Electorally defeated Left needs image makeover

By Amulya Ganguli. Dated: 3/13/2018 12:19:02 PM

CPI-M must adapt its strategy to change

Behind the defeat of the Left in Tripura lies the failure of the communists to realize that capitalism is no longer regarded by the ordinary people as an ogre as envisaged by Marx when he said that "capital comes into the world soiled with mire from top to toe and oozing blood from every pore".
This gory perception may have prevailed in the time of the German philosopher, but as the recent business conclaves organized by various state governments show, such a view no longer exists. Instead, there is a race among the governments to persuade the industrialists to invest in the states. The objective obviously is the setting up of employment-generating units to alleviate the problem of joblessness.
Perhaps the only communist to pursue this investor-friendly path was the former West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, when he invited the Tatas and others to set up industries in the state. It is another matter that he went about it in the wrong way, perhaps out of inexperience in the matter of dealing with a class enemy-turned-friend.
Had he not allocated prime agricultural land to the Tatas because of its proximity to Kolkata, thereby giving an opportunity to Mamata Banerjee to pose as a saviour of farmers, the story of communism in West Bengal might have been different.
Even then, Bhattacharjee has to be credited with overturning the policy which the communists pursued in the 1960s which led to the flight of capital from the state and gave the word, gherao, to the English language, as Bhattacharjee pointed out.
Manik Sarkar, however, remained largely indifferent to what was happening in West Bengal. Although he did refer to Tripura's industrial potential in the fields of rubber, bamboo, natural gas and agro- and horticultural products and promised cent per cent reimbursement for five years for the expenditure incurred by small and medium enterprises on account of ESI and employees provident fund schemes, few will claim that investors made a beeline for the state. Had they done so, Narendra Modi's development plank would not have enthused the younger generation.
What the communists will have to realize, therefore, is that the concept of economism cannot be derided, as Lenin did, as a quest for higher wages at the expense of a revolutionary struggle for overthrowing capitalism, and has to be accepted instead as a natural aspiration of the generally ideologically-neutral young people.
As long as the young believe that their ambitions can be fulfilled during a period of high growth, the ruling dispensation is safely ensconced in power, as the Manmohan Singh government was between 2005-06 and 2011-12 when the country saw the steepest decline in poverty levels, as the present government's chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian, has said.
It was only when the Left-leaning National Advisory Council under Sonia Gandhi compelled the government to turn its attention to populist policies, leading to a reduction in the growth rate that the ground was prepared for the Congress's defeat in 2014.
Modi was one of the few leaders at the time to note the aspirational urges of young people and their eagerness to be self-employed rather than be dependent on official doles and subsidies. It is this promise of helping the people to stand on their own feet which is behind his electoral victories, of which Tripura is the latest example.
To counter him, both the Left and its partner at the Centre between 2004 and 2008, the Congress, will have to focus on an economic programme based on growth and investment. There is little doubt that both the domestic and foreign private sector will have to play a major role in this regard.
The Left, therefore, will have to overcome its aversion towards foreign capital as well as the local industrialists and embrace what it castigates as neo-liberal policies as China has done. Otherwise, its decline and fall will continue.
Such an ideological somersault may not be easy to carry out. But it is unavoidable if the comrades do not want to find themselves in the dustbin of history, another of their favourite phrases which was usually directed at their enemies.
A U-turn in the economic field is not the only manoeuvre which is currently necessary for the Left. The communists will also have to think in terms of constituting a broad-based anti-BJP alliance which cannot but include the Congress, still the largest and the most credible ideological opponent of the Hindu fundamentalists.
\Although the CPI is in favour of such a front, a section of the CPI(M) is against it. That these nay-sayers mostly belong to Kerala is not surprising because their political instincts have been shaped by decades of opposition to the Congress in the southern state. Besides, the BJP is very much a marginal force in Kerala.
The scene, however, is different at the national level where the BJP poses the main challenge. The Left, therefore, will have to come to terms with this specific political reality even if it is ideologically disquieting, as in the economic field, and formulate its policies accordingly.
(IPA Service)



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