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No return of the comrades

The poll debacle is forcing the CPI(M) to consider a reunion with the CPI. A merger would be absurd. Sankar Ray writes.

india Updated: Jun 23, 2011 21:03 IST
Sankar Ray

CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat has poured cold water on the over-enthusiasm about initiating a 'merger' of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (CPI). Yet the reunification of the two communist parties is being debated, despite the silencing of second-in-command in the CPI(M) politburo Sitaram Yechury, who admitted after the central committee meeting in Hyderabad earlier this month that a camaraderie between the two is reflected at the grassroots level for a merger in the not-too-distant future. Little wonder that CPI central secretariat member Atul Kumar Anjaan presumed that inner-party deliberations mirror Yechury's comments.

Ever since Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan became CPI general secretary, he frequently called for a merger, only to be rebuffed by the erstwhile CPI(M) general secretary, Harkishen Singh Surjeet. However, the over-enthusiasm of the CPI(M)'s Tamil Nadu secretary and central executive council member DK Pandian on the merger 'by 2012' was puerile.

The only CPI(M) leader who had a clear perspective of the reunification of the parties that split in 1964 from the original CPI was EMS Namboodiripad, who first replaced the contemptuous usage of the 'right' communist party and 'wrong' communist party with 'two communist parties'. Nonetheless, reunification - as opposed to a merger -continues to be a tough proposition. CPI(M) semi-ideologues like Surjeet and M Basavapunnaiah had throughout been trying to justify the split. They could, however, never rise above petty polemics on tactical lines. They cited the parliamentary growth of the CPI(M) in contrast to the decimation of CPI to refute reunification. Gloating over parliamentary successes in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura can't cover up the failure of not making inroads into the Hindi heartland where the majority of the working class and peasantry, as well as millions of unorganised subalterns, live.

The CPI(M)'s success story is almost a story of hypocrisy. Until the drubbing in this year's assembly elections in West Bengal, CPI(M) leaders pooh-poohed any appeal for reunification. Now the mandarins at AK Gopalan Bhavan have got a rude wake-up call.

By airing the possibility of a reunification, Yechury divulged a not too-secret demand. Things would have been different had there been encouragement from the CPI's Bardhan. Until the mid-1980s sparks of ideological brilliance were seen in the polemics waged against the CPI(M) by CPI leaders like Rajsekhar Reddy, NK Krishnan and Jagannath Sarkar. Bardhan discouraged any fraternal debate on the history of the split and had even censored an article, 'Relevance of Ajoy Ghosh in the Indian Communist Movement', written by Ranen Sen and myself in 2001 (which is still unpublished).

In the article, we focused on how before his untimely death in 1962, two years before the split in the undivided CPI, general secretary Ghosh had conducted an inner-party politico-ideological struggle during the 1950s. Responding to the article, Bardhan wrote to Sen on July 3, 2001, that it "rakes up certain issues and events which will only open a pandora's box of controversies and mutual attacks without, in our view, helping in any way to further the process of unity". Sen shot back: "To describe what was stated in the article as one-sided is to take an erroneous stand on the genesis of inner-party political and ideological struggle in the Indian communist movement… Our party began shrinking gradually. Now it is a very small party and, truly speaking, under your leadership, the CPI is a satellite of the CPI(M), thanks to your leadership."

Thus, the reunification of the two communist parties still remains an absurdity. CPI historian Narahari Kaviraj disagrees with the rationale for a 'merger' for one reason: the CPI(M)'s severance from the international communist movement and proletarian internationalism. Members of the CPI may feel agonised to address 'harmads' - the CPI(M) stormtroopers at Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh - as comrades.

Sankar Ray is a Delhi-based writer specialising in Left politics and history.

The views expressed by the author are personal.