Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Left must unite....but what they do after uniting is more important

There is some speculation fuelled by Left leaders themselves that the two major Left parties, the CPI and the CPM may merge. Let’s see if this strategy of merging will help revive the two from almost certain death.

Merging under distress is nothing new in the corporate world. Companies often merge because many times both are more viable together than separate. In fact, both may be unviable separately, but viable together. Obviously, this is not always the case....and hence it’s important to go back to the basics to understand if this merger will help.

First and foremost, are the two parties genuinely realizing that they have both become irrelevant? Most times, companies find it extremely difficult to accept such realities. They think of their past glories and somehow hope and pray that those days will return. In reality, the world has moved past them; and they have failed to realize that. In such a situation, merger will be useless as the raison-d’etre of both parties would still remain flawed. I suspect it’s the same with both these Left parties. Honestly, no one really knows nor cares what the difference in the ideologies of the two parties is. As far as common knowledge goes, both have always been working together in a coalition for more than 3 decades. After so much joint working, there is no difference left between them. In public perception, both have lost relevance.

I think the Left ideology is outdated. The CPI was the original Left party and it gained roots after independence when the terrible economic plight of most in the country provided a fertile territory for a Left movement to move in. And the CPI did some radical things to gain instant popularity. They focused on the rich landlords and in essence....stripped them off their land. The land was redistributed to the peasants who became the biggest supporters of the Left. At that time, there was also a wave of socialism and communism sweeping around the world as the Russian economy was soaring after WW2, while the West was generally in trouble. The condition of Indians being what it was, the government of India chose the socialistic route and aligned with the Soviet Union in the days of the Cold War. Apparently, the CPI was a rabid critic of the Congress in those days....and the Soviets played a big role in making them less critical of Nehru and the Congress. The CPM went ahead and stayed anti-Congress. This was the main reason for them to separate. Today....they are both rabid anti-Congress parties and that should bring them back together.

That’s all right. Now back to the raison-d’etre question. Today, in a world of economic modernism, socialism as a model is on the decline. Both the original communists – China and Russia – have adopted full or partial capitalistic models of growth. Unfortunately, the Indian Left outfits have not showed the flexibility required. They have chosen to remain anti-capitalism, but have failed to realize that there is no other model left really. There is only so much that land reforms can provide. In the end, its jobs that people want. And if it is the private sector that can give the jobs, it should have been welcomed with open arms. Like Modi has done in Gujarat. Like the rest of the country has done after the 1991 reforms began. But the Left has remained stuck in its ideology. This often happens when old ideologues continue to head the parties.....and they have too much invested in the old ideology to let it go. Jyoti Basu in many ways blocked any moves of reform. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has been pushing for reforms. Prakash Karat is a nobody really.

So even if the two merge, it won’t make any difference to the people of the country. Unless, they can reform and present a different economic model to the country. Even when they do this, they must retain their image of being pro-poor. The poor need someone to focus on their needs and its a moot point if any other political party is positioned that well as the Left in this area. The Left needs to be realistic. Everyone needs foreign capital. Capitalism obviously has its flaws. It leads to higher disparities in income levels between the haves and the have nots. But there is no other option really.

The Left should focus on modernizing the industrial sector. They have done enough in agriculture already. Kolkata is still a city that can contribute enormously to the intellectual and industrial capital of the country. It’s the biggest port in East India (or at least it was). If it adopted an aggressive industrial policy.....actually welcoming industrialists with open arms, it would see its fortunes revive. Instead of throwing out the Tatas, they should have welcomed them....while still protecting the needs of their people. A strongly industrialized WB will bring the Left back to power. They must surely realize that they have a weak opponent in Mamta. She’s a destroyer, not a creator.....and she’ll soon realize that running an administration is way more difficult that opposing everything. The BJP realized it too in their six years.

So if the Left modernized its economic policies, and become more industry friendly, created more jobs....then the merger would be good. Else, it will be just the addition of two zeroes....which will still add up to zero.

The real truth is that the Left needs younger leaders who have actually fought elections. Buddhadev should be made the President of the newly formed party.....not Prakash Karat who has no understanding of grassroots politics and who has a big ego. There is still space for a Left ideology.....but a modernised one. I doubt if that will happen any time soon. It may take a decade or so of being out of power to realize that there is no future without reforms......

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