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Relevance or irrelevance of Left?

Satish MisraLeft ideology and thought played an important role in shaping the course of history in the 19th and 20th centuries. What is its relevance for India in the 21st century is a big question which is weighing heavily in the informed and enlightened public mind today.

The Lok Sabha elections being held in five phases from mid-April to mid-May will determine the Left parties' reach and rapport with the electorate to a limited extent. In fact, the Left policies have a much bigger role in the country's politics than their electoral strength and their limited presence in a few states.

The Left, in my opinion, should continue to remain relevant till poverty, inequality and disparity remain but if the present Left leadership, particularly of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM), sticks to its "fundamentalist" path its reach would become increasingly limited.

But what is it that prevents the Left-of- Centre parties from playing their rightful role in national politics? A mixed set of misplaced priorities, mistaken notion of their strength, superiority complex and a skewed understanding of the emerging middle class prevents them from assuming the role that is due to them.

Theoretically, the Left appears to be stuck on a late 19th and early 20th century Marxist-Leninist-Maoist understanding of the national and international forces. This is one reason for their failure to grow in the public esteem.

It will be futile here to point out that the Left missed a historic opportunity to occupy a space in the public mind when the CPM, under the influence of the Kerala group, did not allow former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu to become the Prime Minister in 1996.

Not only that Jyoti Basu enjoyed credibility among the people but his expertise in managing a coalition would also have proved to the masses that the Left was a responsible player.

A five-year Jyoti Basu-led coalition government in New Delhi would have removed the stigma that non-Congress parties cannot provide a stable government.

Similarly, the CPM's stand on Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has contributed to its discredit. There were differences on the Somnath issue among the Left parties but the CPM succeeded in stopping them from coming into open. This has once again alienated the Left from the middle class.

Today, the Third Front, which has been floated by the Left, is being seen as a desperate attempt to prevent the Congress from coming to power. At the same time, there is a popular belief that any Third Front government would not last its full term and would result in another mid-term election.

Though the Left has been claiming that it wants to have a non-Congress and non-BJP government at the Centre but in their anti-Congressism zeal they may be promoting the communal outfits and parties. By ensuring division of the secular vote, the Left may unwittingly be helping the BJP candidates in the ongoing general elections.

First and foremost, the present Left leadership conducts national politics from an anti-Congress stand and sees international politics through an anti-imperialist prism. Apart from this, the Left leaders also suffer from the notion of mistaken moralist strength.

After having remained in power in West Bengal for over three decades and alternatively in Kerala for couple of times, the Left parties are no more perceived as better than other bourgeois parties in public perception.

Shorn of high moral ground, which they used to occupy in public perception, the Left today is being seen as a party which wants political power at all costs without any responsibility.

The internal differences and conflicts among the various parties in the Left Front are yet another reason which militates against it. The role of ideology is increasingly diminishing in the Left's political strategy. The Left-supported trade union movement has reduced itself to a wage revision mechanism and has failed to evolve into a movement which promotes positive labour practices and also contributes to higher levels of productivity.

What is surprising is that fact that the Communist and Socialist parties have nothing in common but for the fact that the Left, like the Socialists, have started equating caste to class.

Like the Socialist parties which were oriented on caste lines, the Left parties too have hopped onto the caste bandwagon. But programmatic unity is elusive and there has been no honest attempt in the last few years to achieve unity among the Left parties and a broad understanding between the Left and Socialists.

What we find today is that one Socialist faction-JD (U) - is aligned with the BJP and the other JD (S) is with the Left. Other socialist parties like the RJD and SP are floating the fourth front.

Ideally, the Left and Socialist parties should have been contesting the Lok Sabha election jointly but it appears an ever elusive wish.

What to talk of the Left-Socialist convergence, even the Left is divided. The CPM and CPI could have taken an initiative to show the way. This would then open doors for wider unity of the left which would include the CPI (M-L) and Naxal outfits.

Unity of the Left forces would go a long way to prove the sincerity of purpose for the national cause. This is not possible in the near future as almost all Left leaders without exception lack a long term vision of the national politics.

The ongoing general elections are going to be a watershed in the national politics and the 15th Lok Sabha.

About the author: Dr Satish Misra is a Senior Fellow of the Observer Research Foundation. He has done his Ph.D. from Humboldt University, Berlin, in International Affairs. He has done MA (Western History) from Lucknow University. Before joining ORF he has worked with various English newspapers and magazines. He has produced documentaries for Doordarshan, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Government of Madhya Pradesh. He has to his credit some publications - India and GDR: Three Decades of Relations, India and Antarctic Treaty (Contribution), Indira Gandhi: A Profile in Courage (Contribution), Jalianwala Bagh Massacre and the Tribune (Contribution), Pragyan Varshiki Aveam Gyan Kosh (Hindi Micropedia) (Contribution), Gujarat: A Case Study of the Tyranny of Power (Contribution). At present, he is working on the annual review of Indian Politics (with main focus on Uttar Pradesh) and on monographs of different political parties.

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