CPI(M)’s Opportunist Tactics: Exposed In the Mirror of the Nuke Deal

The CPI(M)’s stance is that it has withdrawn support from the UPA Government because that Government is “bringing about a rightward shift in both foreign and domestic policies” (see a recent CPI(M) Booklet on Left Parties and the Nuke Deal) – citing price rise, the Nuke Deal, neoliberal economic policies and numerous surrenders to communal forces as instances of this rightward shift. The question inevitably arises – why did the CPI(M) continue to allow such a rightward shift to take place for nearly the whole of the UPA’s tenure? To keep out the communal forces, perhaps? But the CPI(M) itself says in the same passage of the booklet that “Communal forces cannot be fought just on the basis of political manoeuvres. They can only be defeated through the pursuit of an alternative set of policies that mobilises and unites the people of the country.” By failing to pursue such alternative policies, “it is the Congress-led UPA Government which is paving the way for the communal forces.” The unfolding events of the nuke deal serve to highlight how the CPI(M), in the name of fighting both communalism and imperialism, has based its tactics on nothing but ‘political manoeuvres’ rather than principles.

Had the CPI(M) pulled out support at a different juncture, when it could have still commanded some initiative, it might have retained at least some semblance of the claim to a moral upper hand. As it is, the CPI(M) withdrew support only when rendered redundant and left high and dry by the political opportunism of their own allies. The CPI(M)’s Coimbatore Congress had claimed it the party’s success that “faced with the political consequences of such a confrontation with the Left, the Congress and the UPA decided not to proceed further with the operationalisation of the agreement.” At the same time, the CPI(M)’s Coimbatore Congress had named the Samajwadi Party as one of “regional parties with a substantial base in their states” that “seek cooperation with the Left” and had hoped to form a “Third Alternative” with the SP. Today, on both counts (of Nuke Deal and Third Alternative) the CPI(M)’s tactical line has come a cropper, and has proved its utter bankruptcy and ineffectiveness.

Nothing underlines the CPI(M)’s predicament better than the drama over resignation of Somnath Chatterjee from the post of Lok Sabha Speaker. In spite of the fact that each vote will count on the trust vote on the floor of Parliament on 21-22 July, and in spite of the fact that the CPI(M), entirely justifiably, put Somnath’s name on the list of MPs who would vote against the Government, Somnath had made no secret of his unwillingness to resign. Prakash Karat tried in vain to make it appear as though the party would leave it to the Speaker to decide so as not to drag that ‘neutral’ post into ‘needless controversy’. But this fiction could not be kept up for long. A letter to the party from Somnath let the cat out of the bag. In that letter, he has made it clear that the issue at hand is not so much the sanctity of the ‘non-partisanship’ of the Speaker’s post. Rather, he has expressed his unwillingness to vote alongside the communal BJP against the UPA, and has said that if forced to quit his post as Speaker, he would also resign from the post of MP, so as not to have to vote alongside the BJP! West Bengal Sports Minister Subhas Chakraborty has also expressed similar sentiments publicly.

It is fairly obvious that Somnath’s and Subhas’ blatant challenge to party discipline and the party whip does not stem from some crisis of conscience caused by having to vote with the ‘communal BJP’: that plea is simply a transparent cloak for the actual purpose of justifying a continued opportunist alliance with the UPA Government. The CPI(M)’s tried-and-tested and oft-deployed tactic of using the BJP bogey to justify any extent of opportunist alliance with the Congress, RJD or other ‘secular’ parties; of branding all advocates of independent Left assertion as ‘pro-BJP’; branding even opponents of SEZs and corporate land grab as ‘closet communalists’ – has come home to roost. The CPI(M) tactics had time and again mechanically divorced ‘secularism’ from all other issues of anti-imperialism and democracy, advocating support to parties while muting any criticism of their aggressive neo-liberal agenda and anti-democratic character – all in the name of ‘secular’ unity to keep out communal forces. Today, those very tactics have boomeranged on the CPI(M) in the shape of Somnath phenenomenon (which seems to represent the tip of a substantial iceberg within the CPI(M)). Though circumstances have forced the CPI(M) to withdraw support from the UPA government, Somnath and Subhas represent the powerful trend within the CPI(M) which even in these humiliating conditions are still unwilling to withdraw support from the UPA. The pious cloak of ‘we don’t want to vote with communal forces’ is simply a convenient justification for their stance.

