CPI(M) Desperately Needs Congress Alliance for its Resurgence

CPI(M)’s diminishing footprint won’t allow it to fight a force like the BJP without the Congress’ help. 

7 min read
CPI(M) Desperately Needs Congress Alliance for its Resurgence

Vladimir Lenin once said, “The idea that we can never make compromises and changes of tack during this war (Bolshevik revolution) is childish.” He had pointed out that there were "cases of exceptional difficulty and complexity, when the greatest efforts were necessary for a proper assessment of the actual character of this or that 'compromise’. In which, we have to use our own brains to figure out the situation.”

Lenin also points out that the history of the Russian Revolution is full of examples of compromises carried out by the Bolsheviks, which he calls “changes of tack.” The Bolsheviks made deals not only with other revolutionary forces but also with bourgeois parties.

Origins of CPI(M) Divide

The Prakash Karat- and S Ramachandran Pillai-led ‘no alliance, no understanding with the Congress’ line has been approved by the CPI(M) Central Committee, rejecting a slightly different formulation advocated by party General Secretary Sitaram Yechury by a 55-31 vote.

The word ‘understanding’ in the Karat draft meant to close all possibilities of an informal or tacit association with the Congress in the future.

The CPI (M) had entered into a tacit understanding with the Congress during the 2016 West Bengal Assembly elections, but performed disastrously. The dogmatism of some comrades is pushing the future of the party into obscurity. They may claim to be ideologically astute as compared to Sitaram Yechury but their decisions say otherwise. After miserably losing the first round of Assembly elections in West Bengal as the new General Secretary, Yechury’s comments were:

We respect the verdict of the people of West Bengal who have returned the TMC government with a big majority. We will examine the result and review our performance in this election as far as the Left Front is concerned for the future.

On the other hand, former general secretary Prakash Karat termed the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from West Bengal as ‘distorted’ and alleged widespread rigging. Lenin, in his pamphlet Should We Participate in Bourgeois Parliaments?, claimed:

Frankly acknowledging a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analysing the conditions that have led up to it, and thrashing out the means of its rectification is the hallmark of a serious party.

I believe Sitaram took a more ideologically Leninist approach as compared to the former general secretary. Lenin had further stated:

By failing to fulfil this duty and give the utmost attention and consideration to the study of their patent error, the ‘Lefts’ have proved that they are not a party of the masses, but a group of intellectualists who ape the worst features of intellectualism.

Dogmatism, Cause of CPI(M)’s Irrelevance

The false ideological rigidness of the party created history by denying a third term to Yechury and failing to send anyone to the Rajya Sabha for the first time in nearly 60 years.

In July 2008, Prakash Karat, ignoring the opposition of the Bengal unit and defying the advice of party patriarch Jyoti Basu, withdrew support from the United Progressive Alliance government. This reckless decision not only failed to topple the UPA at the Centre, but also gave a heavy blow to the Left parties, particularly the CPI(M).

In the 2009 General Election, the Congress returned to power with a greater strength while the Left Front’s tally came down from 60 to 24 seats.

One false step taken by a dogmatic general secretary 10 years ago has led to the near-irrelevance of the CPI(M) in Bengal and has reduced the party to just 9 seats in the Lok Sabha. It is difficult to say whether the party will manage to secure even one seat from West Bengal in the next general elections.

Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Karat represent the interests of the party’s West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala units respectively, the states where the CPI(M) still has a considerable presence.

The party’s Kerala unit’s opposition to Yechury is explained by the fact that the United Democratic Front (Kerala) (UDF) headed by the Congress is the only viable alternative to the CPI (M) in the state; Karat’s anti-Congress approach makes perfect sense to Kerala-based legislators.

The alignment with the Congress, even if it is for a national purpose, might be challenging for the CPI(M) in Kerala, because it is difficult to explain that you are joining hands with your local principal opponent. However, the CPI(M) in Kerala seems to either ignore or forget that the party is no longer a national player on the political stage.

