The Presidential election is being contested by two candidates – Pranab Mukherjee, standing on behalf of the UPA, and P. A. Sangma, supported by the BJP (and sponsored initially by the AIADMK and the BJD). This election is not to be seen as just a contest between these two candidates. Beneath the surface are stirrings and a churning process that presage a political realignment.
In the background of the presidential contest are the troubles afflicting the UPA government, which include the worsening economic situation due to its bankrupt policies, the lack of cohesiveness in the alliance itself and its inability to take political and policy initiatives. Price rise and corruption have eaten into popular support for the Congress and the UPA government.
The BJP’s credibility has also taken a battering. The Mumbai National Executive session put the leadership tussle and the aggressive rise of Narendra Modi on public display. The RSS’s role was evident. These events have had their repercussions on the NDA. The JD(U) response has been firm. Its assertion that it will not support Sangma or any other BJP-sponsored candidate shows its discomfiture.
The weakening of the UPA and the NDA was manifested in the ways in which they dealt with the presidential issue.
In the UPA, there was a rift between the TMC and the Congress over the candidate to be proposed. This event is not to be seen in isolation. The TMC has been at odds with the UPA government on various issues. While much of the conflict is posturing by the TMC, there is a deeper reason for it. In West Bengal, the TMC is working to marginalize the Congress and to appropriate its base, and is quite willing to resort to strong-arm methods to accomplish this objective.
The BJP wants the NDA to expand; in reality, it is in disarray. On the issue of the Presidential election, the JD(U) and Shiv Sena have decided to support Pranab Mukherjee.
As against the Congress and the BJP, the regional parties have been gaining ground. These parties are not bound to either of the major parties. They are acting on the basis of their interests, sometimes opportunistically. But the common stand they are taking is to assert the federal principle, which is a positive trend.
This is the background to the current presidential elections. The CPI(M) has always seen the presidential elections as a political issue and taken a political stand. The political-tactical line of the Party decided at the recent 20th Congress calls for fighting the Congress-led UPA government and its economic policies; at the same time, the Party is opposed to the BJP and its communal agenda. The Party will fight against neo-liberal policies, communalism and the growing imperialist influence. The Party will seek to cooperate with non-Congress secular parties on issues and initiate joint movements and struggles on people’s issues. The Party will work to build a Left and democratic alternative. Such an alternative requires the strengthening of the CPI(M) and the Left as an independent force. The process of strengthening the CPI(M) and the Left also requires the defence of the Party and the Left movement in West Bengal, which is under severe attack.
It is in this framework that the Party has worked out its approach to the presidential election. The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) has decided to support the candidature of Pranab Mukherjee. The basis for this decision has to be explained.
Approach Since 1992
Ever since the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, there has been no question of supporting a BJP-sponsored candidate. This is because, after the BJP grew in strength, an important task has been to prevent it from putting in place a constitutional head of State who would be amenable to the influence of the Hindutva forces, a development that would, in turn, be inimical to the secular democratic principle of the Constitution.
Such a consideration led the Party to support the Congress candidate Shankar Dayal Sharma in the 1992 presidential election. It is also the reason why, from 1992 onwards, notwithstanding the Party’s firm opposition to the policies of liberalisation introduced in by the Narasimha Rao government and followed by successive governments, the question of protecting the secular basis of the Constitution and the polity has been given priority. This is the understanding that led to the Party’s support to Shankar Dayal Sharma, K R Narayanan and Pratibha Patil. The only exception was in 2002, when the NDA government was in office. The BJP sponsored A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, and the Congress supported his candidature. Since there was no other viable candidate from the non-BJP camp, the Left parties put up their own candidate.
The candidature of Pranab Mukherjee in the current Presidential election has led to a deepening of the rift between the Congress and the TMC. The TMC tried to get Dr. Kalam to be a candidate, a move that had the full backing of the BJP. Having failed in that, the TMC is now left with the option of abstaining or reversing its position and supporting Pranab Mukherjee. The rift within the ruling alliance is something that the CPI(M) took into account when deciding its stand.
