Leaks of drafts and confidential memos are the hallmark of bourgeois parties, or at least this is what our comrades would have us believe. So it can't have been too comfortable when a draft of the political and organisation report which was to be presented at the 20th party conference of the CPI(M), which began on April 4, found its way into the public domain. If it contained anything remotely resembling new thinking in the party over which the red star seems to be setting, the 'leaker' could feel a sense of satisfaction.
But predictably the report presented later at the conference by general secretary Prakash Karat contained what we could call same old, same old. It talks of the decline in the party's fortunes as being due to moral turpitude (how quaint), alcohol and drug abuse, illicit sexual relationships (what a shocker), cyber crimes, misdemeanours associated with bourgeois society, yada, yada, yada. Oh and by the way, Karat, headed for his third term as general secretary, said in a recent interview "I think communists don't retire." Think? We know Prakash, you certainly are very much around even though the party is scraping the bottom of the bottom of the barrel after defeats in both the states it once ruled and not opening its innings anywhere else.
So as the deliberations at the 20th conference, funded by the corporates who are to the CPI(M) like garlic to a vampire, show, it's clear that the party is neither going to reinvent itself nor even undertake any serious soul-searching. This explains why its mass leaders like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee have chosen to stay away, though the official reason cited is health.
The CPI(M)'s traditional cause bank has been taken over by others. The party of the people no longer holds suzerainty over issues like land reform, ownership of natural resources or equitable distribution of wealth. The more organised Maoist formations have got those firmly under their belt. The Congress party has effectively taken over the cause of the 'common man', an elastic term which encompasses the poor and the middle classes. As for the CPI(M)'s economic agenda, that of opposing the entry of multinationals in retail, privatisation across the board and opening up the agriculture sector to foreign investment to mention just a few, the BJP has got that in its grip.
The downtrodden have got their messiahs in parties like the SP and the BSP with their down-to-earth, folksy leaders. The firebreathing tactics of a Raj Thackeray today attract the unemployed and, dare I say it, lumpen elements which once formed the backbone of the CPI(M). So, when the patrician Karat speaks of the Left being an alternative to the NDA and UPA, I can only hope that he has suddenly developed a sense of self-deprecatory humour.
For a party which is threatened by complete irrelevance today, Karat is remarkably complacent. People are seeking greater democracy and transparency from all political formations. But in the Karatian worldview, it's perfectly acceptable for a gaggle of people led by himself - people who have never won an election in their lives apart from perhaps in student politics - to run a party, for the people let me remind you, from the confines of AKG Bhavan in New Delhi.
The loss of both Kerala and West Bengal should have set off alarm bells within the party. Did this occasion introspection within the leadership? Not really. The leadership felt that it had gone wrong but that it was a collective responsibility. What a delightful way of avoiding naming names. And it doesn't end there. The real vote-catchers in the party like Bhattacharjee and Kerala's VS Achuthananadan were banished to the sidelines as Karat blundered, Alice in Wonderland-like, through a political landscape which cannot be interpreted or understood anymore by re-reading the collected works of Marx and Engels.
Yet, the collective leadership speaks of the lack of democracy in other parties, the perils of dynastic rule, the sell-out to capitalism. I would take it seriously if Karat and Co would entertain any state unit standing up to them. Dissent of that sort is not tolerated by the AKG Bhavan commissars who seem to be living in la la land.
A strong pro-socialist formation is vital to our democracy and a sane and functional CPI(M) could have filled that political space. But, as things stand today, it has frittered away the advantage it once had. It is still not too late for the more realistic and politically savvy elements in the party to force a rethink and initiate a reinvention in keeping with the drastically changed political scenario today. Karl Marx said, "Democracy is the road to socialism." It is a pity that Karat has turned that on its head and thinks that socialism as he interprets it is the road to democracy.