Do you remember Prakash Karat during 2004-2008? I certainly do. He and his merry men in bush shirts were here, there and everywhere playing the self-styled role of the UPA’s ‘conscience’ — blocking every reform, rapping all those fleshy bourgeois knuckles and talking about the scourge of market forces — making it seem that 59 MPs, overwhelmingly from two states in the country, were running the show at the Centre.
Well, by providing outside support to the UPA 1 government, this disproportionately vocal set of 59 MPs were certainly holding the central government to ransom. Every time I turned on the television, there was the CPI’s A Raja dominating every debate on national television with words like ‘hegemony’, ‘neo-liberal’ and ‘fascist’. In 2004-09, Raja’s CPI had ten MPs in Parliament — two less than the Shiv Sena.
Then, three years after Comrade Karat, convinced that Manmohan Singh was selling India down the Potomac courtesy the Indo-US nuclear deal, ordered the withdrawal of (outside) support of the Left Front from the UPA government in July 2008, the CPI(M)-led Left has collapsed.
I know that much of politics is about perception and interpretation — and the best friend of the working class Brinda Karat has already gone on record saying that “it’s time for introspection”
(how’s that for the understatement of the decade?) — but the debacle of the 2011 assembly polls surely is evidence enough of an ambulance waiting to take the Left to the ICU.
From the hi-jinks of UPA 1 to the deep wilderness of 2011, whatever went wrong?
Answer: Prakash Karat.
Okay, the huge push that became a shove in West Bengal this week was despite Comrade Karat, not because of him — as was the 2006 assembly landslide victory. No government could have survived the consequences of the Stalinist and politically suicidal way in which the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee regime handled its industrialisation policy and its consequences with Mamata Banerjee waiting in the wings.
But Kerala? In the factional fight between state CPI(M) chief Pinarayi Vijayan and former chief minister and party torchbearer VS Achuthanandan was initially sought to be ‘resolved’ by general secretary Karat by taking the recourse of the rulebook. In terms of what was happening on the ground, our comrade from Delhi had no clue.
Which is where lies the rub.
For all its group huddles and cadre hugs and taking collective responsibility, the Left, and the CPI(M) in particular, has all the hallmarks of a feudal party under Uncle Karat. Diktats are nice things in the CPI(M) lexicon.
The Left was once inhabited by people who understood not only communist politics but also how to operate the cranks and pulleys of parliamentary democracy. Take Karat’s predecessor, the wily pragmatist Harkishen Singh Surjeet. He was the grand facilitator between The Party and the outside world that included capitalists, socialists, casteists, run-of-the-millists... He was the original Amar Singh minus the grease.
Jyoti Basu, for all his ‘bourgeois’ characteristics, was another political animal who understood what to give and what to take in The Party, the Left Front as well as in the political universe ‘out there’. For all their blinkered vision — and the ‘Himalayan blunder’ of May 13, 1996, when the CPI(M) politburo’s decision against allowing Basu to become the prime minister in the United Front government, was a turning point — the communists have shown that politics can be conducted without attaches stashed with cash and family members being propped up.
The Left’s brand equity — the numbers were never going to be good enough, anyway — now lies in tatters because its general secretary lives in an ivory tower and barks orders from the top floor window. The Edinburgh University alumnus is still stuck in the university club room eternally locked in a college union debate.
Which is a pity. The last time I heard, the Left was as much about praxis as about ideology. The problem of being the Laird of Castle AK Gopalan is that you’ve never stepped out in the real world where you have to earn popular support, win votes or deal with those nitty-gritty governance and administration thingummies. As an outside admirer of the Left, may I suggest a prescription for at least a partial remedy: purge Prakash Karat from the politburo.