Friday, October 15, 2004

India: Analysis - The dilemma of Indian communists

[ Ideally, the communists should have shunned parliamentary politics, as the Naxalites (Maoists) have done. Yet, the fear that such tactics will isolate them from the common people made them contest elections. Not only that, they won in states like West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. Having come to power, they had no option but to dilute their ideology since only investment by the private sector, whether by domestic industrialists or by foreign multinational companies, can create employment. They also had to disown the earlier militant trade union tactics that led to a flight of capital from West Bengal and even now creates nervousness among potential investors. ]

The dilemma of Indian communists
Amulya Ganguli

The Indian communists are facing a dilemma caused by a mismatch between their 'revolutionary' dogma and the compulsions of functioning within a parliamentary system. However, years of being in power in the states have eroded some of their ideological rigidities, thereby introducing contradictory facets in their policies at the national and state levels.

At the centre, their first target at present is the process of liberalisation and globalisation because of its supposedly anti-poor and pro-capitalist orientation. However, if they persist with their objections, there is every likelihood of the Manmohan Singh government choosing to ignore them after a while.

Signs that the government is running out of patience with them are already available in the matter of foreign investment in the telecom sector. It is quite clear that the government is keen to raise the limits for investments in this field despite what the Left may say. In the civil aviation and insurance sectors, too, the government is likely to insist that its proposal to raise the limits for foreign investment be accepted.

If the Left backs down in this regard, it will lose face among its trade union supporters. Yet, it cannot afford to withdraw its support to the government lest it be accused of making it easier for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to claw its way back to power. The Left has already had to quietly swallow a snub from the government when the latter responded to the communist objections to the presence of foreign experts in the Planning Commission by summarily dissolving all the consultancy panels, which included several leftist economists.

The communists face other difficulties as well. Their chief minister in West Bengal, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, has gone on record to say that the doors of the state are open to foreign investors. So the Left will not find it easy to sustain its opposition to such investment, as sought by New Delhi, for a prolonged period.

Not surprisingly, the communists are experiencing the travails of any ideologically motivated group of people having to work in an environment they are basically opposed to. Having always characterised the Congress as a representative of the landlord-capitalist class, the communists are currently trapped in a situation where they have to cooperate with it.

Ideally, the communists should have shunned parliamentary politics, as the Naxalites (Maoists) have done. Yet, the fear that such tactics will isolate them from the common people made them contest elections. Not only that, they won in states like West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.

Having come to power, they had no option but to dilute their ideology since only investment by the private sector, whether by domestic industrialists or by foreign multinational companies, can create employment. They also had to disown the earlier militant trade union tactics that led to a flight of capital from West Bengal and even now creates nervousness among potential investors.

In West Bengal, though not so much in Kerala and Tripura, ideology has therefore yielded place to real politik. At the central level, however, the communists are still trying to give primacy of place to ideology. It is doubtful, however, whether the communists will be able to pursue this double-faced policy for any length of time if they want to retain their credibility.

One possibility is that their continuous obstruction of the economic reforms at the centre will expose them to increasing criticism and derision. But perhaps even more important for their long-term prospects, such tactics are bound to alienate the middle class, which was once the communists' base of support. It is possible that this class has already lost its patience with the Left, a realisation that has made Bhattacharya sing a different tune.

It is necessary to remember that the Indian middle class today is believed to be as large as 300 million, a huge number that no party can ignore. What is more, this group is not only increasing but its purchasing power is also going up, as the reforms begin to yield results. The communists, therefore, will soon have to find a way to resolve the obvious contradiction between what they are saying at the centre and doing in West Bengal.

If they fail to address this problem, their vote bank will dwindle only to the trade unions. Unfortunately, these not only represent a minuscule percentage of the population but also have the unflattering image of being militant where their own demands are concerned, but slothful when it comes to dealing with the public. It is not a support base, therefore, which will enhance the stature of the communists.

The communists are also having to deal with a Congress, which is now a lot more confident and ideologically driven than in the recent past. It also has at the helm leaders who are committed to economic reforms. It is evident, therefore, that the Left is fighting a battle it cannot hope to win.

Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst

Indo-Asian News Service 15/10/2004