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Why CPI-M's support to Pranab is a grave ERROR

Last updated on: June 26, 2012 08:13 IST

Why CPI-M's support to Pranab is a grave ERROR

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Prasenjit Bose

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's candidature for the coveted post of President of India has created a division in the Left Front. While Communist Party of India and Revolutionary Socialist Party decided to abstain from the July 19 poll, the CPI-Marxist and Forward Bloc have pledged support for the UPA nominee.

Protesting the 'erroneous' stand, Prasenjit Bose, former convenor of the research unit of CPI-M, decided to send his resignation letter to the CPI-M leadership, and was later expelled from the party.

We present the letter, where he elaborates his stand, which was first published in Pragati, on July 22.

Dear Comrades,

This is to express my shock and dismay over the decision taken by the Polit Bureau on June 21 to support the candidature of Congress' and UPA's nominee, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, for the Presidential elections.

Violation of political line

The CPI-M has never viewed Presidential elections, and rightly so, as something that is 'apolitical' or 'above party lines'. In 2002, a united Left candidate was put up against Mr (A P J Abdul) Kalam, who was backed both by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance and the Congress, Samajwadi Party, etc. The Congress candidate was supported by the Left parties in 2007 because the Left was supporting the UPA government from outside and the Congress accepted a Left nominee as the Vice-Presidential candidate. These were political decisions taken on the basis of the overall political stand of the CPI -M and the Left vis-a-vis the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA.

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Image: UPA Presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee (Inset) Prasenjit Bose
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters

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'What was the need to back Pranab even at the cost of breaking Left unity?'

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As on earlier occasions, this time too, major political realignments are taking place around the Presidential elections. The political position of the CPI-M should therefore have been guided by the overall political line adopted by the party. The political resolution adopted in the 20th Party Congress held in April 2012 had clearly laid down the following political line:

2.137 The CPI-M has to politically fight the Congress and the BJP. Both are parties which represent the big bourgeois landlord order which perpetuates class exploitation and is responsible for the social oppression of various sections of the people.

They pursue neo-liberal policies and advocate a pro-US foreign policy. Defeating the Congress and the UPA government is imperative given the crushing burden of price rise, unemployment, suffering of the farmers and workers on the one hand and the brazen corruption and big sops to big business and the wealthy sections. Isolating the BJP and countering its communal and rightwing agenda is necessary and important for the advance of the Left, democratic and secular forces.

2.138 As against the Congress and the BJP, the CPI-M puts forth the Left and democratic alternative. Only a Left and democratic platform can be the alternative to bourgeois-landlord rule. This alternative needs to be built up through a process of movements and struggles and the emergence of a political alliance of the Left and democratic forces. In the course of these efforts, it may be necessary to rally those non-Congress, non-BJP forces which can play a role in defence of democracy, national sovereignty, secularism, federalism and defence of the people's livelihood and rights. The emergence of such joint platforms should help the process of building the alliance of the Left and democratic forces.

The polit bureau's decision to extend support to the Congress' nominee for the 2012 Presidential elections is a clear violation of the agreed line of politically fighting both the Congress and the BJP. The disruption of Left unity, following the polit bureau's decision, also goes counter to the stated objective of strengthening Left unity and the alliance of Left and democratic forces.

What was the pressing need to extend support to a Congress candidate even at the cost of breaking Left unity? Such brazen violation of the political line by the party leadership within less than three months of the Party Congress is utterly bewildering. There is no explanation as to whether the political situation has changed since April, and if so how?


Image: Senior Communist leaders Debabrata Biswas, Sitaram Yechury, A B Bardhan, D Raja and Prakash Karat during a rally in New Delhi in July, 2008.
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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'Mr Mukherjee has shamelessly defended scam after scam'

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The terse statement issued by the polit bureau justifying the decision states that "in the present situation" Mr Mukherjee is the candidate who has the "widest acceptance". This is a peculiar argument because the present acceptance of Mr Mukherjee's candidature cutting across party lines, from the ruling Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which are neck deep in corruption and venality, to the communal-chauvinistic Shiv Sena, has something very sinister about it.

The "widest acceptance" of a candidate among such anti-people forces should be strong enough reason for the CPI-M and the Left parties not to support that candidate.

Mr Mukherjee has been a senior Cabinet minister of the present and erstwhile UPA governments (2004-2012). In his earlier stints as ministers of defence and external affairs, Mr Mukherjee was instrumental in cementing the Indo-US strategic alliance through the defence framework agreement and the nuclear deal, which the Left has always considered to be against India's national interests.

