Monday, July 28, 2008

Another 3rd Front, they say, is in the making....

Another third front is in the making. The nucleus this time is Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. The end game of this combination is to install Ms. Mayawati as India’s Prime Minister. The foundation for this formation were laid in the context of the confidence vote consequent to the decision by the Left parties to withdraw support to the Manmohan Singh-led UPA Government. We found all this written in the print media and discussed on private news channels during the couple of days before and after the confidence vote in the Lok Sabha On July 22, 2008. The Bangalore blasts and thereafter the blasts in Ahmedabad have led to a premature end to this discussion.

The mainstream media also talked about how Prakash Karat’s ego as well as that of Mayawati’s ambitions came together to bring about this front. And those of us who are used to watch what goes in the name of news in the 24 by 7 channels were sufficiently entertained by the reporters and the experts there when they went about thrusting the microphones into the mouth of every opposition leader of insignificance wanting to know if they supported Mayawati as Prime Minister. Chandrababu Naidu, Chandrasekara Rao and H.D.Deve Gowda were those leaders who were held significant by these journalists and their opinions about Mayawati as Prime Ministers made news stories! And so were Om Prakash Chautala and Ajit Singh!

Well. All these were important leaders who had impacted national politics at some point in the past. And it is possible that they may re-emerge as leaders with clout in the future too. There is no way one can write off any political party or leader given the dynamics of our political discourse. But then, there was abundant absurdity in the manner in which this third front was discussed by the media during the week when the confidence vote was taken by the Lok Sabha. The Left and the BSP add up to only 77 MPs in this House; and the others who gathered around them such as the TDP, TRS, JD(S), RLD and INLD can at best add only less than a dozen MPs to the front. In other words, all these parties put together were adding up to less than 100 MPs in a House of 541 and the media began constructing tales of a front in the making and anointed Mayawati as Prime Minister.

That was absurd to say the least. And it was baffling and even strange that any one of the leaders, including Mayawati, did not find it prudent to call the media professionals what they were in doing what they did. Well. The media professionals simply went about displaying their lack of common sense and at some level a kind of idiocy emerging out of a false sense of arrogance. There was a vulgar design behind this too. The media managed to construct the spectre of a Dalit as India’s Prime Minister in the process and provoke a reaction, from among the middle classess, against this. All this was done by deliberately pushing, some of the real basis to the realignment of forces, under the carpet.

Take for instance the fact that barring the Left parties, none of the others in this combination were definite about their attitude to the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. The TRS, for instance, had declared its intention to vote against the Government only because the Congress party and the UPA Government it led was not prepared to commit to the formation of a separate Telengana. It was also a fact that neither the Left nor the TDP was willing to do that but then the TRS decided to teach the Congress a lesson and that was all. Similarly, the TDP, with only 5 MPs (and it turned out that two of them voted with the Government side) was consistently anti-Congress and had shown its willingness to sup with the BJP in the past and has not shown any determination to desist from that in the future too.

The BSP, similarly, joined the Left-led moves only because its adversary in Uttar Pradesh – the Samajwadi Party – had jumped on to the Congress-led fold and had begun pushing the Union Government to abuse the CBI and other central investigation agencies to push Mayawati around and drag her into facing criminal charges. It was common knowledge to anyone with even a remote understanding of the political discourse of Uttar Pradesh to conclude that the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party can never be seen on the same side of the political spectrum. This, we know, has determined the political alignment in Tamil Nadu for long ensuring that the DMK and the AIADMK are necessarily seen on wither sides of the political divide between the Congress and the BJP since the past decade.

As for the INLD, no one including its leader Om Prakash Chautala, would know whether the party is committed to secularism of communalism at any given point of time. And the same holds good for Deve Gowda and his Janata Dal (secular), though M.P.Veerendra Kumar, one of the party’s three MPs is a ``natural’’ ally of the Left simply because his political stakes are intrinsically and intimately tied up with the CPI(M) in Kerala. The RLD, led by Ajit Singh has shown, in the past, its willingness to strike deals and bargain between the Congress, the BJP and any political party in Uttar Pradesh as long as it helps Ajit Singh become a Minister or at least make him richer. And the AGP too is no different from any of these formations and ideologically it is closer to the BJP than the Left or any other democratic platform in Assam.

