Left Parties – the necessary alternative
The ongoing Lok Sabha elections are tipped to be a face-off between secular and communal parties. But given the gravity of the situation, isn’t it a bit surprising that nobody has been talking about the left parties in general and the CPI(M) in particular which have upheld secular credentials throughout their history? Along with this, it is the alternate development model and a pragmatic vision, as stated in CPI(M)'s manifesto that makes it different from other parties in the fray.
Analysis of the Manifesto
We generally give a lot of importance to manifestos during even college-level elections, but tend to not do the same in the General Elections. This is one of the lesser seen documents during the course of elections. The main issues on which the people’s mandate in this general elections is supposed to be based are corruption, development and secularism, if we were to go by the claims of the ruling parties at the national level. However, very little is being said about the manifesto promises that would drastically change the way in which the economy operates in this country — reservation in the private sector and bringing the private sector under the purview of the Lokpal Bill. It is the Left parties that have put forth these points in their manifestos. In fact, they go further than the AAP in demanding that Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) and large private organisations be brought under the Lokpal. BJP, which released [its manifesto] (http://www.bjp.org/manifesto2014) on April 7th, the day on which the first phase of elections took place, subsequently helped us understand the importance it gives to its manifesto. While the INC manifesto, this time had the ‘Universal Health Care’ as its flagship policy as it had ‘Right to food’ in 2009. Its manifesto is nothing but working more on the failed idea of neo-liberal economic policies and a dependent foreign policy on the US. AAP, not unexpectedly, came up with transparency and corruption issues. The AAP manifesto was clouded by marred understanding of economic and foreign policies. AAP faces a similar problem even in practicality, as Medha Patkar and Meera Sanyal, people with opposite economic visions and opposite ideologies are contesting for Lok Sabha from the same city of Mumbai, a few kilometres apart.
“Black money” has become an important issue in the ongoing elections, along with corruption. The outcry regarding bringing back the money stashed in foreign banks is legitimate but it is suspicious that political parties do not call for a comprehensive set of reforms. One of the principal channels for the flow of black money in India is elections. The source of black money is largely the benefits that the rich extract from the government. The Left is the only political front that has been calling for a ban on corporate funding of political parties and that has repeatedly exhorted the ruling class to tax the rich.
BJP, which released its Manifesto on April 7th, the day on which the first phase of elections took place, subsequently helped us understand the importance it gives to its manifesto.
One of the talking points of the Left, the corporate taxes foregone presented in the annual budget, indicates how much the tax incidence has shifted towards the lower income companies, and away from the largest companies. There is undoubtedly a nexus between the government and the corporate sector, and the latter receives substantial unwarranted benefits under the guise of “incentives”. The much-needed strong action from the government seems a far-fetched dream when individuals splurge crores of rupees that they owe commoners, in luxuries, even as governments remain mute spectators in the act. If the example given is trivial, please take a look at how the government aided the telecom companies which came up with irrational bids to obtain the 2G spectrum or how it provided the much needed “stimuli” to the IT sector with its unreliable Aadhar scheme.
Let us now consider the economics of inflation. It wouldn’t be surprising to note that the word “petroleum” doesn’t figure in the manifestos of the BJP or the INC. (However, the BJP manifesto talks about “explorations for oil”.) Economic theory suggests that inflation is very much related to oil prices. The government has been misleading the public on oil prices for a while now, an issue which saw little coverage by the mainstream media. This was brought to the public attention by Tapan Sen, a Rajya Sabha MP representing the Left. A reduction in fuel prices, which would benefit the public, has not been proposed except by the Left parties which have committed to “reversing the deregulated regime of pricing of petroleum products” and “reducing the central excise and customs duties”. The bouts of food inflation even at a time of record production points to the inefficiency of the food procurement and distribution models in place. Effective government intervention in these sectors can bring the system out of this anomaly and only the Left parties have given importance to the public distribution system in place of the private sector.
