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Necessary Mischief

Necessary Mischief
The periodic exasperation with Indian communists frequently expressed by leader writers, globalisers and TV pundits fails to take into account the compulsions of Messrs Karat and Bardhan. This exasperation is most vigorously articulated when the Left announces a strike or bandh. Naturally, few will want strikes to be declared constitutionally unlawful. Nevertheless, the privileged maintain that strikes are acceptable as long as they do not cause inconvenience. They forget that the purpose of a strike is, precisely, to cause inconvenience. It's only when the Left makes a nuisance, creates temporary chaos, that their case gets public attention. A strike which is trouble-free is yet to be invented; it is a contradiction in terms. No democracy has yet banned strikes. The "demands" may seem outrageous, may hit fdi, but we have no option besides negotiation and compromise.

"Don't they have any common sense? Can't they see the world is changing?" The common sense and change, unfortunately, are in the eye of the beholder. One party sees change as necessary, inevitable and as the road to prosperity. The other sees it as loss of jobs, increase in poverty and mounting social tension. Of course, a government can bypass the Left, ignore its protests. However, when the Left is, in a sense, the government, it would be silly to expect them to support programmes and policies which negatively affect their constituency. However misguided, the communists are fully justified in protecting and promoting the interests of those who vote for them.

Doubtless, there are double standards and contradictions—one rule for Calcutta, another for Delhi—but which political party is not guilty of hypocrisy? Coalitions work on the carrot-and-stick principle. You give some, you take some. This is not the ideal way to govern, nor does it allow change to be ushered in rapidly. It's messy, slow and unlikely to please McKinsey & Co. By contrast, change brought about through consultation and consensus will be both sustainable and equitable.

I am not a Marxist or anti-globalisation, but when I read very intelligent people deploying very intelligent opinions lambasting the Left, I always find the communist perspective missing from the discussion. For the foreseeable future, the Left in India will remain a potent force. For me, despite the blinkers, their inestimable value lies in their capacity to constantly remind our smug, over-consuming middle class that 'shining' India is a joke for 400 million marginalised citizens.

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