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India's Left Caught in Contradictions Galore
|by Ramesh Menon|
It will be interesting to see how the Indian voter reacts to the Left in the next general elections that are threatening to happen soon in the world's largest democracy. The Indian voter has sprung many surprises in the past and it may do it again. This time, they may need to opt for a party that puts the nation before their narrow political ends.
The Indian left shrewdly chose not to join the United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress but to support it from the outside. It wanted to play kingmaker and at the same time did not want to seen dining with him.
India's Left is a fascinating study for any political science student anywhere in the world. At the centre, it supports a Congress led government, but in the states of Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal, it cannot see eye to eye with the party fighting it bitterly in every poll. Both look at each other as untouchables in these states.
The Left, by sitting outside, has also been the main opposition of the UPA openly criticizing it at every step. Its economic policies, its foreign policies, its defence tie ups, its trade policies favoring countries like the United States, the nuclear deal with the US, its budget and everything else the government has done to effect economic growth has been attacked openly. In the process, it has tried to show how selfless it is not wanting power and talking for the man on the street.
The Left is against any form of privatization, does not like free enterprise, does not want airports to modernize, does not want loss making PSU's to be restructured or lopped off, does not want fuel prices to be increased even though it has globally risen and is ready to call for a bandh at the drop of a hat.
It is not easy understanding the Left. They allowed veteran Somnath Chatterjee to be elected as speaker but want him to vote against the government! With all their intellectual pretensions, how can they want the speaker to take sides? Chatterjee, who is spotless, would rather not do it and has said so publicly as he does not belong to any party as a speaker. But this simple logic does not appeal to their sense of righteousness and are today gunning for his head.
Privatization in India is bad for them, but in the Left ruled state of West Bengal, it is the best thing to do to bring up the economy of the state. In West Bengal it is okay to accept foreign loans, to invite Foreign Direct Investment with open hands, to let in the biggest industrialists in the country come in and set up shop, establish Special Economic Zones on fertile lands that give more than two crops a year and so on. In the rest of the country, SEZ is a dirty word for the Left.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a communal dangerous fascist party for them. But it is okay to smile, shake hands with them and sit and vote against the UPA government during a trust vote. How can they do something so unethical that goes against the party's ideology? Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party (Marxist) has an answer for you. He says that even the Congress had joined hands with the BJP to topple governments. So, the question is: Is the CPM also as unethical as the Congress? It seems so. The BJP is also trying to make common cause with the Left desperate to bring down the government as it is itching to walk back into the corridors of power.
The Left always talks of its secular credentials but are constantly looking at ways to woo the Muslim voter. M.K. Padhe, a CPM politburo member and chief of the party's trade union wing, has in fact warned the Samajwadi Party that it would lose Muslim support if it supported the nuclear deal as Muslims were against it. In India, communal politics is enticing as it helps garner votes. It is time the Left figures out that India should not be held to ransom by communal politics.
If a similar nuclear deal had come from China, the Left would not have objected. Their main source of fear and irritation is the United States, which has been anti-communist in a very open way. The Left is so concerned with human rights and fight for self-determination and pretends it is ideologically inclined towards such concepts, but it is mute as far as Tibet is concerned. Tibet for them is China's internal matter and does not attract comment or support. The double standards are so opaque that it is amazing how myopia can be so powerful.
It will be interesting to see how in the coming campaign for parliamentary elections, the Left defends Nandigram's massacre of innocents, how it defends its narrow policies, how it defends its double standards. The tension of uprooting the poor peasants and villagers in Nandigram, still continues to haunt the Left in West Bengal. The Left needs to learn how to play the role of warning the party in power of the excesses of capitalism without playing spoilsport to economic growth.
Would it help to transport all the Left politicians to China for a month so that they see how that communist country has chosen to walk the economic road to get rid of poverty and bring in economic growth and its related power in the world? It would not as all of them know what China has done but would not allow it to happen in India as it trades in poverty, trade unionism and empty promises to the poor.
