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An electoral understanding with the Congress is a necessity for the Left

The CPI(M) wants to rally all secular and like minded parties together to take on the BJP. But its antipathy to the Congress is more selective than ideological.

analysis Updated: Oct 18, 2017 11:51 IST
New Delhi: CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury with party leaders Prakash Karat, Brinda Karat and others during a protest at the BJP headquarters over the alleged RSS-BJP violence against its cadres and supporters in Kerala(PTI)

The CPI(M) is lurching from one misstep to another in getting the party electorally relevant. The raging yet unsettled debate in the party whether it should have an electoral understanding with the Congress is just another sign of this. This came soon after the party cited technical grounds against giving its general secretary Sitaram Yechury another term in the Rajya Sabha, where it was getting into the limelight disproportionate to its numbers owing to Yechury’s seniority and acceptability.

Kerala chief minister and CPI(M) politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan once famously said: “You guys know nothing about this party.” Whether the party knows what it is doing to itself is a question that begs an answer.

For all the theories it can spout for elections being not any major part of the CPI(M)’s political existence, its grand ambition about making the party a movement among the people, expanding its catchment area remains elusive. The Left has traditionally enjoyed space in forming public opinion in the country and it enjoys the support of many sympathisers in public life – mostly from the elite – who seem oblivious to their declining numbers in the Lok Sabha.

Whatever the Left is known for in the country is also because of some of the policies they introduced while being in power-- whether in West Bengal or Kerala-- or while enjoying close proximity to power. The Left parties, particularly the CPI(M) often take credit for the rural employment guarantee scheme the UPA 1 government had implemented. So, the CPI (M) has electoral ambitions at the core of its existence.

The debate over entering into an electoral understanding with the Congress comes in this context. The line that the CPI(M) follows at present is keeping equal distance from Congress and BJP. But this line proved to be flexible when the party contested the last assembly elections in West Bengal with the Congress. Though the CPI(M) is known for splitting hair on every issue under consideration, a near unanimous view is that the BJP has emerged as its biggest enemy though both the Congress and the BJP have the same class character and follow similar neo-liberal economic policies.

Being in power in West Bengal for more than three decades was the key strength of the party. But the views of the leaders from West Bengal a state that sends 42 members to the Lok Sabha seats are being drowned down in key party forums by their counterparts from Kerala who can contest from 20 Lok Sabha seats. This doesn’t augur well in the long run for the revival of the CPI (M) in West Bengal. The CPI(M) has just nine MPs in Lok Sabha, its worst ever tally. It had 24 in 2009 and more than 50 in 2004. So what is the expansion the party is talking about?

The CPI(M) needs electoral allies for its own survival. The prescription for its survival such as the grand objective of Left unity looks great only on paper. There are around 32 Left parties in the country and each is convinced that its political and tactical line is correct. Getting the political tactical line is the foremost task for Left parties. The CPI (M) is obsessed with class divides and class struggles to address caste equations. What they fail to recognise is that in a country where 51.8% of the population is below 35 years, the youth constitute just 6.5% of its total membership.

The CPI(M) wants to rally all secular and like minded parties together to take on the BJP. But its apathy to the Congress is more selective than ideological. The party had no qualms in supporting Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee as president. Most leaders in West Bengal continue to root for an electoral understanding with the Congress. Down but not out, the Congress remains the largest Opposition party in the country and the Left would do well to understand that mounting a united Opposition is not possible without it. The reality the CPI(M) tends to forget is that the Congress needs them mostly in West Bengal and in other big states such as Tamil Nadu, the depleting Left would be among the junior partners for the Congress. That means going for an electoral understanding with the Congress is a necessity for the Left, which still remains a moral political force compared to most other parties.

First Published: Oct 17, 2017 17:53 IST