Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Some reflections on the CPI(M) and the Coimbatore congress (published in new indian express, wednesday, april 9, 2008)

After being re-elected as general secretary of the CPI(M), Prakash Karat spoke of his party’s quest for the formation of a third front. Karat also declared that the party congress in Coimbatore this week had charted a concrete plan towards that. But then, Karat’s body language revealed that he did not mean anything that he said. The party is clearly being realistic; a third front, given the reality now, cannot be seen as anything but a slogan.

The political resolution that the party congress approved, after all, had conveyed without ambiguity that the party was reconciled to the prospect of remaining stuck with propping up a Congress-led coalition at the Centre. The only aspect that remains non-negotiable is that its relationship with the Congress shall not mature into a post-poll coalition. In other words, the CPI(M) will not let its men, at least in the immediate context, to join a Congress-led cabinet at the centre.

In this sense, the CPI(M) congress in Coimbatore was an insignificant event. All the sparks from Karat and his comrades, even until a fortnight ago, on the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and the ``ultimatum’’ that the leaders seemed to serve on the Government, every now and then, turned out to be rhetoric.

There were, however, some significant developments at the Coimbatore congress. One of them is the decision to relieve Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu from the Politburo; this will mean that the party’s top brass will now be constituted by a generation of communist leaders who matured in the party after India’s independence. That is only natural. Independent India, after all, is now sixty years old and that a majority of the 15 member Politburo belong to a generation that was born after independence is indeed a comment on the dynamics of the party. They are all leaders, in their own right and not because they were sons and daughters of older leaders.

This may be true with the BJP too. Barring L.K.Advani, the party’s leadership is relatively young and is constituted by a set of people who arrived in the party through one or another movement and not because their parents were holding positions of importance in the Jan Sangh. This does not mean that the BJP and the CPI(M) have things in common. The comparison, in fact, is not justified in any sense and the two parties, in fact, represent two distinct approaches to politics, society and every aspect of life.

The simple point here is that there is a stark contrast between the Congress on the one hand and the CPI(M) and the BJP on the other and the basis for the emergence of a new generation of leaders, who are there in their own rights, lay in the fact that these two parties happened to remain strong anti-establishment forces over a period of time since August 1947.

As for the other parties such as the Samajwadi Party, the RJD, the BJD, the Lok Dal, the Janata Dal, the DMK, the Shiv Sena or the National Conference, their dynamics did not allow for the emergence of a new set of leaders in their own right. These parties, like the Congress, have ended up being turned into enterprises with the son or the daughter of the top leader inheriting the mantle as it happens with property.

In this sense, there is a striking commonality between these parties and the Congress and the roots of this can be located in the fact that these parties, like the Congress (and unlike the Indian National Congress that led the struggle for freedom) were founded and existed only in order to preserve the vested and other interests of the leaders, their kith and kin.

The birth of the CPI(M) in 1964, on the other hand, was determined by an anti-establishment zeal and in this sense marked an open revolt against the pro-Congress line of the ``majority’’ in the CPI establishment at that time. This, in a sense explains the dearth of a new generation of leaders in the CPI today. Barring the not so young D.Raja, Atul Kumar Anjan and Amarjeet Kaur, the party’s top is constituted by a generation that was past its youth many decades ago. And the fact that the party did not really constitute the establishment in any way (as did the Congress), even the sons and the daughters of these leaders did not join the party in the way those sons and daughters of the Congress or the other opposition parties did.

All this is to say that the CPI(M), settled or saddled as it is with the idea of being part of the ruling establishment, could end up becoming a moribund structure. That could mean either of the two things: The not-so-young turks in the party would remain leaders even after a couple of decades and more as it is happening now with the CPI; or the sons and daughters of these leaders inherit the leadership positions in the same way as it has been happening with the various other regional and ``national’’ political outfits.

The CPI(M) did not end up in either of these scenarios all these years only because it had remained an anti-establishment force for most parts of its existence as a party. Prakash Karat, Biman Bose, Manik Sarkar and Sitaram Yechury began their political life in the Sixties in this very context. Jyoti Basu’s son and Surjeet’s son did not join the party then because doing so would have meant a life of struggle and even getting beaten up by the police or spells in jail. The sons and daughters, hence, opted out of politics. This is not the case now. We do find a number of the sons and daughters of the senior leaders in the party now and they are all leaders also because pedigree matters a lot in the conditions we live in.

In other words, the CPI(M)’s present state, where the party is reconciled, even if it is grudgingly, to the idea of propping up and sustaining a Congress-led establishment at the Centre could land the party into a state in which the CPI is now. But then, unlike the CPI, the CPI(M) is the bigg boss holding on to its own establishment in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura; the CPI ends up propping that in these States for its own survival.

This could mean that the CPI(M) too ends up as an establishment in these three States in the same way the RJD is in Bihar, the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the NCP in Maharashtra, the Janata Dal (secular) in Karnataka, the BJD in Orissa and the Congress or the BJP in many other parts of the country where the party is reduced to another immovable property and leadership positions as well as nominations to contest elections are inherited by lineage rather than merit. This may be of concern only to the party faithful.

There is, however, a larger cause for concern in this kind of a scenario where politics becomes a career option. And that is the criminal-politician-nexus that is eating into the vitals of our democratic polity even otherwise.


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