Today, whether its tactical line is to be or not to be with the Congress is unlikely to be of much interest, even to the Congress itself.

CPI(M)’s Diminishing Footprint

While the Congress continues to have a national footprint, though fast diminishing, the CPI(M) had been reduced to a regional player quite some time ago. Leaving aside Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal, the party will find it difficult to influence electoral politics in any other part of India. Of the three states in which it still matters, the CPI(M) is in power in Kerala and Tripura and is the main Opposition party in West Bengal in terms of vote share.

Former Kerala CM and Veteran CPI(M) leader VS Achuthanandan said he is in favour of forming a “broader unity of Left and democratic forces including the Congress”.

This sentiment was also supported by Thomas Isaac, the current finance minister of Kerala. All Central Committee members from West Bengal, Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Jammu and Kashmir supported the Yechury-faction.

Also, a few members from Tripura and three of the five members from Tamil Nadu, sided with the Yechury faction. Yet, members from Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar and Haryana sided with Karat and outweighed the interests of 13 states.

Rise Against the Communal Tide

The world’s largest strike took place in 2016, when 180 million workers put down their tools under the initiative of Left parties, but these workers will not vote for the CPI(M) because they know that it doesn’t have the capability to tackle the BJP on its own.

The citizens in non CPI(M)-ruled states will not waste their vote in voting for a party which they know can’t represent their interests in Parliament. The CPI(M)’s commitment to fight the communal forces is nothing more than empty rhetoric.

You cannot fight communal forces by weakening the secular parties. The Congress is the only party which has the backbone to defeat the BJP. If the secular democratic parties do not support they will just end up dividing the votes and giving benefit to the communal forces. The citizens need to stay alive in order to get affected by economic policies of a political party at the Centre.


While senior leaders in the CPI(M) agree that the BJP-RSS is the "biggest threat the country is facing presently”, this assessment is of no use if under the pretext of opposing neoliberal economic policies, the hardliner comrades are paving the way for the victory of the BJP.

The general grouse with the Indian communist movement has been is that it only indulges in intellectual dialogue. 

Their ideas of bringing about social change might be theoretically good, but a poor, uneducated person would be least interested in understanding Marxist economics. In fact, people in some states don’t even know what the CPI(M) is all about.

The Jyoti Basu Era

According to a WikiLeaks report, just 10 days before Karat became the general secretary of the party in 2005, the then US ambassador to India, David Mulford, had sent an extensive cable to Washington evaluating Karat and his party, which said:

CPI(M) icon Jyoti Basu (is) concerned that Karat will not be as adept at handling the Congress or even the Left Front coalition as well as Surjeet (Harkishan Singh Surjeet).

Somnath Chatterjee, former Speaker of the Lok Sabha and a parliamentarian who had represented CPI(M) in Parliament for nearly four decades, claimed Sitaram had been trying very hard to put the pieces together. He further stated that Karat's victory was akin to Modi's victory.

Under the previous general secretary, the party was on the course of extinction. All his decisions and policies cost the party a lot. And it started when he refused to allow Jyoti Basu to become the prime minister, followed by his decision to withdraw support from the UPA.


CPI(M) Needs to Join Hands With Congress

After the ascent in the BJP's fortunes in the early 1990s, the CPI(M) stalwarts Jyoti Basu and Harkishen Singh Surjeet rightly perceived the Congress as ‘the lesser evil’ and abandoned their old hostility towards the party. They understood the urgent need for all secular parties to unite against the communal forces.

It was this new approach that resulted in the Left parties’ extension of outside support to the Congress government led by PV Narasimha Rao in 1991. Today, the BJP is ten times mightier than it was in 2004 and it is not possible for the CPI(M) to fight it alone without the support of a national party like the Congress.

Interestingly, in a major blow to Prakash Karat and his faction, CPI(M) leaders in West Bengal have vowed to split the party this year if the party does not approve an alliance with the Congress before the 2019 elections. If the broader coalition with secular parties is not approved, they will have no other way but to look their own way.

(The writer is a graduate student. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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