Expulsions, Rectification & Ideology: Does CPI(M) Need to Change?

Political isolation or ideological innovation – what will the CPI(M) choose?

Published21 Jun 2016, 03:22 PM IST
Politics
4 min read

For an alliance that didn’t officially exist for much of the campaign, the CPI(M)‘s ‘arrangement’ with the Congress in West Bengal has certainly caused a lot of trouble. During the three-day meeting (from June 18 - 20) of the party’s Central Committee (CC), it became clear that the West Bengal unit’s decision to work with the Congress has become more than just an electoral loss or an alliance. It has become a fight for how India’s largest democratic Communist party will deal with the future, both ideologically and as an organisation.

The “Rectification” of the West Bengal Unit

Jagmati Sangwan, a CC member from the Haryana unit of the CPI(M) and General Secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), resigned over the Bengal alliance with the Congress. Sangwan, a senior party leader, resigned from the party during the final day of the three-day meeting. After she quit, she was expelled for “gross indiscipline”.

Women’s rights activist and CPI(M) leader Jagmati Sangwan. (Photo: Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/manoramaonline">@manoramaonline</a>)
Women’s rights activist and CPI(M) leader Jagmati Sangwan. (Photo: Twitter @manoramaonline)

Sangwan is among the hardliners who feel that the West Bengal unit’s decision to ally with the Congress was a “violation” of the party’s “strategic-tactical” line. Basically, Sangwan and many others believe that the Bengal unit, backed by General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, went rogue. Obviously, the Bengal unit did not agree with this and Sangwan claims she resigned on principle.

As of now, the CC has given the Politburo license to “rectify” the mistakes of the Bengal unit. Since no disciplinary action is being contemplated, the move is being seen as a compromise between factions who believe an alliance or understanding with the Congress is the best way to combat Mamata Banerjee in Bengal and the BJP on the national stage. As late as 12 June, both the West Bengal Congress and the state’s CPI(M) leadership were saying that the alliance would continue in the state despite the Trinamool Congress’ massive victory.

Clearly, that hasn’t gone down well with large sections of the party. They way forward, perhaps does not rest with on-ground alliances in particular states, but with a shift in the party line at the national level.

An Ideological Party in Search of New Ideas

 Rahul Gandhi and former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya during a Congress-CPI(M) rally in Kolkata (Photo: Kuntal Chakrabarty/IANS)
Rahul Gandhi and former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya during a Congress-CPI(M) rally in Kolkata (Photo: Kuntal Chakrabarty/IANS)

Since independence, the Communists’ relationship with the Congress has been the source of many schisms, expulsions and splits. More recently, the same issue has plagued the CPI(M).

When former general secretary Prakash Karat withdrew support from the Congress-led UPA-I government over the Indo-US nuclear deal, the Bengal unit was not happy. Now, with the BJP at the centre and many states, some within the party feel that allying with the Congress and other “secular and progressive forces” is the need of the hour. The Bengal unit and Sitaram Yechury belong to this camp and the “arrangement” (which turned into an alliance) in Bengal was a move to that end.

Many others, especially in the party’s Central leadership, are still towing the Prakash and Brinda Karat line. To put it very simply, they believe that when it comes to economic policies and governance, both the Congress and BJP mirror each other and must be fought. This faction also has greater numbers in the CC and Politburo and can therefore push its agenda more effectively. Jagamati Sangwan, for example, is known to be close to Brinda Karat.

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury with party leader Prakash Karat. (Photo: PTI)
CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury with party leader Prakash Karat. (Photo: PTI)

For Sitaram Yechury and the Bengal unit, the tactic of allowing and encouraging party workers to ally with the Congress clearly hasn’t worked. The real question though, is whether the alliance was merely political opportunism put in place to win an election or a genuinely new approach. If the latter is the case, those in favour of allying with the Congress and other non-Left parties may need to win the battle in leadership before allying on the ground.

The BJP is now making in-roads into Bengal and even Kerala. Can the old anti-Congressism of the Left meet this new challenge? If not, how must India’s largest Communist party change its core beliefs to accommodate these new circumstances? As long as these questions remain unanswered, as long as the “tactical line” remains unaltered, attempts at change will continue to be seen as indiscipline.

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