The ‘People’s Unity Against Communalism’ convention held recently in New Delhi appears to have been an exercise in irrelevance. It was not a launching pad for a new political and electoral alliance as admitted by the convention’s organisers. Nor does it constitute a political bulwark to tame the communal beast that threatens to raise its ugly head once again in various parts of the country.
Much of the problem in giving such a motley anti-communal platform some sense of purpose and efficacy is the low credibility of its two chief motivators — the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Samajwadi Party (SP). Indeed it is the farcical alliance between the two parties that seeks to sneakily suggest a third alternative to the Congress and the BJP even while strenuously denying such an objective that considerably dilutes the entire rationale of holding such a convention. The convoluted history of the love-hate relationship between the Marxists and the Yadav clan is far too recent for the public to forget.
It all started in the late 1990s when after the dramatic collapse of the Vajpayee-led NDA, the CPI(M), then under the supremacy of comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet, decided to abandon Sonia Gandhi and push Mulayam Singh Yadav as prime ministerial candidate. Although this turned out to be a grave political miscalculation allowing the BJP to regroup and romp back to a sweeping electoral victory some months later, the honeymoon between the CPI(M) and the SP continued for several years. Strangely despite the glaring contradiction of the retrograde kulak social base of Mulayam Singh’s party and the radical pro-poor pretensions of the Marxists, the two worked as close collaborators on the national stage. It was a common sight those days to see Amar Singh, then the number one political leader-adviser to Mulayam Singh, sitting in Parliament next to CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, arm around his shoulder.
Unfortunately for the CPI(M), this love feast ended rather abruptly in 2008 when Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh sold the former down the river switching sides to support the Congress in clinching the Indo-US nuclear deal. Comrade Surjeet was not alive to see this irony of history playing out. His successor Prakash Karat was palpably stunned at this betrayal and in a pique momentarily wooed Mulayam’s arch rival Mayawati. But with the Dalit leader, fundamentally disinclined to play coalition politics, this came to nothing and the Marxists have not recovered since then as a political player on the national stage.
Soon after the SP’s treachery on the nuclear deal several CPI(M) leaders had asserted that they would never ever trust the Yadav clan again. Yet over the past several months, there have been increasing signs of the Marxists backing Mulayam’s effort to lead a third front alternative underlining their ideological bankruptcy.
The CPI(M) leaders seek to justify their renewed dalliance with the SP on the plea that this was geared to combat the Hindu fundamentalist challenge posed by Narendra Modi and the Sangh parivar. Such claims sound hollow at a time when Mulayam Singh and his son Akhilesh Yadav’s government in Uttar Pradesh are seen to be largely responsible for the communal conflagration in the state. The dozens of Hindu-Muslim riots before and the recent carnage in Muzaffarnagar, much of which could have been avoided by a firm and secular administration, robs the SP of any political credentials whatsoever of leading a national anti-communal front.
Indeed the disenchantment of the Muslim community in UP with the Akhilesh Yadav administration and the SP political bosses, despite their pro-minority rhetoric, makes it all the more difficult to understand the political logic behind the Marxist move to give such prominence to Mulayam Singh Yadav on the anti-communal platform. For an overwhelming majority of Muslims in the state, while the threat from the Sangh parivar was expected, it is the abandonment of their interests by the Congress government at the Centre and the SP state administration that is so devastating. Many members of the minority community feel that they have been put in active jeopardy given the impression that the Yadav clan was in cahoots with the RSS and the VHP to turn the coming Lok Sabha polls into a fixed communal match and the recent controversial remarks by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on the ISI in Muzaffarnagar.
If the SP’s support from Muslims is questionable, so is it for the CPI(M) particularly in the latter’s erstwhile bastion West Bengal. It is a fact that Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, conspicuously absent from the anti-communal convention, is more popular than the Marxists with the Muslim community in the state. Political observers feel that it is the strong support from the minorities along with the poor and landless that continues to provide an electoral edge to Mamata Banerjee, despite the disenchantment of the middle class with her volatile administration.
It is difficult to understand how two parties whose own credibility and support with the minority community have been significantly eroded can hope to get an anti-communal platform, such as the one they have floated, off the ground. Considering that quite a few other participants in the convention, like the AIADMK and the BJD provided only token participation and the only other vocal collaborator, the Janata Dal (U) chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, is desperately trying to snatch the Muslim vote away from rival Lalu Prasad, the entire enterprise could well turn out to be nothing more than empty posturing. With the Congress virtually paralysed as a political entity, it is a sad day for Indian democracy that the challenge to communal harmony has elicited such a feeble and dubious response.
Ajoy Bose is a senior journalist and the author of Behenji — A political biography of Mayawati
The views expressed by the author are personal