The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dulal Bandhyopadhyay: old style

Chinese communists once launched two national campaigns to rid comrades and others of “bourgeois” vices. One was called sanfan or the “three-antis” campaign against corruption, waste and bureaucratic behaviour. The other was the wufan or the “five-antis” movement to weed out bribery, tax evasion, theft of state property, theft of state economic secrets and embezzlement in carrying out state contracts.

The Chinese Communist Party’s mission to create the “new men” failed as miserably as those of the communist parties in the former Soviet Union and its satellites in eastern Europe. Corruption is so pervasive in Chinese society today that Jiang Zemin had to take the unusual step of issuing a warning against it in the all-important general-secretary’s report to the 16th party congress last November.

That the warning had not come a day too soon was proved by two sensational events last month — a provincial court upheld an 18-year jail sentence to Yang Bin, the orchid trader once ranked as China’s second-richest man, for fraud and bribery; and Zhou Zhengyi, property tycoon and once considered the richest man in Shanghai, was arrested on charges of financial corruption. Both are known to have used their connections to CPC leaders to strike it big. But these are only the two most celebrated of the recent corruption cases; the government and the party seem to be caught in an endless battle against corruption at every level.

West Bengal’s very own Communist Party of India (Marxist) has now decided that it too urgently needs to rid its cadre of corruption and other vices. A meeting of the party’s state committee, therefore, outlined a “rectification campaign” for partymen. Come November and all units of the party will be involved in “educating” partymen out of these vices. At the same time, the campaign will aim at preventing “immoral and unwanted” people from infiltrating the party.

Broadly, the vices fall into two categories — “immoral” activities and the tendency to ignore the principle of “democratic centralism”. The immoral activities range from financial corruption to the use of government and party power for private gains, to the blatant use of criminal tactics to carve out little fiefdoms.

It may be a small coincidence that the party went public about the campaign soon after a Calcutta court slapped a life sentence on Dulal Bandyopadhyay, one of its strongmen in the Dum Dum area, on a twin-murder charge. Nor is the planned rectification campaign the first such move by the CPI(M). Apart from the annual exercises that go with the renewal of party membership every year, there were two major rectification programmes, one in 1983 launched by the state committee and the other in 1996 initiated by the central committee. Though they may not admit it publicly, party leaders know that the campaigns have largely failed to stem the rot.

The leaders should also know where the root of the problem of “immorality” lies. All talk of cleansing the party of bad elements must be empty rhetoric if electoral success or retaining power is the ultimate measure of ideological vitality and the cadre’s abilities. The party leaders who approve of money and musclepower as major tools of electoral battles can hardly be convincing when they try to take the high moral ground.

A bigger obstacle to a real rectification programme is the party doctrine of democratic centralism itself. It requires a minority group within the party to accept and implement the majority decision on any issue. In simple terms, the doctrine makes it difficult for a dissenting member to speak up against the party, resulting in a situation where there is too much of centralism and too little of democracy. A worse problem is that this principle is abused by leaders of local units to suppress, not only voices of political dissent, but also voices against corruption and other vices.

It would all be the CPI(M)’s internal matter and irrelevant to the common people’s interests if it were not the state’s ruling party. If an increasing number of partymen are using government contracts to make money, it is a matter not merely of personal corruption, but, more important, of bad governance. If party-backed criminals lord it over in some areas, it is not simply a question of the rottenness of the party organization; it becomes a matter of life and death for the common people as well.

A real rectification drive, as far as the people are concerned, would be one that would free them from the unwarranted and totally unacceptable interference of the party and its cadre in their lives. A real clean-up would be one that would allow the people to fearlessly speak up against the party’s excesses. There is yet no indication that the CPI(M) cadre is prepared to be rectified, not by its own leaders, but by public scrutiny.

CPI(M) leaders never tire of saying that theirs is the only party in India which takes up such rectification programmes regularly for its members. It is also true that the party takes disciplinary action against erring members on a far bigger scale than any other party. Their stock response to examples of corruption in China is that it is the communist government there that dares take action against even the richest.

But the Chinese examples with which we started also show how empty the so-called rectification campaigns by communist parties can be. It would be naive to expect the CPI(M) to rectify too much to risk its rule.

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