A dispute on a tactical line that begun in 1978, when the USSR seemed more permanent than God, that is if He existed, and when the disputants were newbies in the hammer-and-sickle club, is bizarre by general standards, but not for the CPI(M). The differences between Prakash Karat, general secretary, and Sitaram Yechury, politburo member and a regular on Delhi’s party circuit, are on whether it was a good idea to decide, at a 1978 party meet, to form governments in states in opposition to the Congress, the then lion of the political forest. If it was a bad plan, as Yechury now says, why didn’t he try to take the party back to the jungles of his native Telangana and make friends with his ideological cousins of the Maoist faith? And if Karat never liked supporting a government with the Congress in it, shouldn’t he have revolted against supporting the Congress-led UPA as soon as he got elected as party chief?
The problem with communist parties, as many scholars have noted, is their organisation—crafted not by Karl Marx but his Russian followers like Lenin and Stalin, neither of whom had Marx’s vision. Inspired by the duo, Indian communists chose a party structure impervious to new ideas. Its ‘democratic centralism’ is democratic only to the extent that it has an internal voting system, but it is controlled by the ruling cabal with an iron fist. And like all parties whose leaders are chosen through a sham election, the CPI(M) is cut off from the world outside. It prides itself in its ‘class consciousness’ but its supposed class allies have often changed identity. In West Bengal, CPI(M)’s citadel, small farmers—its main constituency—underwent fundamental shifts after economic liberalisation, with opportunities beyond the farmland opening up. They shifted allegiance after the 2006 assembly polls, resulting in a slide in vote-share from 79 per cent to 21 per cent.