Subscribe to SIAWI content updates by Email
Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > India: How the CPI(M) Itself Is a ‘Principal Contradiction’

India: How the CPI(M) Itself Is a ‘Principal Contradiction’

Wednesday 7 March 2018, by siawi3


How the CPI(M) Itself Is a ‘Principal Contradiction’

By Kumar Rana

on 04/03/2018

The CPI(M) in Tripura was too short of political imagination to build up a strategy against the BJP’s outrageous campaign. Worse, it did not develop the political conversations required to alleviate social tensions.

Photo: Manik Sarkar. Credit: PTI/Files

Of course the Communist Party of India (Marxist) will not bend. It is not routing, it will tell us to believe. And why not? The Front it led has secured 46% of popular votes – seven percent points shorter than the 2013 score. On the other hand the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which could manage to share less than 2% of votes in 2013, is all set to rule Tripura by harvesting for the alliance it has formed over 51% of the votes. The five percent point difference in vote share has resulted in a tremendous swing in the appropriation of seats to the ratio of 43 (BJP+) and 16 (Left, actually CPM).

It’s not surprising, in the Indian polling system, a small swing in vote percentage makes wonders for one party while ruining the other. The Left Front in West Bengal remained in power for three and a half decades by registering about 50% of the votes, leaving the other half of the pie disintegrated. But, in 2011, its vote share came down to 42%, and the Trinamool Congress combine took away about 50% to marginalise the Left Front in terms of seat share (60 out of 294). Then too, the CPI(M) boasted about its higher share of votes; but the decline that manifested in 2011 gained quick momentum to reduce the Front both in terms of vote share and seat share gasping for breath. And, if records are to be believed, and unless the CPI(M) returns to think politically, the trend in Tripura in all likelihood is going to follow the West Bengal path.

The BJP in Tripura, despite its maneuvering the entire Congress vote bank, sending the latter to almost a state of nothingness, is still, in terms of vote share, one percent point shorter than the CPI(M). But, whatever Prakash Karat and his colleagues believe, the BJP and the Congress are clearly not the same in content, and the BJP will not leave any stone – sociopolitical, bureaucratic, muscular – unturned to see to the CPI(M)’s demise. And, the sort of politics the CPI(M) has made itself accustomed to, in its present political psyche, is far sickly to resist the onslaught.

Clearly, it is the en masse switch over of the Congress voters on which the BJP has made its castle. Indeed, except in 1977, when its vote share went down to 18%, the Congress had managed to maintain a vote bank of over 30% (in 2013 it was 37%). But, what caused the collapse of the Congress to go down to 1.5% of vote share relates not only to the weaknesses of the Congress, but also to the practice of politics that the CPI(M) has been involved in. The politics that the CPI(M) has banked upon tended to take the route of “good governance”, which it has done rather successfully.

I had in 2014 an opportunity of traveling across the length of the state, and have seen for myself how the Left Front had managed to put a break to terrible political violence in the state in the later part of the past century, and the path it took to bring peace was quite different in nature than many other state governments, namely Chattishgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, and also West Bengal are seen to have taken. It attempted to resolve the tribal-non-tribal conflicts by means of welfare measures – distribution of land, rehabilitation, reversal of land alienation, on one hand and redistributive social policies, such as food security, employment guarantee, and other social security schemes, expansion of education and health services, and so on.

The state under Left rule had invested substantially in the social sector, partly as a result of which it has had a high rate of economic growth. But, what was perhaps lacking in the whole practice was politics. The elements of conflicts between the tribals and non-tribals drew not so much on economic life as it did from the sociopolitical spectrum. Rather, with gradual upliftment in the standard of living and some representation in the ruling rank resulted in both enhanced tribal aspiration and a sense of deprivation.

