The cacophony over Nandigram is gradually dying. Now it’s time to look beyond the mayhem and consider the broader picture — what impact will Nandigram have on the future prospects of the CPI(M); how will it preserve its credentials as an opponent of ‘neo-liberal policies’? Will it be able to grow beyond the boundaries of the three states it rules now? Will it have a larger control over the Centre in future or even manage to be in the driver’s seat?
Though the CPI(M) is a force in West Bengal and Kerala and also to a certain extent in Tripura, its presence outside these three states is abysmal. The party has only one MLA each in Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan. In Assam, UP and Jammu & Kashmir it has two MLAs each. In as many as 16 states, the CPI(M)’s presence in the assemblies is zero.
Yet the CPI(M) roars at the national level. Its general secretary Prakash Karat reminds the Centre every other day that the UPA’s survival depends on it. The reality is: the CPI(M)’s strength in the Lok Sabha is a paltry 44 — all of them coming from just five states — with the bulk from West Bengal and Kerala. Its overall vote-share in the last Lok Sabha elections was just 5.7 per cent. Compare this with the BJP and the Congress: The former got 22.2 per cent votes while the latter got 26.7 per cent.
To come out of the stagnation, the 18th party congress in 2005 had directed the CPI(M) to play an ‘independent role’. “That role implies criticising and opposing such steps of the government, which are against people’s interests or are a departure from the common minimum programme and which are a continuation of the same type of policies as the previous government’s,” the party congress had observed. In the October-December 2006 issue of the Marxist, Karat had written that the Manmohan Singh government was pushing ahead the same neo-liberal policies of the previous BJP-led government. Finally, the CPI(M) central committee meeting had stated: “We should be more assertive in our opposition to the economic policies… This opposition be expressed not only in the UPA-Left Coordination Committee but by conducting campaigns and struggles.”
But how will the CPI(M) launch a credible campaign against neo-liberal policies at the national level when its own government is pursuing similar policies in Bengal? This is foremost in the minds of the CPI(M)’s cadre. The party is opposing labour reforms in Delhi. But in Bengal, it has tamed the CITU. A huge number of workers in the state get salaries as low as Rs 30-35 a day and are facing the brunt of the hire-and-fire policy. Bengal cm Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee openly speaks against forming unions in the IT sector. His government is acquiring farmlands for special economic zones and opening fire on villagers. Whether the CPI(M) is sincerely against liberalisation-privatisation-globalisation is being questioned nationwide.
Karat has offered an explanation. In the same issue of the Marxist, he argues that whatever is happening in Bengal is not hypocrisy or double-talk. Bengal is just a state and cannot fully extricate itself from the policies of the Centre, he wrote. “There is genuine incomprehension among many Left-minded people about the role of a Left-ruled state government in a situation when the Centre has embraced neo-liberal policies,” Karat admits. But he goes on to argue that the “state governments function within severe constraints. The simplistic notion that the West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura governments can adopt an alternative model to the Centre’s policies has to be dispelled.”
Arguments such as these have failed to convince leaders even within the CPI(M). If this is indeed the situation, which Karat says it is, then why does his party oppose land acquisition in Maharashtra or Orissa for setting up SEZs? When Left-ruled governments cannot “fully extricate” themselves from the Centre’s policies, when even Marxists cannot pursue “alternative policies,” why do they expect the Maharashtra or Orissa governments or for that matter any other non-Left government to do the same? The argument simply doesn’t hold good.
The party has to come up with a more credible explanation. Or else, its plan to spread out of the boundaries of the three states will remain a pipe dream and Leftists of a more militant nature would fill the vacuum. Karat knows this. “The ultra-Left positions need to be countered politically and ideologically,” he advises his comrades. How can you do that Mr Karat? The CPN (UML) could not do it in Nepal.