Communists in India seem perpetually caught in the web of rhetoric. No wonder then that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is still qubbling on whether its support to the Congress in the next Lok Sabha elections also means supporting Ms Sonia Gandhi as a prime ministerial candidate. Most people would think that one automatically follows the other. The Marxist veteran, Mr Jyoti Basu, would have us believe that the party’s politburo too has decided the same. But his colleague and secretary of the West Bengal unit of the party, Mr Anil Biswas, sang a different tune, saying that the politburo had not discussed the issue of supporting Ms Gandhi’s prime ministerial candidature. The important question, however, is not whether the party politburo has actually taken a decision on the issue but if the CPI(M) has a choice other than supporting not just the Congress but its leader as well. It is possible that the party does not want to publicly commit itself at this stage to Ms Gandhi’s leadership of a front opposing the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance. But there is no escape from the fact that the leftists’ options have become even more limited after the collapse of the so-called third front of parties opposed to both the Congress and the BJP.
But the contrary voices of Mr Basu and Mr Biswas reflect an old schism in the Indian communist movement. Communists in India could never quite settle the question of what to do with the parties of the national bourgeoisie. It is one of the ironies of the communist movement that the CPI(M), which once was bitterly opposed to any understanding or alliance with the Congress, is now forced to do precisely that. Yet the same Marxists had once taken a leading role in uniting other parties, including the BJP, to topple the Congress government at the Centre. The party had thus unwittingly paved the way for the BJP’s rise to power. Even the Marxists’ new-found faith in the Congress comes along with its sharp criticism of the latter’s economic policies. If Mr Biswas is still hesitant to come clean on the support to Ms Gandhi’s leadership of the anti-BJP front, it reflects the residual differences within the party on any understanding with the Congress. That is why the CPI(M) would support the Congress in states where the leftists have no significant presence and oppose it in their own strongholds such as West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. The CPI(M)’s compulsions vis-à-vis the Congress are also a reflection of its own stunted growth.