The entire Speaker episode too is a monster of the CPI(M)’s own making. The CPI(M) claimed to support the UPA Government from the outside rather than join the Government; why, then, did they take the Speaker post? Wasn’t the Speaker post yet another thread weaving the CPM inextricably into the Congress-UPA ruling establishment and curtailing its independence? Today as the CPI(M) seeks (out of compulsion, not principle) to extricate itself with a semblance of self-respect, that same Speaker post holds it back and keeps it enmeshed in the ruling establishment – much to the chagrin and embarrassment of the CPI(M) and the glee of the Congress-UPA.

Interestingly, this opportunistic pro-Congress position is matched inside the CPI(M) by its mirror image: at the same time that the likes of Somnath are seeking to remain with the UPA, voices within and close to the CPI(M) have started softening their stand on the BJP! W Bengal State secretary Biman Bose, speaking to a media group in London on the impending vote alongside the BJP against the UPA, said that the CPI(M) had no allergy to the BJP. The CPI(M), he said, objected to the “communal politics of the BJP”, but “that does not mean the BJP all the time did only mischief.” He further elaborated that there was nothing intrinsically more dangerous about the BJP as compared to the Congress, and the CPI(M) could support the BJP if it gave up its communal agenda – “If it happens that the BJP is opposing communal politics, then the real stand will be clarified. Whether the BJP is more dangerous than the Congress or the other way round depends on some distinct political twists and turns, and parties' principles can be judged only in those twists and turns, not in normal conditions. So wait for some days - or some years - to see those twists and turns.” In other words, which party, Congress or BJP, was “more dangerous,” could be defined according to the CPI(M)’s convenience, and the BJP could be expected to change its communal stripes!

A principled Left party ought to vote boldly against the Nuke Deal in Parliament – and ought, at the same time, to ruthlessly expose the BJP’s commitment to strategic partnership with the imperialist US at the cost of India’s sovereignty – a stark contrast with the bombast of its ‘bomb-jingoism’. Instead, sections of the CPI(M) leadership, confronted with accusations of ‘voting with communal forces,’ are offering lame justifications for the vote with BJP against the UPA: justifications that sow illusions about the BJP’s character and soft-pedal communalism. Similarly, when confronted with the virulent anti-Left propaganda that the Left is ‘allergic to the US’, the CPI(M) defensively responds that they are not ‘blindly’ anti-US at all, and just have very specific objections to the fine print in the Nuke Deal. Why not boldly assert that every Indian or any citizen of the world who values democracy and abhors imperialism is bound to be anti-US? That being anti-US imperialism is the only test for being truly nationalist in India?

CPI(M) is unable to take on communalism and imperialism in this forthright and frank manner because it has all along avoided taking a principled and consistent stance on these issues; instead changing its stance on these forces according to opportunistic convenience. For instance, the CPI(M) went with the Jan Sangh in 1977 and BJP in 1989 as part of an overarching anti-Congress spectrum – conveniently turning a blind eye to the fact that the Jan Sangh and BJP were outfits of the communal fascist RSS and in 1989, the BJP was already spearheading its mandir frenzy. Later, the CPI(M) invoked the BJP bogey only to justify and glorify its support to the UF and UPA regimes. The revolutionary left pointed out that in the first place, alliances with opportunist forces which were quite capable of switching sides over to the BJP, was bound to fail as a tactic of keeping the BJP out of power. Further, it was not enough to keep the BJP out of power – it must be kept out of the opposition space too, and that could only be done by an independent left that refused to shield and support the anti-people policies of the so-called ‘secular’ ruling class parties. The CPI(M) branded all such advise by the revolutionary left as evidence that it was ‘not serious about keeping the BJP out of power’.

As for imperialist policies: on the Patents Amendment Act, the CPI(M) did an about-turn and ended up helping to vote it into being; on the SEZ Act, they supported and voted for it outright and aggressively implemented it at gun point in W Bengal. Even on Nuke Deal, they repeatedly sowed illusions about the PM’s ‘sense of the house’ assurances – and kept barking and postponing their bite until they no longer had teeth left to bite with… And even as they ‘have their say’ on the Nuke Deal, it seems that they have let the Congress and UPA ‘have their way’.

All in all – the CPI(M)’s entire tactical line – on resisting imperialism and communal forces; on its assessment of ‘progressive’ and ‘secular’ forces among the ruling class – all stand revealed in their abject bankruptcy in the mirror of the Nuke Deal.

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