In his current tenure as finance minister, he has presided over the longest spell of double-digit food inflation in the post-independence period, breaking the back of our working people. His muddle-headed handling of inflation, by choking off demand through interest rate hikes on the one hand and fuelling cost-push inflation, through subsidy cuts leading to successive hikes in fuel and fertiliser prices, has precipitated stagflation in the Indian economy. The illogic of his policy framework can also be seen in the millions of tons of foodgrains presently rotting in the FCI godowns, even as poor women and children go hungry in the absence of cheap food, thanks to the fraudulent BPL criteria.

Mr Mukherjee has vigorously pursued the neoliberal policies of disinvestment of profitable-PSUs and financial liberalisation. This has led to a massive increase in speculative capital flowing in and out of the Indian economy, resulting in financial volatility and the rupee touching a historic low.

His thorough mishandling of the economic situation has now led to a slowdown in industrial production, rising joblessness, a yawning current account deficit and record external indebtedness. He has also showered crores of rupees of unjustifiable tax concessions to Indian corporates and MNCs in the name of "stimulus", thus worsening the fiscal situation and constraining development expenditure.

He has shamelessly defended scam after scam perpetrated by the UPA government, from 2G spectrum to KG gas pricing, and stonewalled all attempts to retrieve black money stashed by Indians in offshore havens.

In sum, Mr Mukherjee is not only a neoliberal advocate; he has been so since 1991 and he had signed the GATT agreement as the commerce minister in 1994. But in his present tenure, he has also been one of the worst performing finance ministers India has ever had. There is no way one can tell him apart either from the other key ministers of this discredited UPA government or its overall economic ideology. Each of his policy actions have been explicitly criticised and opposed by the CPI-M and the Left alongside trade unions and other mass organisations. Millions of people have been mobilised to protest against these policies over the past three years.

Rather than providing a single argument in favour of supporting Mr Mukherjee's candidature other than mentioning his "wider acceptance", the polit bureau statement makes an assertion that: "The CPI-M will continue to oppose the UPA government and resolutely fight neo-liberal economic policies being pursued which are against the interests of the people."

Why has this assertion become necessary while endorsing the finance minister's candidature? It is clear that the credibility of the CPI-M's opposition to neoliberal policies has been knocked out by the polit bureau's decision to support a candidate with such a record.

Arguing on the lines that 'we are opposed to the economic policies of government but we have no problems in supporting its finance minister as a Presidential candidate' is nothing but sheer hypocrisy and doublespeak.


Image: Pranab Mukherjee with PM Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi
Photographs: Reuters
Tags: Mr Mukherjee , UPA , CPI-M , GATT , BPL

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'What does the CPI-M gain by supporting Pranab?'

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The argument presented in the press conference addressed by the general secretary (Prakash Karat) on June 21 justifying support for Mr Mukherjee was wholly misleading. It was said that the CPI-M has always supported Congress nominees as Presidential candidates since 1991, despite being opposed to its economic policies (2002 was an exception since Kalam was NDA backed candidate).

What was not mentioned was that never before has a sitting finance minister of a Congress government (or any Union minister for that matter) been nominated as a Presidential candidate since 1991. Shankar Dayal Sharma or K R Narayanan were sitting Vice-Presidents, when they were nominated as Presidential candidates. Pratibha Patil was a sitting Governor.

Moreover, Shankar Dayal Sharma was supported as President in 1992 because the joint nominee of the VP Singh-led Janata Dal and the Left parties, K R Narayanan, was accepted by the Congress leadership as the Vice-Presidential candidate. Narayanan later went on to become President in 1997 with 95 per cent of the votes in the electoral college defeating T N Seshan, who was backed only by the Shiv Sena (a good example of "widest acceptance").

Pratibha Patil was supported by the Left as the Presidential candidate alongside the Left nominee Hamid Ansari being supported by the Congress as the Vice-Presidential candidate. These prior instances simply do not compare with the current situation.

The CPI-M and the Left parties are not only in the opposition today, but their strength in the electoral college is also at its lowest since 1991. The Left is not in a position to decisively influence the Presidential election results. The only obvious ground for supporting a Congress candidate from the point of view of secularism -- that the communal BJP backed candidate will win if the Left does not support Congress -- clearly does not exist today.

The NDA camp is in a state of disarray and the BJP has been forced to support a candidate initially proposed by the Biju Janata Dal and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. What does the CPI-M gain by supporting a Congress Presidential nominee in this backdrop?

In the absence of any explicit and coherent explanation so far, one can only make two guesses. If the consideration was that the strength of the CPI-M and the Left is numerically too weak to field its own candidate against both the Congress and BJP backed candidates, then the natural choice should have been to abstain from the polls. That is the stand adopted by the CPI and the RSP and it is an eminently reasonable, transparent and principled position.

While the electoral outcome would have remained unchanged anyway, the Left as a whole could have sent a clear message: that the Left is unitedly opposed to both the Congress and BJP backed candidates in the present political backdrop. For the CPI-M, this would have been in keeping with the political mandate of the 20th Congress.