Kerala, which has seen numerous Left governments, is India's poorest industrialized state if its other parameters of development are taken to evaluate its growth. The Left has encouraged militant trade unionism to such an extent that no industrialist wants to set shop there. Any villager will tell you how the communists extort money for its party activities calling it donations. Both the rich and the poor are so terrified of the party that they cough up without any protest. As the politics in West Bengal has shown in the last one year, it is brutal repression of any opposition that is increasingly becoming the Left's mainstay.
If one cares to tape or document the sound bites of Left leaders, one will see a pattern: They just oppose privatization without even studying the merits of the case. When there was a plan to privatize the Mumbai airport to make it look world class, there was a massive strike organized by the left. But today, step into Mumbai airport and see the difference in terms of cleanliness, comfort and its sleek look. Don't we deserve better facilities or does a leaking, stinking and chaotic airport be allowed to continue as an anachronism?
To the Left a shining example of a well-run airport would mean fewer votes, as it cannot talk of poverty and loss of jobs. There are enough jobs in the country for those who are willing to work. Take a look at how all the unionized workers affiliated to the Left unions, which is, their biggest vote bank work and you will have an answer. CPM politburo member Brinda Karat was targeting the 22,000 employees in airports when she opposed privatization. When will the Left start thinking of giving a better quality of life to India? But that is not on their agenda as with progress, development and prosperity, there will be no constituency to address.
The Left is against privatization of education. Half of India is illiterate but it does not seem to matter to the party. It would rather stick to the present abysmally poor education system than allow it to reform, modernize and compete with the rest of the world. Many children of Left activists and leaders wing off to foreign lands to study. The Left swims in contradictions. In Kerala, it runs five star style super specialty hospitals. It also runs its own television channel that is commercial to the core.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi says that there is a political space for a genuinely Left party. Actually, India needs a strong opposition which will guide and caution the government when it goes in for reform but at the moment, the Left does not seem to have the wherewithal to it other than fiercely opposing every move. Its intellectual caliber has withered away.
The Left has in the last few years vociferously tried to block economic reforms in many sectors. Most of the time it is only for the sake of opposing it. Both late Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh have amply demonstrated what economic reform can do to change the future of India, a lot of time and energy has been wasted on dealing with the apprehensions of the Left and their myopia. But it is also a fact that India needs to look at other forms of reform in areas like agriculture, small business, public services, decentralization and so on. These are areas the Left may not have great objections to.
The theatre of the absurd is playing right now. The most unlikely partners are shaking hands as it was natural they would meet eye to eye.
In West Bengal where the communists have been in power for three decades, the Left is now busy wooing foreign capital to invest. It knows well that the peasant's son is no more interesting in farming and wants to head for the urban jungle to make his fast buck to improve his lifestyle and chase some dreams. It has to use economic reforms and globalization to fight poverty. It is pro capital and investor friendly. Like China.
But at the centre, it is stiffly opposing any move by the government to whip in economic reform, bring in discipline into the workforce, let insurance companies into India and so on. History gave the Left a good opportunity after the last elections, but it has frittered away by wallowing in its rhetoric. Actually, the Left could have clinched this opportunity of deflecting the BJP as the Congress and the Left are actually the only true defenders of secularism.
Most of the Left MP's come from the two solitary states of Kerala and West Bengal. Their grass-root party machinery in both these states are so finely tuned that preparations for every election begins many many months in advance. Land reforms in both these states have given a new future to thousands of landless laborers and they continue to be its loyal voters. The new respectability that they now enjoy is used to showcase the Left's concern for the poor.
In both these states, the poor are more empowered than any other state. They have easier access to the police, bureaucracy and the politicians. But all this has given rise to higher expectations, as many have got educated. The Left now has to rise and work for them. Economic reform is one of them. But if it is good for West Bengal, it has to be good for India too.
While the Left in West Bengal have realized their earlier mistake of irresponsible trade unionism and intimidation of industrialists and entrepreneurs that made capital fly out of the state, their counterparts in Kerala have yet to learn that. Kerala is still an industrial graveyard. The new units that are now coming in are mainly in the IT field.
To argue that the Left politicians are less corrupt than the others, is meaningless. It maybe true to a large extent but that may also be because of fear of being caught by the party. But not allowing the country to progress, not allowing the young to dream of a new prosperous India with multitudes of opportunities and not allowing wealth creators to help Indian middle class families see a new day, is a crime worse than corruption.
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