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Do we need a communist party?

Updated April 21, 2015
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

At a Moharram majlis in my native village of Mustafabad, which is part of Sonia Gandhi’s parliamentary constituency today, a believer was overcome with grief during a recitation of the tragedy of Karbala. “How I wish I was there to be of help, o lord,” the mourner sobbed. “Then you too would have joined the ranks of the noble souls,” an elderly gentleman said, offering him a hanky.

There is a time and occasion for what you can do to be of help. There are human limits too to consider. Moreover, together with the confidence of being of help we need clarity about the objective. A person with confidence but no clarity could die crossing the road, or at any rate end up causing an avoidable pile-up.

Addressing the tragedy of the more contemporary world Karl Marx had offered a sharper view of objective reality. He said the previous philosophers had interpreted the world in their own ways, now the point was to change it. That exhortation gave a sound objective to the early communists to pursue, India’s included.

They aligned on two fronts with the Congress party. They fought the British in territories governed by the British, and also fought the native rulers who were not aligned with the objectives of the wider anti-colonial struggle. The latter offered the comrades a chance to prove their mettle in what we know as the Telangana struggle of 1948.

Read: India Marxist party to get new leader to tackle Modi

The Indian state under the Nehru-Patel leadership, and the communists, watched and inspired by Josef Stalin, joined hands against the Nizam of Hyderabad’s exploitative rule. The communists sang songs of liberation penned by Makhdoom and others. They also learnt the use of firearms. The new Indian state crushed the nizam’s resistance without remorse. An official report about widespread rape and cold-blooded murder of civilians by the Indian paramilitary remain hidden from erstwhile partisans and public view.

There is something else about which we only hear in whispers from India’s communist leaders — their support to the Pakistan movement.

We haven’t heard a full and comprehensive appraisal of that horrific mistake in Telangana, particularly the alliance the comrades forged with the rightist Sardar Patel-led state. When the comrades disagreed about continuing the armed struggle, they took the issue to Stalin in Moscow who called for a map of Telangana. He studied the map and saw no point in anyone continuing the stand-off, not least because there was no secure supply line to arm any purposeful upsurge. The heroic Telangana campaign was over in a jiffy.

There is something else about which we only hear in whispers from India’s communist leaders — their support to the Pakistan movement. Did they make a mistake, and if so, how? We know many Pakistani comrades concluded it was a blunder. Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, who delivered the message of her party’s support to the Quaid, was never comfortable about it. Who let her down? Is there as much as a mea culpa from anyone in command?

Came Indira Gandhi’s 1975-77 emergency rule. The pro-Soviet communist flank supported her suspension of civil liberties citing a threat from right-wing opponents including the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. The remaining communists opposed the emergency. They joined the mass upsurge unaware perhaps that it contained the seeds of their own wrack and ruin. The seeds sown in 1977 with communist support sprouted in May 2014 as Modi victory. Any regrets?

Sitaram Yechury was a student leader aligned with the Communist Party of India-Marxist at the Jawaharlal University in Delhi when the emergency was declared. He was arrested briefly unlike his other comrades who served their full stints. Yechury became president of the students union for three consecutive terms. I nearly fell off the terrace of the five-storeyed history faculty hanging upside down, pasting large stencils of the 14 letters that make up Sitaram Yechury. On Sunday, he became CPI-M’s general secretary at the 21st party congress in Vishakapatnam.

There is a hasty view that Yechury is less doctrinaire than Prakash Karat who he succeeded as party chief. That Karat too was a student leader climbing up the party ladder could be more problematic, an indication perhaps that the CPI-M has not thrown up worthy mass leaders from the working class arena or the peasants’ front to lead the party.

A relevant question is how culpable were Yechury or Karat in the policies that led to the party losing its sheen in Nandigram and Singur. Share the details. There is a view that the CPI-M could have invested its political capital in shoring up the pro-peasant and working class character of the party instead of squandering it on the questionable Nano car project. Other examples of bad choices come to mind, some of which were responsible for the cadre defecting to the Hindutva flank after last year’s electoral rout.

Yechury said in Vishakapatnam that the main task now was to counter right-wing consolidation and the Modi government’s neo-liberal economic policies. He didn’t have to travel to Andhra Pradesh to find that out. Noam Chomsky in faraway Boston has known it for years.

It might be worthwhile for the new CPI-M leadership to ponder why when Chomsky visited Delhi some years ago he addressed jam-packed halls of students, of lay followers. Why don’t they show up for the CPI-M’s meetings? The party could also consider how neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are managing to put up amazing popular resistances without overt communist leadership. They must wonder how so many former comrades are running great resistances in India, from Kudankulam to Niyamgiri without any structured communist cadre. Have communist parties become irrelevant?

The mourner in Mustafabad has always wanted to live up to his beliefs. He will wait to sight the Moharram moon to rekindle the quest. Neither Yechury nor his remaining cadre though have the luxury to leave the urgent next steps to the sighting of the new moon.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2015

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