Equating abstention with political irrelevance is logically fallacious, because relevance in the electoral college comes from the number of MPs and MLAs, which in turn comes from public support in general elections. In other words, the relevance of the CPI-M or the Left parties is not really contingent upon whether the Left votes for this or that candidate. The issue is how to leverage the existent strength to convey the correct political message. And it is here that the CPI-M's stand of supporting the Congress candidate fails miserably, because neither is it based on any ostensible principle (secularism, progressive socio-economic policy platform, anti-imperialism, etc.) nor any immediate political gain.


Image: CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat speaks during a news conference in New Delhi
Photographs: Vijay Mathur/Reuters

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'The CPI-M leadership is committing yet another costly mistake'

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The other argument floating in the corporate media is that the CPI-M and the Left is going to gain by supporting the Congress nominee because the Trinamool Congress supremo (Mamata Banerjee) is opposed to the former and this will help to "drive a wedge" between the Congress and the TMC in West Bengal to the Left's advantage.

Some overenthusiastic commentators have also opined that the prospects of the Congress nominee becoming the "first Bengali President of India" will inflict a heavy political cost on his opponents in West Bengal and pay rich dividends to his supporters. Such arguments, besides taking the political consciousness of the ordinary people of Bengal entirely for granted, are also reflective of naivete and lack of common sense.

Repeated instances, from the 2010 Kolkata Municipal Corporation and other municipality polls to the 2012 municipality polls have shown that the Trinamool Congress has been able to defeat the Left Front in most places even without Congress support. The theory of Congress cutting into Trinamool's vote share by contesting independently is invalid in a majority of constituencies because the electoral polarisation takes place between the Left and anti-Left forces, with the latter consolidating behind the TC.

Whenever Congress has contested independently (except for a handful of pockets), the TC has gained at the expense of the Congress, marginalising the latter. Moreover, any effort to stitch up a formal or informal electoral alliance with the Congress against the TC in West Bengal today will be a tactical disaster for the Left Front, because that will turn large sections of traditional voters away from the Left.

Such erosion of support has already happened after the Nandigram/Singur episodes and will further aggravate if the Left Front is seen to be making unprincipled deals with the Congress which is perceived by a large majority of the working people of Bengal as anti-people, corrupt and opportunistic. The Left's cozying up to the Congress before the Lok Sabha elections will hand over the anti-Centre plank to the TC on a platter and help in consolidating Mamata Banerjee's reactionary autocracy in Bengal.

As for MLAs and MPs from Bengal being obligated to support a Bengali for the Presidential post because of 'public sentiment', this sounds eerily similar to Shiv Sena or Amra Bangali kind of politics. Historically, the working people of Bengal have been wise enough to see through such gimmickries and ask what politics the Bengali in question stands for? That is why Mr Mukherjee could win his first election from West Bengal only in 2004 though being in active politics since the late 1960s.

Despite the laments of the bourgeois commentators, the fact remains that the West Bengal electorate continued to deliver handsome victories for the CPI-M and the Left Front in election after election, even after Jyoti Basu was not made the prime minister in 1996. They started defeating the Left Front only from 2008 onwards (there were 3 Loksabha and 2 assembly elections between 1996 and 2008 which the Left Front won convincingly), following Nandigram/Singur, which triggered the outburst of the accumulated discontent over the failings of the LF government and the myriad deviations of the party.

The short point is that class politics, land and livelihood issues and social justice remain central to the electorate in West Bengal, majority of whom are workers, small peasants and agricultural workers and a big section belonging to dalit, adivasi or Muslim backgrounds. Cheap parochialism and regional chauvinism remains to be a concern of the politically bankrupt and intellectually challenged.

The lack of any clear public reasoning by the CPI-M leadership to explain its decision and widespread reports in the mainstream media have created the impression that the party leadership was divided on regional/linguistic lines on this issue. This has considerably denigrated the image of the CPI-M as an all-India Party with an emancipatory world view.

Why resignation?

I protest against the decision by the polit bureau to support the candidature of Mr Pranab Mukherjee, the Congress nominee for the Presidential elections. I consider this to be a grave error which will harm the party and disturb Left unity.

The party leadership has committed one mistake after another since 2007 -- coercive land acquisition in West Bengal, the Nandigram police firing, allowing the UPA government to approach the IAEA with the nuclear deal, giving a call for a non-Congress secular government in 2009 -- and then accepted them in a cavalier manner in party conferences without fixing proper responsibility and conducting rectification thereon.

The same leadership is committing yet another costly mistake, refusing to learn anything from the past. Party members are aghast and exasperated that their concerns are falling on deaf ears. Therefore, with great pain and agony, I tender my resignation from the primary membership of the party.  


Image: Supporters of CPI-M attend a public rally at Agartala
Photographs: Jayanta Dey/Reuters

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