Monday, June 4, 2012

Dynasty, communal manipulation, murder – Are these the choices for our Democracy?

Imagine a politician proclaiming publicly: Our party is experienced in eliminating its opponents. We make lists of our enemies and then kill them. Not long ago, we killed one by shooting, one by stabbing, one by cutting him to pieces. Everything is in our hands.

Words to this effect were uttered, before TV cameras, by a senior CPM leader in Kerala the other day. Only a few days earlier, a former CPM leader who had deserted the party had been waylaid and murdered, his face mutilated with some 50 machete blows. Most of the people arrested in that case were associated with the CPM. Just when the party's image had hit rock bottom, its own leader comes up with the statement that murder is party policy.

The top leadership of course rushed in with denials. But it made no impact on public sentiment. Never was the CPM in Kerala in so discredited a situation. In the other citadel of the party, Bengal, it had already fallen. The party's central leadership in Delhi was no more than a bystander in both cases. It had neither the imagination nor the guts to check unpopular local activities.

Many will no doubt rejoice at what are clearly desperate days for the CPM, a rebel group that broke away from the Communist Party of India, grew mightier than the parent, ruled West Bengal unchallenged – and unchallengeable – for almost three and a half decades, and wielded power in Kerala in electoral cycles. The CPM has no one to blame but itself for its plight. It is a pity, nevertheless, that in the seventh decade of practising democracy, we do not have a progressive party that can challenge the two reactionary theses that have monopolised the electoral space, namely, dynasticism and communalism.

Ironically, the CPM was itself an obstacle to progressive politics. It could have used its early popularity to identify itself with the people's interests and fight for their causes, as P.C.Joshi did with the Indian People's Theatre Association, for example. Instead, it grew very rich in Kerala and Bengal, its top leaders developed a taste for the good life, and its unions turned exploitative with strong-arm measures to sustain a no-work-more-pay philosophy.

It could have taken a leaf from communist parties in other countries and adjusted its dogma to suit the changing times. But to do so, it had to be attuned to the Indian reality as distinct from textbook precepts. One of the more respected communist leaders, Mohit Sen, said: “In India as elsewhere communists were patriots and champions of the working people. But they were not nationalists. They did not know India”.

Stalin was actually a Russian nationalist. Mao Zedong was a nationalist out and out. Even Lenin, although an internationalist, was pragmatic enough to devise the supra-Marxist theory of a vanguard leading the proletariat. Ho Chi Minh, an internationalist by training, was so focussed on the conditions of the Vietnamese people that General Giap's barefoot soldiers could defeat the world's mightiest military machine

In the last couple of decades, India's communist leaders not only did not know India; they did not know they had missed the bus. In a labour centre like Bombay, in the peasant country of Punjab and in the revolutionary soil of Andhra, they did not gain a toehold. In Bengal there were plenty of signs of popular disenchantment, but when defeat finally came, the party chief said it was “totally unexpected”. In Kerala the party chief still refuses to see what all others can see.

India can do without such a party. But it can also do without the sycophantic mindset that sustains the concept of hereditary power. It can do without the game of inciting communal emotions for political ends. What a mature democracy needs is a choice of democratic platforms – like Conservatism, Liberalism, Socialism. If the decline and fall of communism takes us a step closer to such a denoeument, even the politics of murder would not be in vain.