The CPI(M) has also taken into account the fact that a number of non-UPA parties have announced support for Pranab Mukherjee. They include the Samajwadi Party, the BSP, the JD(S) and the JD(U). The CPI(M) would have considered the possibility of another candidate to be supported if there were other secular opposition parties willing to do so. But with the exception of the AIADMK and the BJD, who sponsored the candidature of Sangma, who has now got the support of the BJP, most other parties veered round to supporting the UPA candidate. Pranab Mukherjee thus became the candidate about whom there was the widest agreement. This fact has also to be taken into account, particularly in the context of the frantic efforts that were made by the BJP and Mamata Banerjee to get Dr. Kalam to contest. It is significant that Mulayam Singh and the Samajwadi Party refused to go along with this move, more so given the fact that Kalam was their choice in 2002.
The UPA is not strengthened by the fact that many parties support its candidate. On the contrary, it highlights the dependence of the Congress on outside forces to get its own candidate through. It also indicates that these forces are going to deal with the Congress on equal terms, and that the Congress cannot lord it over them.
The political line of fighting the Congress and the BJP should not be equated as maintaining equidistance from both on all matters. For instance, on the question of President, there can only be a President chosen by the major bourgeois parties. Nevertheless, since the key issue is that the constitutional head of State should be firmly secular and not in any way open to BJP influence, the CPI(M)’s thrust will be against a BJP-sponsored candidate. When it comes to the fight against economic policies, the thrust will be against the Congress and the UPA government. The votaries of equidistance can accuse the CPI(M) of supporting the Congress-led government on the issue of President; they would also charge the CPI(M) of joining hands with the BJP when it comes to fighting and developing mass movements against price rise and other anti-people measures of the Congress. The political line of the CPI(M) cannot be interpreted in this fashion.
The removal of Pranab Mukherjee from the Cabinet and the Finance ministry will not change the orientation of economic policies. Whether it is P. Chidambaram or Pranab Mukherjee or whoever will take over from him, neo-liberal policies will continue, since it is the policies of the ruling classes that the Congress pursues. In fact, there is going to be a renewed push for neo-liberal reforms, something that the big business and international finance capital are clamouring for.
Allowing FDI in multi-brand retail is part of this renewed thrust. This is a major issue, involving the livelihood of four crore people. This has to be resisted and stopped. It can be done only by mobilizing all the political parties outside the UPA. Such mobilization must also include many parties that are supporting the UPA and those who belong to the NDA. The CPI(M) is for a strong powerful mass movement to stop Wal-Mart and others opening shops here. It would like all opposition parties to take a united stand. It would hence be erroneous to confuse the approach towards the selection of a Presidential candidate with the tactics of fighting neo-liberal policies.
The question is posed as to why the CPI(M) is not abstaining in the presidential election. As against the UPA and BJP-backed candidates, the Party could have opted out of voting for anyone.
Abstention in this case would mean lining up with Mamata Banerjee and the TMC in West Bengal. This would be politically damaging and unacceptable. The TMC is conducting a violent terror campaign against the CPI(M). Sixty eight members and supporters of the Party and Left Front have been killed since the Assembly elections. The attack on democracy extends to all sections. Even the Congress is not spared. To take the same position as the TMC will only harm the interests of the Left and the fight against the TMC in West Bengal. The CPI(M), being the largest Left party, has the major responsibility with respect to protecting the rights of the working people of West Bengal, which are under severe attack. One of the important tasks for the Party is to defend the strongest base of the Left, which, in turn, will help the Party and the Left to advance nationally.
Further, it is not a question of West Bengal alone. At the national level abstention would amount to the Party withdrawing from the fray. It would blunt the intervention of the Party in the developing political scenario.
The ruling classes have been attacking the Left in a concerted fashion with the aim of isolating it. Since 2009, the CPI(M) and the Left have been weakened. Without having any illusions that the ruling classes will cease their hostile approach, and given the unremitting position of the Left against the neo-liberal policies, it is necessary to utilize the conflicts and fissures within the ruling alliance between the bourgeois parties. Abstention at this juncture will not help in this regard.
Left Parties’ Positions
The Left parties have not taken a common stand on the presidential election. While the CPI(M) and the All India Forward Bloc have decided to support the candidature of Pranab Mukherjee, the CPI and the RSP have decided to abstain. Earlier too there have been instances of the four Left parties being unable to take a common stand on the Presidential election. For instance, from the 1992 election onwards, the RSP has often refused to support the Congress candidate.
The different positions adopted by the Left parties on this issue will not affect Left unity. As far as the major political and economic issues are concerned, the Left parties have a common understanding. It is on this basis that the Left parties have given a call for a united campaign and movement on the issue of food security and for the establishment of a universal public distribution system. Such a campaign is being launched unitedly from July 1.