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Left Unity or Extended Secular front ?
Subir Bhaumik
Left Unity or Extended Secular front ?
PHOTO : Sitaram Yechury and Manik Sarkar at 21st Party congress at Visakhapanam. TIWN File Photo

To be or not to be is the question , Shakespeare had said. For the CPI(M) and its new general secretary Sitaram Yechury , the daunting question is to be just happy with left unity -- and that is not the case, then what kind of an extended secular front will it seek against the BJP led NDA that runs the national government and many state governments as well.

Left to himself, Sitaram , being the pragmatist that he is, would like to forge some kind of an extended front -- and some working relations with the Congress as well. The way to do that is to identify the BJP as the prime enemy as it threatens, in Left opinion, the very secular edifice on which India is built. 

But that is not to be -- atleast not soon enough. Brinda Karat, CPI(M)'s only woman politburo member and wife of outgoing general secretary Prakash Karat  has made it clear that the CPI(M) sees the BJP and the Congress as 'equal evils' -- the Congress for its policies of liberalisation and corporatisation and the BJP for carrying the same economic policy and also undermining the secular fabric of India.

Her statement immediately after Yechury's elevation as general secretary was intended to drive home the point that Yechury cannot just warm up to the Congress as the CPI(M) did in 2004 . That's not the party line now -- he was subtly reminded by Brinda.

The CPI(M) has grown on anti-Congressism in all its three main bastions -- Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. So the comrades on ground can rarely get over their innate tendency to hit out at the Congress. Same for Congress leaders and workers -- in these three states, they have always seen the CPI(M) as their main foe. 

An example was a press conference by  Congress general secretary in-charge of Northeastern States Luizinho Faleiro just before the 2013 state elections when he ''presented a 22-point charge sheet in the people's court" against the ruling Left.

 " In the 19 years of uninterrupted rule of Left Front government in Tripura, proportion of crimes, underdevelopment and corruptions have increased to a record extent, " Faleiro said.

Claiming the misrule of the Communist Party of India-Marxist led government in Tripura was a "classic example" in the country, Faleiro, a former Goa chief minister, said: "The Tripura government has got thousands of crores of rupees under the 16 flagship programmes of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government, but the people did not get any benefit from these schemes."

He also claimed that 67.78% of Tripura's population was living below the poverty line, against the national average of 27%. "Why do 76,000 people of Tripura not have two square meals a day? Why there is no drinking water source in 2,877 habitats out of 8,132 habitations? Why are 155,766 families homeless? Why do 70 people commit suicide every month? Why is crime against women highest in the country in Tripura?" read the charge sheet.

Highlighting "28 major scams" during the Left regime, the charge sheet said: "The Lokayukta act in Tripura is a politically motivated legislation with a view to save the corrupt ruling party leaders and for the purpose of legalising all cases of corruption committed during the 19-year rule of Left parties."
 
It is thus understandable that the Tripura comrades are not yet keen to have any understanding with the Congress at the national level. But in West Bengal, with the ruling Trinamul (now not in alliance with Congress) on the rampage and the BJP influence growing steadily , the Left including the CPI(M) is now not averse to atleast some tactical understanding with the Congress. A Left-Congress consolidation is seen by many Congress and CPI(M) leaders as the only way to bring down or atleast tame the Trinamul bull and curb the BJP's rising influence . This need for a Left-Congress understanding stems from a crisis of relevance for both -- they would both like to avoid a stage when the BJP emerges as the main opposition party to the Trinamul . 

On taking over as CPI(M) general secretary, Sitaram Yechury has made it clear that recovering lost ground in West Bengal will be his priority. "We are attacked in Bengal because we are still relevant ," he has said. The Bengal comrades who backed his elevation against the machinations of the Karat-Kerala combine would surely want Yechury to focus on Bengal. If that happens, there is no real way out for the CPI(M) and the Left other than 'tactical cooperation' with the Congress. 

So the ' to be or not to be ' question before Yechury is whether it is possible to cooperate with the Congress in Bengal and fight it tooth and nail in Tripura and Kerala ! Politics is the art of the possible and pragmatism is its trademark in an era when the Chinese Communist Party stays Communist even after declaring the 'decisive role of the market' in its last plenary session and the first after Xi Jinping became President. Yechury cannot do a Deng or a Xi trick in India for sure -- atleast for now. But he can surely go back to the pre-2004 stage when the CPI(M) and the Left was at the peak of its parliamentary influence , until Karat forced the party to try bringing down Manmohan Singh government over the Indo-US nuclear deal . The rest is history.  

(Mr. Subir Bhaumik is a veteran journalist, former BBC correspondant and author of  two well acclaimed books ‘Insurgent Crossfire’ and ‘Troubled Periphery’ )
 
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