Friday, July 18, 2008

How CPM lost the game

An enraged Prakash Karat declares war on Congress...
... But he has only himself to blame
Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan, I am sure, can’t stop telling himself that he had it right a year ago but his comrades, especially those in the CPI(M), would not listen to him. A quick recall of the events that followed the Prime Minister’s threat to call the Left’s bluff — “if they want to withdraw support, so be it” — conveyed to AK Gopalan Bhavan and Ajoy Bhavan through The Telegraph, would show this is no exaggeration, although people tend to scoff at the CPI of which Mr AB Bardhan is the general secretary. Rumours were rife — as they usually are in Lutyens’ Delhi even when there’s nothing much happening and the silly season has set in — that the Prime Minister was in high dudgeon (not for the first time) and had threatened to resign (also not for the first time) if he was not allowed to have his way with the India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. The coordination committee that had been set up to win over the Communists had failed to break the logjam; Mr Prakash Karat was unbending in his opposition to the nuclear deal. And then came the Prime Minister’s interview to The Telegraph, asking the Left to go take a walk — they could either take it or lump it.
The Left got into a huddle, Mr Bardhan told mediapersons that the Congress-Left marriage of convenience had reached a dead end and “divorce is imminent”. The Congress as well as its allies in the UPA went into a tizzy. Many of those who are now vociferously proclaiming their support for the nuclear deal — and in the process talking a whole lot of gibberish while trying to regurgitate the mumbo-jumbo fed to them by babus eager to stack up American IOUs — had on that occasion turned on the Prime Minister, rudely snubbing him and his obsession with the nuclear deal. Finding himself isolated, the Prime Minister had rapidly retreated from his position and meekly declared his intention to learn to “live with disappointments”.
Mr Bardhan was not impressed. He was unrestrained in his assessment that any further discussion on the nuclear deal would be nothing more than a dialogue of the deaf. Given the CPI’s past association with the Congress — it had stood by Mrs Indira Gandhi and was no stranger to the party’s guiles — Mr Bardhan could sense that the parting of ways was inevitable; that it was only a matter of time before the ‘strategic’ alliance collapsed under the weight of inner contradictions. But he was ignored by Mr Karat while Mr Sitaram Yechury, who is trying to fashion his politics after that of Mr Harkishen Singh Surjeet (which, just in case his friends don’t get it, is no compliment) convinced his comrades that he would succeed in brokering a deal over the nuclear deal and everybody would live happily ever after. With Mr Pranab Mukherjee as the interlocutor, he couldn’t go wrong.
Last week’s events prove three points. First, Mr Karat may be a brilliant strategist in the classical Marxist mould but he is a poor tactician. The Congress, which is not burdened by ideology and hence not hostage to linear thinking, has checkmated the Left and finessed Mr Karat. Second, Mr Yechury may have begun to look like a political fixer (in Lutyens’ Delhi this is not a pejorative term), he has a long way to go before he can play the role of Mr Surjeet. He has been shown up for what he is: A callow politician who over-reached his abilities. Sanctimonious and smug, he is tireless in pouring scorn and spitting bile at others, especially the BJP, while disingenuously justifying every deed and each move of his party. Mr Yechury’s self-righteousness now lies in tatters; hopefully he will take a break from his preachy politics of denunciation. Third, the CPI(M) must start listening to its leftists allies, including the RSP, rather than ignoring them. If only Mr Karat had paid heed to Mr Bardhan’s views and taken his assessment seriously, then it would not have found itself dumped so unceremoniously by the Congress 11 months later. Adding insult to injury, the Samajwadi Party, which the CPI(M) thought was a fraternal party, has come forward to bail out the Congress. Bourgeois politics has won the day, but the battle has not yet been lost.
It is not often that one sees the unflappable and usually smiling Mr Karat in a rage. But the day after the Government authorised the circulation of the draft of the India-IAEA safeguards agreement among the members of the nuclear watchdog body’s Board of Governors, he was incandescent with rage. “We will make it politically impossible for the Government to implement the deal,” he thundered. Whether or not the Left is able to achieve this objective remains to be seen, but it can surely make the situation tricky for the Congress if it were to decide, and stick to its decision, not to prop up another Congress-led Government at the Centre in the name of ‘protecting democracy’ and ‘defeating communalism’. No, I am not suggesting that the Left should join hands with the BJP or the NDA; even the slightest hint of such a development, absurd and impossible as it may be, would hurt both of them politically. These are two poles that can never meet, not even in the ‘national interest’. Past efforts to uneasily cohabit have proved to be disastrous, notwithstanding elaborate breakfast meetings at Mr VP Singh’s residence. This is not about ‘political untouchability’ but political incompatibility.
Not many years ago, the CPI(M) believed that “the Congress party has degenerated both politically and organisationally. It is a party in decline, as it has pursued when in power, economic policies which militate against the people; it is a party riddled with corruption... The Congress is no more a party which can govern at the Centre or provide the country with a new agenda”. In the past decade, the Congress has not transformed itself into something which is different from what it was described as in the Left’s Election Manifesto of 1998, drafted and published by the CPI(M). Mr Karat’s recent experience only serves to reaffirm this point.
So, let him — and the CPI(M) as well as its allies — swear that never again shall the Left join hands with the Congress for the sheer pleasure of exercising power without responsibility. Then only can Mr Karat seek to make it politically difficult, if not impossible, for the Congress to cut corners with India’s interest. If there is no such resolve, then we can only assume that once his anger has dissipated, Mr Karat will allow a rerun of events as Mr Bardhan watches from the margins. The deja vu won’t be his alone.

Coffee Break / Sunday Pioneer / July 14, 2008

(c) CMYK Printech Ltd

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