New Delhi: In a bid to reposition itself electorally, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, has begun to focus its political energies on domestic issues such as price rise instead of foreign policy.
The rearguard action comes as the CPM was thrust into an internal crisis immediately after the humiliating defeat in the 15th Lok Sabha elections, when the party’s strength dropped to 16—the lowest ever—from 43 previously.
Three CPM members in separate interviews confirmed that the central leadership had directed its cadre to build momentum on domestic issues. At the same time, it will also enable the CPM to distinguish itself from the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which of late has been attacking the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government over what it called its “deviation” from the basic principles of foreign policy the country has followed.
Prakash Karat, CPM general secretary, without saying so categorically, conceded that the party had agreed to revisit its ideological stance, including its approach to capitalism and democracy, and also prepare a “rectification document”, which it had taken up in its party meet in 2005, but could not pursue it.
Election aftermath: CPM general secretary Prakash Karat has conceded that the party would be revisiting its ideological stance. Rajkumar / Mint
“But now, our priority is to prepare the rectification document and in the next central committee meeting, we will discuss the matter. Discussions on ideological document will be followed,” he said. The CPM politburo is to meet in the first week of September and is then likely to decide on when the central committee would meet.
The rectification document details guidelines for the functioning of the party and is issued when a course correction is necessary.
During the just concluded budget session of Parliament, the CPM and its Left allies were keen to initiate opposition to the price rise, confining their protests against the government’s foreign policy and trade initiatives to merely seconding the BJP. For a party that had withdrawn support to the previous UPA government over the India-US civil nuclear deal, its opposition to the government’s moves to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and an end-user monitoring agreement (Euma) with the US seemed fairly muted.
In fact, a day after the government signed the Asean pact, the CPM politburo issued a routine statement criticizing the move, saying it “reflects the misplaced priorities of the Congress-led government”. The party said, “The FTA has been signed without any discussion about its possible impact in the Indian Parliament.”
CPM members in the Lok Sabha merely associated with the Congress MPs from Kerala who raised the Asean agreement issue, saying it would have an adverse impact on the cash crop farmers from the state; in the Rajya Sabha, party politburo member Brinda Karat raised the matter once as a special mention.
CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury disagreed: “Our party MPs have raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha, and MPs along with Kerala chief minister (V.S. Achuthanandan) met the Prime Minister to express our concern over the Asean pact. It is not correct to say that the CPM was not keen on opposing it.”
Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured that he would constitute a group of ministers (GoM) to address the fears expressed by the Kerala MPs, the GoM headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was formed on the eve of India signing the agreement with Asean in Bangkok on Thursday.
Karat also said the party has not given up protecting farmers’ interests. “We are going to revive our old movement against the World Trade Organization (WTO). We will organize a seminar in Delhi on 3-4 September,” Karat said. The CPM was part of a broad-based anti-WTO campaign called the Indian People’s Campaign against WTO in 2001.
The CPM general secretary, who had vehemently opposed the civil nuclear deal with Washington saying the pact would make India a junior partner of the US, said the communist party had protested because it was convinced that the deal was just a sweetener to pull India into deeper strategic alliance with the US. He argues that Euma, joint military exercises and other defence cooperation are all part of the “deepening ties”.
Euma will allow American inspectors to track the end use of US origin high-tech equipment sold to India.
When pointed out that the CPM’s protests were muted against Euma, which had been severely attacked by the BJP in Parliament during the budget session, Karat said: “They (the UPA) have won the elections and now they are proceeding with whatever they want to.”
Kamal M. Chenoy, professor at the School of International studies at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, and an expert on Left politics, said the CPM had lost the sting in its “anti-imperialism campaign” because the Left’s strength has been reduced in the Lok Sabha from 61 to 24.
“The Left always pays emphasis to international alliances and foreign policy. And there has been no change as far as that is concerned. The Left has not altered its politics,” he said.
However, another analyst disagreed.
Subrata Mukherjee, professor in the department of political science at Delhi university, is certain that the CPM has been caught on the wrong foot. “The party has realized that it has to do something to expand its support base and it has to highlight the issues related to (the) common man’s life. By lying low on such issues (such as foreign and economic policies), the CPM is also buying time,” he said.
Mukherjee also feels that the Maoist violence in West Bengal and the state government’s failure to contain that have also shocked the CPM leadership. “That also has forced them to put substantial issues on the back-burner,” he said.
West Bengal’s CPM-led Left government has been struggling to combat the Maoist violence in Lalgarh, about 200km west of Kolkata, where Maoists along with other civil rights groups have launched a violent agitation.