Left party congresses are celebratory events. The 20th party congress of the Communist Party of India (CPI) is soaked in that spirit: delegates from fraternal parties abroad, that feeling of having the power of veto over a limp ruling coalition and, of course, a sun that appears redder than usual. Hyderabad, where the congress is being held, seems draped in the colour red.
Maybe not. The political organizational report, the report card of the party’s progress, has some startling facts. The number of people enrolled as members is almost equal to those jettisoning it. The party has little or no presence in north India, crucial if it has to have any voice in Delhi. Its strength in Parliament, never enough to usher a red dawn, is barely sufficient to keep a national party tag. And all that noise about reforms hurting the poor; well, it has hurt the party more than anyone else.
The CPI and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) are reaping the fruits of a flawed political strategy based on a distorted world view. Consider Left economics first. The parties continue to believe that opposing economic reforms will fetch them votes, while it’s alienating the most important vote bloc, the middle class. The poor, who also happen to be educationally disempowered, are in the grip of regional parties. The CPM, whose 19th party congress begins on Saturday in Coimbatore, is beginning to sense reality; there are hints that it may alter its outlook on key issues such as foreign direct investment and the role private players in industrialization. But there are limits to what it can do. Other Left parties will not let it shift its position beyond a point.
That’s where Left politics founders. Both the CPI and CPM believe in forming coalitions with regional, “secular”, parties. Embracing these parties is snuffing out any chances the Left may have in politically important states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
This leaves the two parties, CPI specially, in a bind: They have burnt their bridges with the single biggest secular party, the Congress, and have joined hands with “secular” regional parties for whom economics is best left to textbooks. They are on the wrong end of political and economic strategy. Party congresses can do little to change that.
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