'Decision-making' is something in which the CPI(M) lacks expertise. The recent drama unfolding within the party's ranks over supporting the Congress in the presidential and vice-presidential posts give ample evidence of that.
The CPI(M) has decided to support Pranab Mukherjee, the UPA candidate for the July 19 presidential election, but has told the Congress that it will not support the latter's vice-presidebtial candidate. Such half-measures by the CPI(M) have baffled many and are raising questions about the top leadership's way of strategy-making.
Both for and against Pranab
The CPI(M) although, thanks to the Bengal lobby's hard bargaining, decided to back Pranab in the presidential poll, but there is surely a lack in unison. In fact, an ideological tussle has begun within the party on the question of supporting the Congress. One quarter feels the party should support the Congress to keep the far-right elements at bay but another believes the CPI(M) should not befriend the Congress, particularly after the latter began to pursue neo-liberal economic policies. The second group has clearly disapproved the move to support Pranab, the presidential candidate and all the more, the former finance minister of the pro-neo-liberal Congress government at the Centre.
Enemy's enemy my friend
Those supporting Pranab stressed it was the political ground reality which had to be kept in mind for making such preference. The CPI(M) general secretary, Prakas Karat, recently said the party opted for Pranab so that it could exploit the widening gap between the Congress and its ally at the Centre, the Trinamool Congress (TMC). The TMC has not supported Pranab's candidature, the fact which the CPI(M) should exploit all the more, Karat said, echoing the thoughts of the Bengal lobby.
It did not entertain the thought of abstaining from the presidential poll, saying such a stance could mean 'lining up with the TMC'. The party was so determined to back Pranab that it did not hesitate to expel a young leader Prasenjit Bose from its ranks for vehemently opposing the move. It did so even after Bose expressed his desire of quitting from the party.
The presidential poll strategy of the Karat brigade is clearly aimed at regaining some political ground in West Bengal, the state where till recently it had wielded unparalleled power. Karat has written in a recent piece that the party looks to defend the Left's strongest base in the country which is Bengal, for only then can it aspire to "advance nationally".
Individual or policy? CPM lacks prioritisation
The CPI(M)'s strategy clearly lacks clarity. Karat has maintained that when it comes to economic policies, the CPI(M) will still oppose the Congress's position. Pranab Mukherjee is just an occasion for them to widen the Congress-TMC rift. Now, if the individual is considered the decisive factor and not the policy, then why did the Left support Lakshmi Sehgal in the 2002 presidential election and opposed a clean APJ Abdul Kalam for he was supported by the communal BJP? This is a question that is being raised by many party supporters.
Even in the past, when Indira Gandhi had decided to back VV Giri in the 1969 presidential election, the CPI(M) had thrown its weight behind Giri saying Indira was then working on socialistic lines of nationalisation of banks and abolition of privy purse. It was clearly the policy of Indira Gandhi which had encouraged the CPI(M) to make its presidential preference.
Cracks within the Left instead?
Bose's opposition against the party line, the Kerala unit's displeasure or the recent expulsion of dissenting SFI members in Jawaharlal Nehru University prove one thing: The CPI(M) is yet to find out its distinct political stand and stick to it consistently. The justifications that the party has given on the issue of backing Pranab exposes that it has little understanding of the ground realities, despite being known as the 'party of the masses'.
Left no match for Mamata at the moment
Supporting Congress against Trinamool at the state level will not earn the party any dividends. The CPI(M) today clearly lacks a mass base to challenge Mamata Banerjee and the state leadership knows it very well that there is no hope for the party to reclaim the lost ground in the near future. The minority vote-bank has tilted to Mamata decisively and the middle-class is not going to entertain any thoughts of welcoming the Left any time in future, Mamata's own drawbacks notwithstanding. The 34-year record that the CPI(M) was so proud about even a few days ago, is perhaps its biggest drawback today. The aim of 'exploiting Congress-TMC tussle' will not work for the CPI(M) and leaders like Prakash Karat have little realistic base to understand that.
The move to back Pranab can prove suicidal for the CPI(M) on other counts also. Karat has said that the party wants to defend the strongest Left bastion in the country, which is Bengal. But the policy of supporting Pranab has created a fissure within the Left Front with the CPI and RSP deciding against. The blunder that the party committed in 2008 by withdrawing support from the UPA-I government despite a strong electoral base, still haunts many. The twin tragedies of going for a miscalculated 'anti-people' industrialisation policy in Bengal and pulling out from the Centre had landed the Left in a situation which it is yet to overcome. The Left has not succeeded in engineering a viable Third Front at the national level either.
'Jyoti Basu blunder' theory not relevant
The Bengal lobby's emphasis that the party should not commit a blunder like not allowing Jyoti Basu to become the prime minister 1996 does not buy much support also. Jyoti Basu commanded the same authority in Bengal even after missing out on the chance to become the PM and the party was in control for another 15 years.
High time CPI(M) reinvents itself
The CPI(M) has to strengthen its mass base in the first place. The CPI(M) is turning a marginal force with each passing day in Indian politics for it is a prisoner of history. Supporting a Pranab but opposing a neo-liberal regime is some sort of self-defeating political game that it has undertaken. The priority is wrong but does the 'academic-minded' leadership has the skill to reinvent itself and push for realistic gains?