The communal underpinning of these elections was being felt right from the moment Narendra Modi was tipped to become the Prime Ministerial Candidate of the BJP. The Muzaffarnagar riots added fuel to the fire. More disappointing is the fact that the person responsible for the same riots was nominated as the MP Candidate by the BJP. Liberal and left intellectuals have been giving rallying cry over the imminent danger India and its diversity faces if Modi, who has all the authoritarian and fascist tendencies, becomes the Prime Minister of the country. On the other hand, BJP promises the building of Ram Temple, which led to the communal flare by the Hindutva in the early 1990’s. In 1951 India’s first Law Minister Dr. B.R. Ambedkar fought to get our parliament to pass the Hindu Code Bill, a bill which would have granted equal rights to Hindu women denied to them by tradition and religious practice. Had this bill been passed in time, the logical next step would have been to draft a similar bill for Muslims and thus pave the way to work towards a uniform civil code. The Bill was blocked and Dr. Ambedkar resigned in disgust. It was the Hindu Right wing with the patriarchal mindset, both in opposition and on the ruling benches, the very leaders that BJP and the RSS still hold dear to their hearts which opposed the Hindu Code Bill. And yet in the election Manifesto that the BJP released, they have the temerity to promise a uniform civil code. In the BJP’s hands, this is not a bill that promises equal rights for women but merely yet another stick to beat Muslims with. The CPI(M) has stated that it will support a uniform civil code, but one must earn the trust of the communities that live under it, a trust that the BJP has never sought to earn.
AAP faces a similar problem even in practicality, as Medha Patkar and Meera Sanyal, people with opposite economic visions and opposite ideologies are contesting for Lok Sabha from the same city of Mumbai, a few kilometres apart.
Not to mention the innumerable riots the BJP and the Congress are involved with, CPI(M) was and still is the reckoning force which has fought communalism with all it’s power. Not one riot was reported during the Left Front’s 34 year rule in Bengal or the LDF’s rule in Kerala and Tripura. In 1984, when Delhi was burning with Anti-Sikh riots, Kolkata, which had the second highest Sikh population after Punjab had just ten deaths reported. ‘Jyoti Basu, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal,’ recall the Sikhs in Kolkata, ‘placed Kolkata under curfew, and his party supporters were seen patrolling Sikh-dominated areas to prevent violence perpetrated by the Congress goons.’ Such is the commitment of the disciplined cadre of the Left to safeguard secularism till their last breath.
Talking about the of nuances in the manifesto of the CPI(M), it would not be any exaggeration to call its manifesto the most progressive and liberal one at offer. After more than 20 years of neoliberal economic policies, the spiralling growth not being inclusive and the social indicators still suffering, CPI(M) has always been advocating an alternate set of economic policies quite different from the economic policies of the NDA and the UPA. Few of them include increased public investment in agricultural production and research, physical and social infrastructure amongst others. The CPI(M) which believes that ‘corruption cannot be tackled in India unless you also address the supply side of corruption, which is the crony capitalism,’ had made it a point to take on the corporate companies head on. The Left parties agitation against the Reliance Industries on gas over-pricing issue is worth being noted here. CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta and CPI(M) leader Tapan Sen are the ones who started this way back in 2006 before Kejriwal hijacked the whole issue and the judiciary is overlooking it now. This also speaks of volumes about the way in which corporate media wants to behave itself – giving no coverage to the Communists as has been ordered by their bosses, who look at Communists as someone who will make life tough for them. The reason why the Left withdrew support to UPA-1 was it’s tilt towards US via the Indo-US nuclear deal. CPI(M) maintained the same policy and called for an independent non-aligned foreign policy in its manifesto. The CPI(M) also called for decriminalising gay sex and amendment of Section 377. Brinda Karat, CPI(M)’s vocal proponent of feminist movement in the country, asks, “What has the Govt. to do with the private space of two consenting adults?” However, the BJP decided to back this archaic, retrograde and regressive act to satisfy its mentor, the RSS.
