Monday, April 27, 2015
Outside of religious faith lines, can the dead be brought to life again? The principal communist grouping in India, the CPI-M, was so systematically destroyed during the Prakash Karat years that it would be difficult to imagine it becoming relevant in Indian politics again. In the larger view of things, this is unfortunate because a country as diverse as India must have a left-right-centre party architecture for democracy to be meaningful. The BJP's proclaimed policy of a Congress-mukt Bharat visualises the very opposite. With the Left in limbo and the Janata Parivar being a party of yesterday's rejects, the Congress, however visionless, remains the main face of opposition. Congress-mukt therefore means an opposition-mukt Bharat which will also mean a democracy-mukt Bharat. That may suit the BJP, but not the people of India.
It is against this background that the change of guard in the CPI-M assumes some significance. If the party hierarchy had anyone more uninspiring than Prakash Karat, it was the man he preferred as successor, S. Ramachandran Pillai. Fortunately for the party, most other seniors showed better sense and Sitaram Yechury became the new leader. The dramatic nature of the change can be seen even at the surface level. Karat is seldom caught smiling. Yechury has a gentle smile permanently etched into his facial muscles. Karat is naturally distant, Yechury is spontaneously friendly.
As it happens, the surface features are a reflection of what lies within. Yechury is the ultimate networker -- and networkers have often been powerbrokers and kingmakers, irrespective of their party colours. Just as Pramod Mahajan's reach extended beyond the BJP and Murli Deora's beyond the Congress, Yechury's friendships cut across party lines. He is known to have good personal relations with Sonia Gandhi and with several of the younger members of the BJP and of the Janata groups. The moderated non-partisan language in which he speaks and his smiling, tolerant ways win friends easily. If Harkishan Singh Surjeet was the CPI-M's most successful general secretary because of his bridge-building abilities, Yechury is poised to be the next Surjeet.
But there were important political differences between them. When the Janata leaders invited Jyoti Basu to be the prime minister in 1996, Surjeet was in favour of accepting the offer. Yechury was with the majority of party bigwigs who rejected the offer in what Jyoti Basu called a historical blunder. On the issue of CPI-M and the CPI re-uniting, Surjeet was an obstacle whereas one of the first statements Yechury made upon his election to the top post was in favour of the communist parties coming together again.
This issue could well be the key to the Left finding a place again in India's convoluted politics. Both Bengal and Kerala have proved that the days the CPI-M could lord it over others are over. In local elections in Bengal, the party failed repeatedly to gain a foothold because it had nothing to offer, nothing to sustain the morale of the rank and file. Surveys now show that it's the BJP that would give a good fight to the Trinamool in the next election.
The party's position in Kerala is worse image-wise, although it is as prominent as the Congress in the politics of the state. Public opinion turned against it when political murders took place in the state and people linked them with the party's hard line. Leaders who disagreed with the state secretary of the party were removed unceremoniously. In some towns dissident party cadres formed rival parties. Allies who had been with the CPI-M for long under the banner of the Left Democratic Front felt slighted by the secretary and parted company. The CPI-M was reduced to a coterie party widely distrusted by the people. Prakash Karat had blindly supported this unpopular and autocratic clique in the state for unknown reasons. His departure, therefore, is seen in Kerala as an opportunity to regain the party's lost credibility.
That of course will depend on the new general secretary. With Karat's dogma giving way to Yechury's pragmatism, it should be possible for Left groups to come together without feeling terrorised by a Big Brother. India has changed and the Left, if it wants to be relevant, must change, too. It must change not only its oldworld communist terminology but also in policy positions so as to address the concerns of an aspiring generation. If Yechury does this, India will move towards the three-pronged architecture our democracy needs. The good thing is that he can -- unlike Karat.