All this is to say that there was no way that the hotch-potch that came up in the limited context of the confidence vote could have evolved into a third front both in the context of this Lok Sabha as well as in the medium term involving elections to the next Lok Sabha. In a sense, this was essentially a creation of the media as well as the desire of the self preserving class of leaders who constitute these parties to bask under the prospect of emerging leaders of significance at the national level. It is true that Mayawati was seen as believing that she is now the pivot of a national political formation and must have imagined herself as India’s Prime Minister. She must have, otherwise, dismissed all such talks in real earnest and clarified that the unity was for the limited purpose of showing that Manmohan Singh and his cabinet lacked the majority support in the Lok Sabha. And for obvious reasons, the Left parties too did not consider it imperative for them to clarify this much.

Having stated this much, it is important to clarify that all this is not to dismiss the possibility and the necessity for a non-Congress-non-BJP political formation at the national level. In other words, such a front, call it by any name, is necessary as well as possible. And this will necessarily have to hinge around the Left parties rather than being forged around one or another avatar of the socialist platform as it had been happening in the past.

It will be appropriate, in this context, to briefly recount the trajectory of this process in our past. The process of opposition unity began in the mid-sixties when the Congress began losing its position as the natural choice of the Indian voter. The initiative and the framework for that unity came from Ram Manohar Lohia and it yielded fruits in the general elections in 1967 when the Congress party was voted out in 9 states and was reduced to a mere 283 seats in a 520 strong Lok Sabha. The opposition, then, consisted of the Socialist Party, the Bharathiya Jan Sangh, the Swatantra Party and the Left. This process continued to unfold during the decade after it came up and evolved into the Janata Party in 1977. If the force behind the change in 1967 was the overall administrative failure of the regime and the weaknesses inherent to the Nehruvian socialist agenda, the catalyst for 1977 came in the form of Indira Gandhi’s emergency.

But then, between 1967 and 1977, the Left had learnt substantive lessons from the experience and matured into maintaining a distance from the formation. The collapse of the Janata in 1978-79 and the fact that the Left had stayed clear of promoting and preserving the formation in its original self was indeed based on a clear understanding that an alternative to the existing regime will have to be one that is strategic and not merely a tactical formation. And this understanding was behind the manner in which the Left treated the V.P.Singh experiment and the Janata Dal in 1989. E.M.S.Namboodiripad, then led the CPI(M), and the other Left parties by extension, to set the terms for their support to the regime rather than being seen running around to forge just another alternative to the Congress.

All this, however, was given up and the task of forging an alternative was redefined from the framework of politics-as-the-art-of-the-possible in May 1996 by Harkishen Singh Surjeet. The United Front, in that sense, was anything but an alternative to the Congress. Nor was it a political formation that was committed to keep the BJP at bay and this was proved when such parties as the TDP, the DMK (or such smaller outfots from Tamil Nadu as the PMK and the MDMK) jumped over to join the BJP-led NDA just when that became the ruling alliance at the Centre. And we also noticed that most significant elements from the socialist fold of the Janata Party had settled down with the BJP by 1998-99 because that made it possible for the leaders of those outfits to become ministers. And in due course, the others who had practical difficulties about joining the BJP-led combine agreed to team up with the Congress (read Lalu Prasad Yadav) for the same reason as a Sharad Yadav and a Nitish Kumar teamed up with the BJP.

We have also found such players like Ram Vilas Paswan (a product of the churning in 1967) and Ajit Singh (whose father Charan Singh split up the Janata Party objecting to the presence of the Jan Sangh members in that) having no problems in teaming up with both the BJP and the Congress at various times. All this were reduced to insignificant developments by Deve Gowda through his political games in Karnataka in the past few years. And now we have Mulayam Singh Yadav, another key player in the political discourse during the decade between 1989 and 1999 turning into the strategic planner in the game to preserve the Manmohan Singh regime.

There is something common between all these. These formations, in the name of being alternatives to the status quo, have only emerged as promoters of the political economy that has landed the nation into where we are and are eager to push the same model further as a solution or a way out of the crisis. That the nation is in the grip of a crisis that encompasses the political, economic and social realms is a fact that all these parties agree to. And it is also a fact that all of them have been active players in the making of the policies that led into this crisis. While it was a settled issue that the Congress party was responsible, through its policies, for this crisis, the fact is that the BJP and its policies are not too different from that of the Congress. This was evident in July 1991 when the BJP and the Congress agreed to pass the New Economic Policy resolution in the Lok Sabha. And the record of the BJP-led Government between April 1998 and May 2004 was in no way a departure from the policy that Manmohan Singh enumciated in July 1991. The United Fronts between May 1996 and March 1998 too (of Gowda and I.K.Gujral) were no different.