The CPI(M)’s manifesto also called for repealing the draconian AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) for which Irom Sharmila was on fast from 13 years. We challenge the Congress or any other party to take this cause up! When 97 countries across the world have abolished the death penalty, it’s time for India to go that way, advocates Prakash Karat, the General Secretary of the CPI(M). After the uproar over the Afzal guru, the CPI(M) politburo came to a conclusion that it doesn’t support the Death Penalty anymore and this was reflected in its manifesto. While no other party had such progressive manifesto point, we argue that death penalty is society’s way of letting itself off the hook. These are some traces in the Manifesto, which also pointed out the need for electoral, constitutional, judiciary and police reforms.
Role of Communists and Left in the Policy matters
“The role of the Left parties in India’s polity cannot be understood merely in terms of electoral politics. The policy formulations and interventions that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its associates in the Left Front initiate and advance as well as the political values they advocate make a significant contribution to the overall progress of the Indian people. This too needs to be kept in perspective while seeking to understand Left politics in India,” said Harkishan Singh Surjeet, former General Secretary of the CPI(M). The policy trajectory of UPA-1, which survived for four years with the support of the Left makes clear the crucial role played by the Left in formulation of path-breaking policies like the NREGA, RTI and the Forest Rights act, to name a few. While it is a failure of the Left to communicate the same to the people, the fact that they are responsible for such legislations and schemes can’t be ignored.
While it is the Ambani’s and Adani’s for the Congress and the BJP, it’s with the small yet precious contributions of daily wage labourers and contributions from individuals that the Left parties run their campaign with. Strongly opposed to the corporate funding and completely blacked out by the Corporate Media, the Left goes back to the traditional door-to-door campaigning in places where it had led significant pro-people agitations and movements. With Tripura, Kerala and West Bengal playing a crucial role for the Left, the Left is also trying to convert the mass agitations in pockets of Tamil Nadu (where it has led Dalit movements against untouchability and in support of the fishing community), Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar (where it led Land Struggles), Haryana and Himachal Pradesh into electoral success. The left has striven hard to highlight the issues of the working class in the Parliament, be it the case of underpaid nurses or that of farmer suicides (with an alarming rate of two per hour). The Left parties and the trade unions affiliated to them also managed to organise a massive rally in Delhi, in December 2013, demanding their rights, which were given least importance by the media. The lack of interest in the working class shown by the corporate-influenced parties (and the media) shows how much they care about the issues of the people. On the other hand, the Left parties had been represented by Ajit Sarkar who had to sacrifice his life fighting the terror of upper class interests.
In short, it is only the Left which can counter the advancing fascist, communal BJP and the corrupt, paralysed Congress. Sending people who have been involved in pro-people struggles and agitations is the need of the hour, through which we can assure that the Govt. doesn’t serve the rich and the powerful, but will instead serve the cause of the oppressed and the discriminated. You will rarely see MP’s from Kerala (MB Rajesh and MP Achuthan) fighting for the rights of the North East people in Delhi and subsequently getting arrested. This is just a single example amongst infinitely many others where the Left parties have stood for the oppressed and the discriminated. Every person standing on the symbol of Sickle and Hammer and campaigning with a Red Flag has a baggage of experience with people’s struggles on their back unlike the bourgeois parties which field Bollywood stars, Corporate leaders, and sportspersons. With an inclusive economic policy, an independent foreign policy, a sense of social justice and liberal understanding of human rights and civil liberties in it’s manifesto, the Left is going to be a key player in the aftermath of the elections, both policy wise and electoral wise. For a secular and democratic alternative, we need to strengthen the Left. Having such a good track record, the Left will be the best choice for people to go and vote for.
Rahul Maganti, a third year Undergraduate Student in the Department of Metallurgical Engineering and Material Sciences at IIT Bombay. M. Akhil is an alumnus of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in IIT Madras. Deepak Johnson is a V year MA Economics student of Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. Pratheesh Prakash is currently pursuing a PhD in the IC Engines Lab of Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras. Sections of a prior version of this article had appeared in IIT Madras' The Fifth Estate and IIT Bombay's Insight online magazines.