The rise of the AAP has evoked divergent responses from the mainstream Left. In a piece in People’s Democracy, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat has characterised the electoral success of AAP as a "positive development" and appreciated its "singular achievement" in attracting the youth to political activism with its "idealism".
This is in contrast to the snooty reaction from a prominent Left intellectual who had earlier termed AAP as an "avoidable trend" in politics which is disingenuously camouflaging its views to cater to a "right-of-centre" support base.
Karat has sought to distance himself from such petulant views, while urging upon AAP to oppose neoliberal economic policies and communalism. This is welcome.
Karat’s unease with AAP, however, is based on its plank of fighting the "political establishment", which "tars all political parties with the same brush, including the Left parties".
He argues that communists have been the harbingers of probity in public life, citing the examples of CPI(M) chief ministers. This is where he has got carried away by his own rhetoric.
The party’s track record in this regard is chequered.
Former Tripura CM Nripen Chakraborty was expelled from the party in 1995 for criticising corrupt practices under the Jyoti Basu government in West Bengal.
Former land reforms minister in Bengal Benoy Choudhury had famously accused his own government of becoming a "government of contractors" in the mid-1990s, only to be snubbed and silenced. The treatment being meted out to the "incorruptible" VS Achuthanandan by the party leadership is there for all to see.
Despite his contributions, VS has been unceremoniously removed from the party’s Politburo for raising the issue of corruption inside the party.
The fact that corruption has become endemic within the CPI(M), especially in states where it has been in power, has been admitted in successive party documents on "rectification". Yet, while one finds many instances of senior communist leaders being expelled or sidelined for acting as whistleblowers, there is hardly any instance of the CPI(M) initiating disciplinary action against any senior leader on corruption charges, at least in recent decades.
Asked by a newspaper in May 2010 as to how his NGO was receiving crores of rupees in donations from realtors and business houses, a former CPI(M) MP from West Bengal remarked: "What is wrong with it?... Do you think only Congress and TMC men will enjoy all luxuries in society? And are we to go to Tapovan for sanyas?" He continues to be the main face of the party in the Haldia region.
The former housing minister of the Left Front government in Bengal is being investigated for unlawful land allotment to a favoured company. Citing political conspiracy, the party continues to defend him.
Deshabhimani, the party mouthpiece in Kerala, was recently in the eye of a storm over a front page advertisement placed by Soorya Group chairman VM Radhakrishnan greeting the delegates of a CPI(M) plenum.
Despite Radhakrishnan’s dubious credentials, including his earlier arrest by the CBI on a murder charge, his advertisement was defended by Deshabhimani.
The point is not only that the CPI(M) has got much afflicted by cronyism, which holds true for all political parties today which have tasted power; but that despite its early promise, the CPI(M) has failed to provide an alternative template of governance and party functioning, whereby the corrupt and venal elements can be checked and weeded out.
Neither has the CPI(M) ever made probity a criterion for allying with or supporting other political parties like the Congress, SP, RJD, AIADMK etc. While waking up to the anti-corruption upsurge rather late in the day, the CPI(M) leadership should first clean up its own house before giving sermons to others.
Prasenjit Bose is a leftwing economist and activist
The views expressed by the author are personal