Harish S Wankhede teaches political science at University of Delhi. He can be reached at enarish[at]gmail.com.
The popular young leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM), Prasenjit Bose (Convener of the Research Unit of the Party) was expelled after he showed open disagreement in his resignation letter against the Party’s decision to support the Congress’ candidature for the presidential post. It was a shock for many ex-SFI activists. Following the debate initiated by Prasenjit, the Students’ Federation of India’s (SFI) JNU unit took a courageous attempt and has passed resolution against the party’s decision to support Pranab Mukherjee, defending its constitutional credentials and the legacy of democratic debates in the campus. However, the Party also reacted against the SFI’s decision in the most insensitive and authoritarian manner dissolving the whole of the unit and expelling further the four most dedicated cadres from the primary membership of the organization.
Earlier, because of its strict authoritative structure and discipline of the cadres, the internal crises within the party hardly surfaced in the public forums. The recent expulsions are unfortunate but also cater the capacity to re-open the debate over the questions of democratic centralism, political strategy of the Left front vis-à-vis the bourgeois parties and the future of CPIM in India.
The presidential election has been conducted at a juncture when the CPIM at various levels has raised people centric issues of price rise, corruption, stagnation in economic growth, subsidy cuts and seer lack of sincere political vision towards the empowerment of the underprivileged groups especially of the Dalits, Tribals and the Muslims. The Left is in the front to argue that the Congress is not only notoriously known for his pro ‘big bourgeoisie’ political acumen but also handled the economic policies mainly to protect the interest of the ‘neo-Imperialist’ capitalist forces. In the recently concluded 20th Party Congress of the CPIM (April 2012), it reprimanded the Congress and the BJP for their anti-people economic policies and pledged to form a non-Congress and non-BJP political alliance in the future. Therefore, many like Prasenjit are surely ‘surprised’ when CPIM chose to support the Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature and even endorsed it at the cost of breaking the Left front unity. His resignation thus highlights the lack of ‘political correctness’ of the Party while deciding over the Presidential candidate.
CPIM’s decision on the presidential election is detrimental to the Left politics in India. The failure of the Party to reflect upon other alternatives, including abstention (as decided by the other parties of the Left alliance) and could have demonstrated its commitment to build a non-UPA, non-NDA political alliance. Further the candidature of P. A. Sangma was also in the fray. Party’s decision not to ponder on his candidature, which was eventually supported by the two chief ministers (the trusted allies of the Party Biju Janata Dal and AIADMK) suggests that the Party has surrendered completely to the dictates of the Congress on political strategies.
Sangma is one of the respectable leaders from the North Eastern states and has shown political maturity during his tenure as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Being helmed from the socially underprivileged and marginalized section of the society, he represents the identity of the Tribal population at the national level. He could have been presented as the candidate of the ‘Third Front’ against the Congress and, thus, as a political strategy his candidature could have provided impetus to the dormant ‘Third Front’ and many small parties and individual members of the various legislative bodies could have been contacted to seek support for his candidature. On the later stage, even if the BJP supported his candidature, it could have been understood as a ‘broader political unity’ against the Congress’ candidate. Such ‘political correctness’ is already demonstrated during the Nationwide Strike against the petrol price rise (31st May 2012), in which the right wing political outfit also participated alongside the CPIM.
The supporters of Prasenjit (a lot of young and dedicated members of SFI in JNU) assume that the Party has taken such hasty decision in the pressure of the West Bengal Party branch which is perplexed by the decision of Mamta Banerjee of not to support the UPA’s candidate. The state branch must have analyzed it as an opportunity to get back to the disgruntled ‘Bhadralok’ electorates who distanced itself from the party in the last elections. In seer desperation to attract the attention of the middle class sections, Pranab Mukherjee appears as the prudent choice. The Party leadership must have thought that the choice to abstain or oppose the populist ‘Bengali Bhadralok candidate’ would eventually hurt the parochial sentiments and would eventually affect their future electoral prospects.
In this light, CPIM’s decision to support Pranab Mukhejee can be understood as the lack of capacity in taking independent political decision and as a submission to the overarching dictates of the Congress Party. Further, the decision also demonstrates its parochial, elitiest and upper caste biasness. The party has not at all contemplated to show its national and pro-underprivileged characteristics and thus rejection to P. A. Sangma’s candidature and even not abstaining in the election demonstrate that the party is pondering mainly to appease the Bengali middle class electorate for the electoral benefits in the upcoming local elections.
The resolution of JNU SFI unit thus substantiates the political merit that Prasenjit have argued in his resignation. It’s a brief reflection of people’s frustration against the Congress public policies which the political elites have failed to witness till date. Bose’s resignation and the resolution passed by SFI-JNU in this context appears courageous and appropriate political decision and can influence many others outside Delhi who are also thinking alike. Prasenjit and his supporters in JNU have correctly voiced the disagreements which most of the members and sympathizers of the party felt in the recent past. At a juncture, when the left forces are diminished to the level of irrelevance, such flashy political gimmick by the Party will further reduce the left force to the oblivion. This is high time for the Party leadership to redraft its visionary ideological understanding to strengthen the revolutionary left politics in India.
For Prasenjit and his supporters, the next level of battle will be more stringent and harsh. First, there is very little space available in Delhi to float a left political alternative. Second, Prasenjit is not a mass leader with an option to mobilize disgruntled CPIMs cadres outside Delhi, especially in West Bengal. Third, sticking to the JNU politics and mobilizing students on this cause may have some immediate effects but in the long run such activity will be termed as another disillusioned ‘leftist adventurism’. Hence, the future of this ‘correct political decision’ appears constrained by multiple practical hurdles. Let’s hope that the spirited counter against the authoritarian decisions of the Party will rise with some unpredictable political resolution and strengthen the progressive and revolutionary Left movement in India.