HARD times are here for the Indian Left. The CPI and the CPI(M) bared their political souls in separate state conferences in a time of torment. But neither could come up with the goods to roll back the "right-wing shift" in Indian politics over the last decade. Except for the over-used slogan for a Left and democratic alternative, the Left locker looked bare.
Concealed in the familiar rhetoric, however, was an ideological sleight of hand. This time, as CPI(M) general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and his CPI counterpart A.B. Bardhan insisted, the Left would shop around for different 'democratic' allies. Instead of favouring a political alignment with the non-Congress forces, the Left would assist the Congress in any initiative to bring down the BJP government at the Centre. That's a goodbye to the earlier policy of keeping an equidistance between the Congress and the BJP, and also the efforts to cobble together yet another non-Congress United Front. "The United Front has lost credibility," Surjeet explained at his inaugural speech at the Howrah state conference of the CPI(M).
Implicit in this was the failure of the Left policy to prop up a non-Congress bourgeois alternative that could take on the BJP since the 1989 polls. It had ended up only weakening the Congress.
How does this jell with the CPI(M)'s 1964 party programme which stated that the party would not form part of any alliance wherein it would not have a commanding presence? West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu sidestepped the question, but Surjeet was more forthcoming. So are recent party documents. "We oppose the Congress and the BJP. However, the BJP is no ordinary bourgeois party, its communal policy has brought the country to the brink of disintegration. Even earlier, we had cooperated with right-wing forces for a limited period, while opposing the internal emergency," says Surjeet.
A more mundane explanation can well be that the Left is worried about saving itself. Says former MP Saifuddin Choudhury: "With the BJP coming to power, the Leftists have their backs to the wall and survival is first priority." Political scientist Ranabir Samaddar agrees: "The Congress never threatened the very existence of the Left, and vice versa. But with the BJP in power, such rules may not necessarily apply."
For now, the 1964 party programme and all it entails is to be put on the backburner. Survival is the key to future moves. The draft political resolution circulated at the state conference reads: "The formation of coalitions in different states, keeping in view the requirements of the situation, must be considered. Unless the struggle spreads to other states, it will be difficult to maintain the strength of the Left only in a few centres in the country." In other words, coalitions can be formed with the Congress. Says Anil Biswas, central committee member: "Even earlier, we have been supporting non-Left ministries in Assam or Andhra, from the outside." True, but these were non-Congress consolidations.
Resistance, however, persists. Says RSP leader Sunil Sengupta: "The Congress is mainly responsible for the present economic mess in the country. We will continue to oppose it, as much as the BJP." Concurs Ashok Ghosh: "In West Bengal, our main enemy has always been the Congress." Even CPI delegates told Bardhan: "Supporting the Congress in 1975 nearly eroded our existence." Jyoti Basu, however, is confident that the CPI(M) can carry others along in supporting its new agenda.
But can a new Congress tilt assure the Left's political growth? This will remain for the coming party congress of the CPI(M) in October to decide. The updating of the party programme of 1964, postponed three years ago, is about to be postponed again, as the leaders wrestle with other problems. For, even as communists worldwide are beset with troubles, the stark fact is that the Left Front in 'red' West Bengal is, after 50 years of Independence, still reduced to bringing up the rear of a bourgeois party. And there seems little signs of improved prospects in sight for a fading red.