Prasenjit Bose writes a rejoinder to the CPI(M)'s official position on the Presidential Elections.
Editors: This article has been published in the context of the ongoing debate on the Presidential elections. This is not necessarily endorsed by the Pragoti Editorial Team.
The official explanation for the CPI (M) Polit Bureau’s decision to extend support to Mr. Pranab Mukherjee in the Presidential elections fails to accurately address the arguments made while questioning and critiquing (as distinct from ‘maligning’) the decision.
Why Not Abstention?
The arguments extended against the option to abstain in the Presidential elections are devoid of any rigour. The Trinamul Congress is yet to announce its decision vis-à-vis the Presidential elections. The CPI (M) and the Left parties announced their decision 6 days ago. How could CPI (M)’s decision on June 21 to abstain be interpreted as “lining up with the TMC”? In fact, by lining up with the Congress, the CPI (M) has left the option of abstention open for the TMC, which it can play to its advantage. The TMC can continue to enjoy the spoils of power in Delhi while posturing against the Central government in West Bengal. Given the unpopularity of the Congress led government, this is likely to work in TMC’s favour. Far from helping in defending the strongest Left base, this would be further damaging for the CPI (M) and the Left Front in West Bengal.
The resistance to the attacks against the CPI (M) and other Left activists in West Bengal can succeed only by building up effective political movements against the reactionary and autocratic TMC led government on substantive peoples’ issues and not through opportunistic adjustments with the Congress. This was the crux of the understanding developed in the 23rd West Bengal State Conference of the CPI (M) held in February 2012. It is highly unfortunate that within months after the State Conference, the focus and energy has once again shifted towards the cynical backroom manouvres aiming to separate the Congress and the TMC. This basically reflects an apathy towards peoples’ issues and struggles, which has already been noted as a major cause behind the erosion of CPI (M)’s support base in West Bengal. Moreover, the credibility of the CPI (M) leadership in the state also suffers erosion.
The short point is that the only way ahead for the revival of the Left movement in West Bengal is to politically fight against both the TMC led State government and the Congress led Central government. Pitting the former against the latter and eventually abandoning it, in order to wean the Congress away from the TMC, will be – as has been the case so far since the 2009 ‘Siliguri model’– legitimately perceived as opportunism by the people of West Bengal. Far from yielding political-electoral benefits, it will further damage the Left Front and would amount to a betrayal of the hundreds of valiant grassroots activists of the CPI (M) who have fearlessly upheld the red flag and embraced martyrdom.
A united decision by the Left parties to abstain in the Presidential elections could have sent a strong political message against both the Congress and the BJP and would have been perceived as a reasonable, transparent and independent Left position. It is such principled positions which motivate the Left cadre and inspire them to dedicate their lives to the cause of the Left. In contrast, the decision by the CPI (M) Polit Bureau to support the Congress nominee is based upon elusive and unprincipled considerations of utilizing “the fissures within ruling alliance between the bourgeois parties”. At a time when the CPI (M) and the Left is politically-electorally weak, it is more vulnerable to be used by bourgeois parties rather than being successful in using the fissures between them. While it is far from clear whether the alliance between the Congress and the TMC will break in the near future, Left unity has already become a casualty, demoralizing the rank and file of the Left.
Why Support Mr. Pranab Mukherjee?
The official explanation does not clarify whether enough efforts were made to work out a credible third candidate with non-Congress secular parties. While the scope for that has surely been constrained by the limited strength of the Left parties in the electoral college, the defence of the decision to support the Congress candidate is feeble and perfunctory. The issue of ensuring the victory of a secular Presidential candidate is irrelevant in the present context; the BJP-backed candidate stands no chance to win, irrespective of the “thrust” of the CPI (M) and the Left parties. If the point is that the CPI (M) is supporting the Congress candidate because many others, from the SP, BSP and JD (S) to the Shiv Sena and JD (U) are supporting him, it merely shows that CPI (M) is tailing bourgeois parties across the board. What is the independent consideration of the CPI (M) for extending support to Mr. Pranab Mukherjee from a Leftwing perspective? This is totally sidestepped.
The official explanation seeks to wish away the ideologically and politically problematic nature of CPI (M)’s support to an incumbent Finance Minister of a Congress Government pursuing neoliberal policies, which have devastated the livelihoods of the people through relentless food inflation and led to an unprecedented plunder of public funds and natural resources under the aegis of the nexus between big corporates, ministers and bureaucrats. Support for Shankar Dayal Sharma, K.R. Narayanan or Pratibha Patil in the past cannot be invoked to justify support for Mr. Mukherjee, because none of them had such baggage associated with an inept and callous Finance Minister of a discredited anti-people government. Supporting a leading figure of this disgraced government severely affects the credibility of the CPI (M) and does grave injustice to the millions of working people who have struggled against the government’s policies under the CPI (M) banner.
It is facile to argue that neoliberal policies will continue even after Mr. Mukherjee departs from the Finance Ministry; it is well known that an economic ideology is represented not just by individual Ministers but by a regime. Individuals, however, do matter. Just like Dr. Manmohan Singh is the face of neoliberal reforms in India and Narendra Modi of the anti-Muslim pogroms of Gujarat in 2002, Ministers like Mr. Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Montek Ahluwalia etc. are the faces associated with the misdeeds and shenanigans of the UPA government (2G scam, KG basin gas pricing etc.), who are much despised by the ordinary people. Despite this, if CPI (M) supports Mr. Mukherjee today, it will only incentivize the hubris and smugness of Congressmen like Chidambaram, Sibal etc. CPI (M)’s support for their future endeavours will be taken for granted and its opposition to economic policies and corruption considered to be token. CPI (M)’s official explanation fails to address this obvious contradiction between opposing a government’s economic policies and corruption on the one hand and extending support to its incumbent Finance Minister on the other.
Violation of Political-Tactical Line
The 20th Congress political tactical line of the CPI (M) as summarized in the official explanation is to politically fight the neoliberal and pro-imperialist policies of the Congress-led government, oppose the communal BJP, co-operate with non-Congress secular parties and work towards a “Left and democratic alternative”, which requires the strengthening of the CPI (M) and the Left as an “independent force”. This line neither implies joining hands with the BJP to fight the neoliberal policies of the Congress led government nor joining hands with the Congress to isolate the communal BJP. It calls for an “independent” Left opposition to both the Congress and the BJP. It is this crucial aspect of the political-tactical line that has been violated while extending support to the Congress candidate.
The issue is whether the options for exercising a choice in keeping with the Left’s “independent” role have been sufficiently explored and exhausted. Rather than providing a convincing response, the very first sentence of the official explanation presents the scenario as a fait accompli: there are only two candidates in the fray, one backed by the Congress and the other by the BJP, as if the CPI (M) has no option but to choose between the two. In the backdrop of “stirrings and a churning process” unleashed by the Presidential elections that “presage a political realignment”, the flaccid endorsement of the Congress nominee reflects sheer lack of imagination and initiative on the part of the CPI (M) leadership.
The official explanation of the CPI (M) only makes grandiose assertions of Left unity. It is not about the Left parties being nominally united on an issue to issue basis but whether a decision strengthens or weakens the ideological-political basis of Left unity. What has happened in this case is there for all to see. Being in a denial mode will not help the Left movement in any manner, in West Bengal or elsewhere.