‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride’ was the elliptical answer from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after coming to power in UPA 2 on whether he missed the Left. But, for the Left now grazing in the wilderness after having lost West Bengal and Kerala, the PM’s recent bonhomie when he met a Left delegation must have caused hope to spring again in the comrades’ hearts.
Now the PM is a man who knows his mind, but we can only hope that absence has not made his heart grow fonder. At a time when the government is being accused of going slow on reforms, the Left’s brand of obstructionist politics and its outdated economic theorems are something we can do without. How quickly we have forgotten the bad old days when not a day passed without the dour CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat throwing his weight about and threatening to pull the rug out from under the government’s feet if things did not go his way.
Yes, the pm who is going through a rough patch may miss the Left’s counsel but realist that he is, he is unlikely to invite Mr Karat and co into his parlour in a hurry. The truth is that the Left might not baulk were the invitation to come. But, when it had the chance, it did not conduct itself as a true coalition partner. It may now take credit for restraining the government on economic policies, thereby allowing India to weather the global meltdown. But, the foundations for India’s economy which withstood the global hurricane during UPA1 were not laid down by the Left alone but by politicians and economists of varying affiliations.
The nuclear deal on which the PM staked his government is an exemplar of the Left’s shortsighted thinking. Instead of making a few course corrections, Mr Karat took an all-or-nothing stand. The Left had never had it so good as in UPA 1 and is not likely to in the near future unless the UPA 2 in a suicidal fit decides to take it on board. Mr Karat’s odd behaviour in the recent Kerala assembly elections clearly shows that old Marxists don’t change their ideological spots.
UPA 2 should examine what the Left can bring to the table beyond taking credit for the economy staying on course. Its championing of the poor has been taken over quite effectively by the Congress, its influence on foreign policy is negligible, its contribution to the debate on price rise runs on predictable lines. So, let us hope that it was the gentleman in the PM which made these soothing noises to the Left delegation. The Left must use this time on the peripheries to recast itself in a more relevant mould. Recycled shibboleths no longer have any takers. The pm who is a skillful economist knows that even when navigating a slightly shaky economy, he must stay the course. A Left turn at this juncture could mean going down the wrong road.