Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

Litmus test for India’s Left as it adapts to economic realities

  • The Left in India is a bundle of contradictions and its relationship with the new economic realities is one of them
  • The Left realises its problems. It’s been trying to regain some of the lost ground—but outside Parliament

BENGALURU : A train leaves every morning, carrying bogeys full of unemployed people from what was once India’s golden town, Kolar, to modern India’s Silicon Valley 100 km away, Bengaluru.

Passengers have to fight for even standing space for the two-hour journey in Karnataka. The thousands of passengers consist of peasant farmers, the landless and lower castes among others, all trying to escape Kolar—the town that was known for its gold mines before companies shut down in the last decade.

Stripped of their income and resources like water, they now look up to the service industry hub Bengaluru, as a beacon of wealth and prosperity. Thousands like them, who take up jobs as cab drivers, domestic maids, and construction workers, help the urban growth engine run smoothly. This, even as they are denied the benefits—such as minimum wage or job security or at times basic dignity—that are available to those whom they serve.

Karl Marx, the prophet of the organized Left, argued that Communism is the solution to workers’ plight in industrial societies. On International Labour Day, the workers on the train are proof that such a Communist utopia has not yet arrived despite the presence of an organized Left dating back to before Independence.

Further south, India’s only ruling Communist chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who has been gaining middle class support in Kerala, is currently preparing for a two-week trip to London starting 8 May to attend the listing of Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board ‘masala bonds’ (rupee-denominated bonds issued overseas) under an escrow mechanism he has set up to raise revenue for the state. It is a course that one could argue is a sign of admission that capitalism is here to stay, even in Communist Kerala.

Last year, the Kerala government persuaded Nissan Motor Co., Ltd, one of the world’s largest carmakers, to set up a global research hub on driverless cars and electric vehicles in the capital Thiruvananthapuram.

The Left in India is a bundle of contradictions, often bumbling from crisis to crisis. The movement that started out as an anti-establishment force, like anywhere else in the world, is now finding itself trying to adapt to economic realities.

On the one hand, they are the Establishment in many ways. On the other, electorally, they have been routed everywhere except for Kerala—a slide that started in 2011 when the Left was ousted from West Bengal after a 34-year-rule.

At the same time, its allies the trade unions too are struggling as the juggernaut of liberalization changes the country’s industrial structure.

“A new working class has been born, no doubt," said Binoy Viswam, a Rajya Sabha member from Communist Party of India (CPI) and former Editor of Trade Union Magazine, published by CPI-affiliated All India Trade Union Congress or AITUC, one of country’s largest trade union.

“A change in the content, composition, and character of the workers has to be taken into account by the Left. Its slogans have to be reversed from this point of understanding," said Viswam. “The Left has to redefine itself, notwithstanding its past and songs of struggles. Its basic commitment to the poor should stand uncompromised."

The Left is more than just the organized Left. Many political parties that are secular—from Janata Dal (Secular), popular in Kolar, to Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, to Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu—have been influenced by the Left, although what they are actually practising now is another story.

There have always been enough people who do not feel very strongly about Left ideology. But there are also a lot of people who may have feelings similar to those embodied by Left ideology, but vote for other parties. The Left, in both cases, lose out electorally.

The Left realises its problems. It’s been trying to regain some of the lost ground—but outside Parliament. It’s held large scale protests of farmers and industrial workers across the country recently to oppose the policies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

As Kanhaiya Kumar, the new poster boy of the Indian Left from CPI said recently at Bangalore Literature Festival, “Why I am Left? We were left behind in development, that’s why we are Left. We were left behind in jobs, that’s why we are Left. On the pathway to success we were left behind, that’s why we are Left. In the supremacy of caste structure we were left behind, so we are Left. Sometimes Left needs to be viewed through this angle also."

According to Viswam, there is a tendency even among the Left to underestimate the importance of class consciousness and class struggle. “That shows the influence of the ideology of capitalism on the Left," he said.

“The question should be what will happen to India in the absence of the Left: that India will be unimaginable."

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