What I gathered from my interactions with the people, through good governance it was possible to bring in some improvement in the lives of the tribals, but it was far too inadequate to upside down the historically built up power structure that gave dominance of the Bengali Hindus over the tribal peoples, who once formed two thirds of the population but are now reduced to one third, who have lost land, and have felt culturally threatened. Social sector investment was only one solution to the problem, but it required much more to restore in the tribal mind the world they felt secured to live in.

Photo:The CPI(M) party logo in a Left rally in Tripura. Credit: PTI

With increased level of literacy and spread of educational opportunities the aspiration of the tribals, particularly of the youth increased manifold. Tripura in terms of literacy achievement is very close to Kerala; in fact the literacy rate among the tribals of Tripura is higher than that of their Kerala counterparts. The change in literacy status brought in much substantial changes in aspiration, such as for better employment opportunity. But within the given framework of political economy it was not possible for any government – left or right – to meet the aspirations.

Here, as in West Bengal, the left appeared to be too short in imagination. The Left neither could read the minds of the aspirant youth; not could it develop a language which the youth could comprehend. The reason as to why the Left could not develop for it a receptive vocabulary lies perhaps in its uninterrupted and almost unchallenged electoral success, which was not unrelated to an expansionist line of politics – shrinking the opposition space, by various means, including development rhetoric, and preparing conditions for disintegration of opposition forces. It is true that the Tripura left had not followed its West Bengal big-brother’s line of “party society” line, but it made possible through bureaucratic intervention.

Social sector improvement measures were largely carried out through a robust bureaucratic mechanism – participatory equality, as appeared to me was still a thing of unknown future. The middle-level bureaucracy of the state was largely consisted of Bengali Hindus, who were not necessarily bad people or nurtured in their mind hatred for the tribals. But, absence of politics with substance to change the social psyche and power balance let the bureaucratic habits continue. The kind of demand for and habit of attracting “respect” in built in the bureaucracy (even the elected representatives were found to address the block development officer, “Sir”) not only had its reflection in the relationship between bureaucrats and people, but also among higher officials and his subordinates, in many cases who happened to be tribal.

Aside from this, the Bengali Hindu mind suffered from some kind of superiority complex, which resulted in their explicitly favoring the “Bengali” culture with flamboyant exhibition of the remnants of Bengal renaissance, over the tribal ones. In a school, the local residents, who belonged to a tribal community, complained to me, “Look, we have been asking the headmaster for several years to display on the walls a photograph of [the late] Dasarath Dev [CPI-M leader and ex-chief minister]; but, he is not listening to us; what is the problem in placing Dasarath Dev beside Vidyasagar, Rabindranath, and Vivekananda?”

It is no surprise that the BJP has made full use of the perceived deprivation and subordination of the tribals. In addition, it has managed to maneuver parts of Bengali Hindus, who owing to their social roots have a natural inclination towards a communal approach. I have heard many Bengali Hindus accusing the CPI(M) of appeasing the Musalmans and tribals: “Manikbabu bhalo lok, kintu or party to Musalman aar adivasider toshan kare”. So, for the CPI(M) it was a Catch-22 situation: tribals suspected it to be a party of the Bengali Hindus, and part of Bengali Hindus accusing it of favoring the tribals and Musalmans.

Then the CPI(M) has not tried to develop the kind of political conversations required to alleviate the social tensions. Instead of expanding the opportunities for participation based on the principles of equality in human status, it tended to extract participation through bureaucratic governance. That the BJP carries an armoury that contains all sorts of immoral, uncivil, and anti-humanitarian weapons should not be unknown to the CPI(M).

But it was too short of political imagination to build up a strategy against the BJP’s outrageous campaign. It failed to resolve one of the major contradictions, the insular social tension between the tribals and non-tribals that is vindicated by the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) garnering huge support from the tribal masses (it has won eight out of nine contested seats). Then the “principal contradiction” was the party itself that invoked a slogan of “good governance” championed by none other than the World Bank, rather than committing itself to the cause of peoples’ self-determination.

Kumar Rana works with Pratichi Institute, Kolkata.