Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, is not a worried man. He should be.
The electoral influence of the Left Front (a collection of Communist parties) in national politics is a recent phenomenon. Restricted to Kerala, West Bengal and a few other pockets, it usually is in no position to steer policy towards Leftist shores. But it has, and continues to have, an influence over what defines the equilibrium of Indian politics. That helps prevent policy and political excesses. However, if it persists with its current course of action, it risks losing that influence.
In an interview with Mint published on Monday, Karat mentioned a wait-and-watch attitude on the part of the CPM, the dominant force in the Left Front. Clearly, his party has not been able to gel with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party. It is also uncomfortable with other non-Congress regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party. It is in no mood to collaborate with the Congress again.
This leaves it with few options. At the moment, Karat is waiting for the emergence of a “third alternative” to the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Given the opportunism that defines the nature of regional parties, this is not a good idea. In such coalitions, bad policy choices are the rule of the day. That could work for an India of 1989 or 1996, but will inflict great harm in 2009.
Due to their limited horizons, regional parties are least likely to have any interest in pursuing a sound fiscal and monetary policy mix. In any case, the Left Front will hardly be in a position to make them see reason. At a time when the world is facing an economic crisis not seen since the 1930s, its choices may mean a lot for India and Indians.
That raises the question of the limits to what the Left can achieve. It has to realize that meaningful distributive politics of the kind it espouses are possible only in a realistic monetary and fiscal framework, something that only mainstream parties can offer. The unscrupulousness of regional parties will ensure nothing more than populist spending. This will be nowhere close to the programmatic ideas of the Left. The sooner it realizes that, the better it will be for it and for India.
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