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When CPI(M) had a ‘pact’ with Congress in 2004

CPI(M) supported the UPA government in 2004, the last time it forged an understanding with the Congress in national politics. The companionship ended in disaster.

india Updated: Apr 22, 2018 07:31 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, Hyderabad
CPI(M),Congress,Sitaram Yechury
The divorce between the Congress and the Left saw the decline of the CPI(M).(HT File Photo)

The 22nd Party Congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), approved an understanding with the Congress party ahead of the 2019 polls, but ruled out a political alliance. This is seen as a victory for CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who favours a broad consensus among Opposition parties against the Narendra Modi government.

HT looks back at how the CPI (M) supported the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2004, the last time it forged an understanding with the Congress in national politics. The companionship ended in disaster.

Context

After the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, which threw up a hung Parliament but with the Congress emerging as the single-largest party, the Opposition came together to install a coalition government to keep the BJP out of power. The Left parties, with a record 61 seats, automatically became the anchor of such a coalition.

Senior leaders recall that then-Congress President Sonia Gandhi depended on then CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet even to build consensus on the choice of Manmohan Singh as PM. Congress strategists Jairam Ramesh and Salman Khurshid sat with Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Karat to draft the common minimum programme (CMP) and eventually, the UPA came to power. CPI(M) was offered cabinet berths but it refused to join the government and only offered it outside support. Finally, the two sides came to an understanding and senior CPI(M) leader Somnath Chatterjee, a veteran parliamentarian, was elected as the Speaker.

Significance

The divorce between the Congress and the Left saw the decline of the CPI(M). It has now been reduced to just 11 members in the Lok Sabha.

The new tactical line that allows an understanding with the Congress is the first major victory of Yechury as the general secretary of the party.

The party will not form any pre-poll alliance with the Congress, but if a 2004-like situation arises, it will be ready to support a coalition against the BJP.

Questions, however, remain on the strength of the CPI(M) after its defeat last month in the assembly polls in Tripura, which it ruled for 25 years.

The party is completely marginalised and is fast losing its footprint in West Bengal — its biggest bastion in 2004 — which it lost to Trinamool Congress in 2011 after 34 years of Communist rule.

What happened

The Congress-led UPA government functioned smoothly for the first three years with the support of the four Left parties: CPI(M), Communist Party of India, Revolutionary Socialist Party, and Forward Bloc. The Left contributed to the roll-out of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rrural Employment Guarantee Act — the UPA’s flagship rural jobs programme — and supported the Right to Information Act. But it blocked disinvestment and opening up more sectors to foreign direct investment. Trouble started when the government decided to pursue an unprecedented agreement with the US government on nuclear energy in 2007. The CPI(M), ideologically averse to the US, threatened to pull out. The Centre formed a panel to negotiate with the Left. When PM Manmohan Singh became adamant about signing the deal, Karat announced withdrawal of support to the UPA in July 2008. The West Bengal lobby, Yechury and some other members of the party were opposed to the move, but Karat found support from the CPI (M)’s all-powerful Central Committee. The CPI(M) even summarily expelled Chatterjee for not resigning from the Speaker’s post to vote against the UPA government.

First Published: Apr 22, 2018 07:31 IST