Communist rhetoric turns curiouser in difficult times. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been struggling to come to terms with its dramatic failures in the Lok Sabha elections. It now claims to have arrived at the conclusion that the “primary responsibility” for the party’s poor show lies with its politburo and central leadership. The conclusion stops short of facing the obvious truth — that the responsibility, “primary” or otherwise, lies squarely with Prakash Karat. He is not only the general secretary but also the face of the central leadership. It is no coincidence that Mr Karat’s tenure at the top has seen a steady decline of the party. All his pet ideas, which he forced upon the party with the help of his caucus, were completely rejected by the people in one election after another. He had a strange obsession with the Third Front, comprising parties opposed to both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, even though it had no takers. His opposition to the civilian nuclear deal between India and the United States of America led to the parting of ways between the Left and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. It did not stop the signing of the agreement or destabilize the UPA government, as Mr Karat had hoped. But it did reduce the CPI(M) to an irrelevant player in national politics.
The worst damage that Mr Karat inflicted was on his own party, especially in West Bengal. If the CPI(M) is out in the cold in a state in which it had ruled for 34 years, the reason is to be found mainly in Mr Karat’s misguided political strategies. Many of the senior party leaders in Bengal had been sceptical of Mr Karat’s ill-judged move to withdraw the Left’s support to the UPA government. But, true to the typical workings of party factions, he manipulated the central committee in order to push his line. His group could thus blame Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for the party’s loss of power in the state in 2011. There was no scope for prevarications this time and Mr Karat should have owned responsibility for the debacle in these parliamentary polls. He will probably stay on till the party congress early next year, when his final term as general secretary ends. But his tenure will be known as the darkest era in the CPI(M)’s history when the party not only suffered its worst-ever poll setbacks but also lost its relevance in Indian politics.