the Left also drew away, or became actively critical of the party and its policies. And now with no real signs of a reaching out aimed at getting back these essential constituencies, the cadres too are being hit from within. The young people who tried for a change from within found themselves unable to cut through the impenetrable walls that the party has built around itself, where the benefits and advantages of discipline and consensus are being fast turning into a disadvantage by those who have decided they will not listen.

A case in point is the SFI in JNU. It was one of the key students bodies in the 1970's and 1980's, resisting Emergency with many of its members thrown into jail by the Indira Gandhi government. The JNU students body struck fear in the hearts of Delhi's police those days as they were out on the streets, marching down Rajpath (it was open to the people then) for a host of national issues. The SFI lead in different years by Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury had a will of its own, that often defied the sedate mindset of the Politburo to infuse enthusiasm and action in polity.

Over the years the overall supervisory role of the CPI-M over its student wing has become oppressive, with the result that the SFI has steadily lost ground in JNU to All India Students Association that is the interventionist youth body now speaking on all issues of concern to students and to the nation. This is not because SFI does not have the talent, in fact some of its students are of exceptional calibre, but because of the obsessive control by a generation that should have stepped aside with dignity after the West Bengal debacle. Instead it has become even more intolerant of dissent and free speaking, even within the four walls of the party.

The enthusiasm with which a senior CPI-M leader rushed to open Mukherjee's car door would help if applied with equal diligence to a 'reaching out' strategy with the intention of bringing back the disaffected masses, the angry and disillusioned intellectuals and professionals, and the visibly upset youth. Instead of expelling and dissolving and purging, the CPI-M should recognise that the times have changed as have the expectations, and the people and cadres are pointing towards the path they expect the party to take. 

No one is asking for a dilution of ideology for which the space in India is growing, but for a change in tactics and approach. A good beginning could be made by a first: the realisation and admission by the seniors that they went terribly wrong somewhere along the way (they can read Mitra and Prabhat Patnaik for a clearer understanding) and need to step aside for a true rejuvenation of the party.

Seema Mustafa