Lok Sabha elections: Why Congress fielding Rahul Gandhi from Wayanad puts CPI(M) in a bind
On Sunday, the Congress announced Rahul Gandhi’s candidature from Wayanad in Kerala. Today, a political party’s newspaper in Kerala carried an editorial, which says Rahul Gandhi’s prospects in Amethi do not look good; a hype is being created about a Rahul Wave; Priyanka Gandhi’s entry does not seem to be having any impact; Wayanad has been chosen with an eye on minority votes etc. Intuition would suggest that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would say such things. However, the newspaper in question is Deshabhimani, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s mouthpiece in Kerala.
To be sure, there is nothing new in the CPI (M) and the Congress trading such polemics in Kerala. In fact, they do worse, and indulge in lethal political violence, in which party workers from both sides even lose their lives.
However, the Congress’s decision to field Gandhi in Kerala is a clear snub to the all-India leadership of the CPI (M), especially its general secretary Sitaram Yechury. Here’s why. After Yechury took over as general secretary of the CPI (M) in 2015, there has been a clear pro-Congress tilt in the stance of the CPI (M). The biggest proof of this was an alliance of the CPI (M)-led Left Front and the Congress in the 2016 assembly elections in West Bengal. Ironically, this was in complete violation of the political line adopted at the 21st party congress of the CPI (M), which elected Yechury as general secretary. The political resolution adopted at the party congress was categorical. “While the main direction of the struggle is against the BJP, the party will continue to oppose the Congress…The party will have no understanding or electoral alliance with the Congress”, it said.
This author predicted before the West Bengal results that the alliance would be counter-productive for the CPI (M) while it could benefit the Congress . The CPI (M) lost its status as the principal opposition party in the West Bengal assembly to the Congress in 2016. The line of not having any truck with the Congress was reiterated once again in the 22nd party congress in 2018. However, this did not prevent the CPI (M) from having prolonged seat-sharing negotiations with the Congress in West Bengal for 2019 elections. The disagreement was essentially on seat-sharing rather than ideological reasons. “In Bengal, we said that there will be no mutual contest in the sitting seats. The Congress was unfortunately rigid... we have been sincere in our no-contest offer, it is the Congress which reneged, Yechury said in an interview to Press Trust of India.
Also Watch: Rahul Gandhi to contest from Wayanad LS seat apart from Amethi
No amount of ideological gymnastics can explain the CPI (M)’s hypocritical stance vis-à-vis the Congress today. It wants to ally with the Congress in West Bengal, but calls it all sorts of names in Kerala. And this is a party that demands unanimity on even international affairs within its ranks.
To be fair, the Kerala unit of the CPI (M) is at least being consistent in its posturing. Even in 2004, when the Opposition was trying everything to defeat the then BJP-led government, the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front won an unprecedented 18 out of the 20 seats in Kerala, with the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) being its main adversary. Despite the LDF and UDF being arch-rivals, the Left extended outside support to a Congress-led government without any controversy within its ranks.
What has changed today then? Why is the CPI (M) leadership accusing the Congress of targeting the left by trying to field Rahul Gandhi from Kerala? The LDF and the UDF continue to be arch-rivals in the southern state. The actual problem is outside Kerala.
The CPI (M) is facing extinction in its erstwhile stronghold of West Bengal, which gave an average of 31 out of 42 seats in the state to the CPI (M)-led Left Front between 1980 and 2004. This tally came down to just two in 2014. The LDF’s tally in Kerala, unlike West Bengal, has been quite volatile. It was the assured parliamentary strength from West Bengal, which gave the all-India leadership of the CPI (M) (people like Harkishan Singh Surjeet) the wherewithal to convince regional players to forge both pre-poll and post-poll anti-BJP coalitions.
The Congress had good reason for not riding roughshod over the Left when it was assured to have at least 35 seats in the Lok Sabha. The CPI (M) leadership can no longer play the pre-2009 role in dictating the strategy of Congress or other anti-BJP parties. Instead of showing double standards vis-à-vis the Congress, the CPI (M) leadership should introspect whether there is any Lok Sabha seat in the country where the rank and file of the Left will share the same kind of enthusiasm which the Congress workers in Wayanad are displaying over Rahul Gandhi’s candidature.
The short point is the leadership of the CPI (M) does not evoke confidence within its rank and file. This is a big reason for the predicament facing the left in Indian politics today.