And that is where the quest for a third front is imperative as well as possible. It is imperative because the nation cannot remain one and a peaceful place to live with mounting unemployment, under-employment and the increasing attacks on agriculture on the one hand and the pronounced neglect by the state on such critical welfare areas as the Public Distribution System, the health-care network and the abject neglect of education as we see across the country. The fallout of this is the spread of political groups that consider violent reprisals as the means to liberation into new regions. This is a cause for concern simply because whatever be the end game of these groups – call them the Maoists or by any other name – the consequence of their acts simply legitimize the use of more and brutal force by the state against the ordinary people in the villages. The ultimate result of all this could be anything but strengthening democracy.

And at another level, we do see the resistance to such bad policies and the measures such as land grabbing, in the name of economic development, in Kalinga Nagar, Nandigram and Dadri (to name a few such struggles) or the struggle for democratic rights around the detention of Dr. Binayak Sen in Chattisgarh under draconian laws that are illegitimate to say the least, building up across the country. The people in the Narmada basin and in the forests across Madhya Pradesh have been resisting the Indian state and its brutal force for several years now. The basis for a third must be located in these struggles and the Left can lend them a political direction if only its leaders show the courage and honesty to revisit some of their positions that were considered settled in the past. One of it is that technology as the driving force of positive change and thus the tendency to celebrate any development based on technological superiority.

Nandigram and Singur are the fallout of that mindset. And this is a legacy that they internalized in their thoughts from the experience of the Soviet Union in its hey days. That baggage will have to be discarded by the Left parties if their quest for a third front is to be realized in any meaningful manner. In other words, the Left parties must agree to define the Socialist alternative as one where the rights of the human being in the political, cultural, social and economic sense of the term is internalized as non-negotiable. In other words, the idea that socialism is not just about a change in the men at the helm of affairs and is instead a brand new alternate vision to capitalism will have to constitute the very basis of their existence as a political party. For the Left’s claims to forge an alternative, in today’s conditions, to make sense, it will have to locate that process and that project in these various struggles against the liberalization-privatisation-globalisation agenda as well as the undemocratic options that the existing regimes are resorting to against the people and their organisations.

Let me conclude this case recalling what Frederich Engels had to say in his own times about the communist project. Referring to the experience of the Paris Commune, where the working class for the first time held political power for two whole months, Engels wrote another Preface to the Communist Manifesto in 1888. And in that, Marx’s intimate friend and collaborator said: One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’’ Well, a third front or anything else that the communists attempt will have to have the revolutionary transformation of the lives of the toiling people as its strategic end and that cannot be served by mere tinkering of the set up that we now have.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Nithya Caleb said...

Sir, while I admire your optimism vis-a-vis the Left, I feel it's misplaced. The Left, I don't think is going to internalise or even provide some support for groups such as the NBA. A pan-Indian grouping of these socio-political groups, that was discussed during the 2004 elections but didn't materialise, would rather be a better option

9:29 PM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

hi
cannot claim to be a human being without being optimistic... i still think a national political project without the left is easy to be made but will not make much headway.

10:54 PM  
Blogger utpal siddhartha said...

Sir, I completely agree with your criticism of the role of the media in projecting the new Third Front and Mayawati as the new Prime Minister. This is not the first time media has shown its imprudence so vehemently. The day Mayawati came back as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, our media-persons were more than willing to crown her as the next PM. So, nothing new to the way media works. It has projected Narendra Modi too as the top contender for the job.
Moving to the second and more crucial question, whether we need a Third Front, is it possible and how, I have certain disagreements with your point of view. Yes we need a third front for sure. A front which has an alternative to the present set of economic policies, because I see these policies floundering everyday, even on the street of the financial capital of the country(Mumbai). But I don't think the Indian left would be able to come out with anything substantial. I am forced to think so due to the experiences of the recent past. Rather a new social formation of the kind Nithya has talked about, could be a good option. I know it's difficult, but not entirely impossible. I am optimistic that someone with a new vision would come up with such a front.

8:53 AM  

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