The Commies are emitting signs of what they’re inherently good at—rank opportunism. Almost by instinct, the Red clarion call for boarding the UPA bandwagon for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections has begun blaring. There is a familiar predictability to CPI(M) strongman Prakash Karat’s semantics, “Narendra Modi’s advent as the BJP’s PM candidate and the RSS’ communal mobilisation calls for broader unity of secular and democratic parties (sic)”.
A more telling indication that the emphasis of the supposedly ideologically driven has shifted from ideology to individual would be harder to find. The Left’s strident anti-BJPism has now been supplanted by a hysterical anti-Modism. With depleted strength and uncertain political equations in their bastions, West Bengal and Kerala, the commies aren’t of much use for the UPA. For the first time after the 1952 elections, India’s Communists are now unwanted guests. Their third front dreams have vamoosed with their decline in the West Bengal, with little hope of regaining strength there in the near future. The Congress is perhaps aware of how much an alliance with CPI(M) in West Bengal cost it in the 1970s. Earlier in the 40s, the Congress Socialist Party suffered the Left perfidy and was devoured in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Communists’ alliance with any dispensation is lethal for the latter; comparable to the proverbial Dhritrashtra Aalingan (the blind Kuru ruler had hugged Bhim with intent to kill him).
Karat’s description of the UPA as “the most corrupt regime since Independence” and the unrelenting Left criticism of the UPA for becoming a stooge of the US isn’t ancient history. Any Left dalliance with the UPA will necessitate duping the cadres, as support to the ruling alliance will seriously erode its pet “anti-imperialistic” credentials.
Besides, an interesting development in the Communist movement in India cannot be ignored. The Communists’ traditional anti-RSS stand is increasingly under question inside the party, whose cadre feels the CPI(M) central leadership has been exaggerating the BJP-RSS threat. The CPI(M)’s Kerala unit perceives increasing danger from Islamic radicals. The party is not averse to tactical, undeclared understanding with the RSS to combat this enemy. Besides the public utterings of V S Achuthanandan, other incidences indicate inner-party rift on the RSS issue. For instance, the Statesman reported on February 22, 2010, that senior CPI(M) leader in Kollam and the city’s mayor N Padmalochanan inaugurated an organising committee office set up by the RSS before the visit of its chief Mohan Bhagwat.
The CPI(M)’s labour wing, the Centre for Indian Trade Union (CITU), has defied the party’s directive to distance itself from the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS). The Review of the Work on Trade Union Front adopted by the Central Committee in November 2002 bemoaned: “The CITU propaganda shows absence of concrete political ideological exposure and attack on the activities of the RSS among the working class.” But the CITU itself rejected the Central Committee’s demand to add anti-RSS content in its literature. In a left-handed compliment to the Sangh’s influence on the working class, Left trade union leaders consider that an anti-BMS stand would sabotage the unity of India’s trade union movement.
In 2005, the CPI(M) central leadership did some soul-searching to fathom the growth of the RSS and discovered that it was not communal ideology but constructive and dedicated work with social concern that made the Sangh grow despite severe opposition. The party’s Political Organisational Report took cognisance of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram works in tribal areas, its network of social services centres, schools and health centres in the Adivasi areas of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Odisha and the Northeast. The Vidya Bharati’s spread (till 1997, and growing) with 13,000 educational institutions affiliated to it, 17.5 lakh students and 74,000 teachers plus Seva Bharati’s work among slum dwellers and Scheduled Castes was noticed with a call to seriously consider intervening in the educational field. The CPI(M) report also acknowledged the yeoman RSS work in the tribal areas.
Clearly, anti-RSSism does not resonate with Communist cadres. Ideological opposition to the “communal” RSS apart, the oft-propagated perception of the Sangh as a threat to democracy and secularism has been largely dissipated by their own experiences. Despite their strong pleas to Muslims, the Communists have failed to enlist the latter into their fold. Muslim presence in the highest Left decision-making bodies like the Central Committee and politburo is close to nil. Moreover, the history of parliamentary elections also exhibits their cynical opportunism. In 1967, when the CPI aligned with Bharatiya Jana Sangh and Swatantra Party, the CPI(M) derided it as “reactionary”; the CPI(M)’s own tie-up with the BJP in 1989 drew barbs from the CPI.
Ideological differences in no way justify diluting core democratic values. The anti-people and scam-ridden UPA regime merits opposition unity. The Left has a sordid past of sabotaging broad-based opposition unity with its stand on RSS, to which it has now added its truculent anti-Modism. Whether it will fetch any returns for its dwindling stock is, however, a moot point.
Sinha is Hony. Director of India Policy Foundation