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  Rumblings within CPM over line on BJP, Congress

Rumblings within CPM over line on BJP, Congress

Published : Sep 15, 2016, 12:22 am IST
Updated : Sep 15, 2016, 12:22 am IST

Open discord appears to have begun in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on the nature of one of its main enemies — the Bharatiya Janata Party — whether it is “right-wing authoritarian” or “no ord

Open discord appears to have begun in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on the nature of one of its main enemies — the Bharatiya Janata Party — whether it is “right-wing authoritarian” or “no ordinary bourgeois party as the fascistic Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh guides and dominates it”. This means there are fewer certainties left to act as signposts to track the Hindutva brigade in its determined effort to colonise India’s society and polity.

The backstory to this is the revised version of the doctrine by former CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, that the BJP is now “a party that has the potential to impose an authoritarian state on the people”, due to its linkages to the RSS. The argument is confusing, but the response it has got from Sitaram Yechury, the current CPI(M) general secretary, implies that the tweaking of the CPI(M)’s party programme, documented and approved in 2000, is not an approved text. An interview in the party’s Bengali daily Ganashakti quotes chapter and paragraph to conclude that halting the BJP-RSS juggernaut midway is the CPI(M)’s primary task. This call to unite all democratic, secular and Left forces is based on the Narendra Modi government’s performance, that is seen as the “trailer” in its first two and a half years.

If there are doubts surfacing within the CPI(M), and Mr Karat can’t certainly be alone in rethinking what the BJP’s nature is, then it is time to ask that if the RSS connection is unplugged or relaxed, will that make the BJP just one more bourgeois party The question is moot as till now the common understanding is that the CPI(M) thinks: “When the BJP is in power, the RSS gets access to the instruments of state power and state machinery.” And there is enough to show that this is exactly what happens, combined with the politics of vigilantism that uses nationalism and gau raksha, love jihad and religious conversions to impose a certain type of order that uses violence and laws, including those on sedition, against dalit protesters in Gujarat.

As anxiety mounts over how the BJP is “hollowing out democracy” and turning the government into a more authoritarian machinery, the Prakash Karat interpretation is mystifying. He and others in his party know exactly how democracy can be stripped of substance: West Bengal is one place where this has been systematically done, both under the CPI(M)’s rule and now under the Trinamul Congress. As a victim of the Congress at its authoritarian worst in 1975, during the Emergency, Mr Karat has personal experience of how empty and meaningless democracy can become when freedom is taken away.

The fault lines within the CPI(M) on identifying enemies and making friends underlies the new perception about the BJP. The Karat line — that the Congress and the BJP are equally untouchable — has been thrown down as a challenge to the bloc within the CPI(M) that doesn’t find the Congress the worst danger or the greatest enemy. This division has been played out over and over in the party, most recently in the West Bengal Assembly elections. It began in 1996, when Jyoti Basu was offered the prime ministership by the Congress in a partnership against the BJP, which the then CPI(M) leadership declined. It then resurfaced in 2004 and again came up in 2016.

The CPI(M)’s inability to decide on what it should do as the BJP gains strength and poses the greatest danger, and then stick to that decision, underlies the current tension between Mr Karat and Mr Yechury. If the BJP is thought to be the greatest danger, as it has fascist underpinnings and is authoritarian to boot, it does open up the space to the old debate over the character and consequently the party’s relationship with the Congress. It also marks the difference between what can work in West Bengal, where the CPI(M) is battling against “extraordinary circumstances”, and what are the challenges in states like Kerala and Tripura. To safeguard its turf in Kerala, the CPI(M) must identify the Congress and the BJP as equally evil; for that, the character of the BJP needs to be revised and the danger downgraded. Any other way of seeing the enemy would open up the possibility of alliances that are configured to work against only the BJP. That would make the Congress a potential partner in a complicated network of allies with parties that have a dominant presence in their states.

By going public on the issue of the BJP, Mr Karat is clearly rallying support against the possibility of the Congress being part of any alliance, directly or indirectly, in the near future. With elections approaching in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, which will be crucial for the BJP, holding aloof from the Congress is probably the bigger concern for sections within the CPI(M) that are in sympathy with Mr Karat.

These rumblings within the CPI(M) don’t greatly matter. The party has lost ground in many ways since its high point of 2004. Its status as a national party, recognised as such by the Election Commission, is also precarious. To be part of any alliance or front, the CPI(M) needs to add value to the proposition; the wrangling within the party over the BJP and by extension the Congress, and perhaps all bigger parties, makes it both unstable and unattractive politically. The programmes and positions by which it was known, and its erstwhile gold standard credentials, is now open to radical reinterpretation from within, signalling that the discipline of collective and reliable leadership has changed. In its currently reduced circumstances, the least that the CPI(M) can do is to stop brawling in public.

The writer is a senior journalist in Kolkata