CPM's tactical line 'absurd'

Pro-CPM historian speaks out on Cong ties

Irfan Habib

Aligarh: Historian Irfan Habib, a CPM member since 1953, fears that the party's "absurd'' tactical line on alliances, if adopted at the Hyderabad party congress next week, could push the Left movement to the sidelines of India's polity.

In January, the central committee voted for the line supported by former general secretary Prakash Karat, which is against any understanding with the Congress. But Habib is not writing off the CPM just yet. Excerpts from an interview given to The Telegraph:

In July 2016, you and your wife Sayera wrote to the CPM politburo and the central committee questioning the party's official tactical line. How do you view the debate within the CPM on alliances ahead of the party congress?

A: Let us take UP (Uttar Pradesh). We have some influence in most districts but we can't save our deposits in more than one or two constituencies. If we put up candidates in some constituencies, as is being proposed, without being part of an alliance that includes the Congress, then people will recognise us as elements breaking the front against the BJP. We will not get votes, and we will also lose our sympathisers.

In the absence of a clear call to support a particular party or front, the kind of call given in Karnataka to vote for the party best positioned to defeat the BJP can be interpreted differently by different people.

This is so obvious. This is a question of arithmetic. Even tactically, the line is absurd. We will be seen as dividing the secular liberal vote, and will be isolated and weakened further.

Do you think there is a scope for a review of the tactical line - passed by a majority in the central committee - at the party congress?

A: I hope common sense will prevail over the senseless tactical line. Things are getting worse by the day in the country. There is no merit in the argument that there is no difference between the Congress and the BJP.

Prakash Karat

What about the argument that it is important to contest elections -- even on a limited scale -- to keep the cadres and state committees active?

A: Frankly, when we have no chance of winning or even saving our deposits, what is the point of contesting? We did so in Bihar in 2015, aligning with the CPIML and the CPI, and got nothing. In UP, we do not contest local body elections but want to fight Assembly polls.

Both sides arguing over the tactical line agree that the BJP has to be defeated. The difference now is on the party's relationship with neo-liberal parties like the Congress.

"Neo-liberal policy" is a misnomer. Those people who are saying there cannot be any kind of understanding with the Congress are those who were with the (Congress-led) UPA. The economic policies of the Congress were the same at that time.

The Congress is a capitalist party. We have tolerated capitalism to some extent in Tripura, West Bengal and Kerala. Using a new term does not help matters. Socialism has to accommodate certain elements of private enterprise if it has to succeed like in China.

All our allies are neo-liberal. What we need to (ask) is whether they are secular, whether they will protect labour rights and not get as close to the corporate (houses) like the BJP has. Let us now talk about issues of democracy, not neo-liberalism. That is the immediate task before us.

Do you agree with Karat's position that the conditions for fascism do not exist in India?

A: I totally disagree with it. It used to be said that fascism cannot develop in India because it is not a capitalist society. But we are forgetting that this was true of the 1960s, not now. India is a capitalist country, so there is the increasing possibility of India turning fascistic under a party like the BJP with its huge corporate backing.

To describe the BJP as an authoritarian regime like some African country is not correct. Even going by the argument that the (Narendra) Modi government is authoritarian, there too the BJP is different from the Congress.

In your opinion, what tactical line should the CPM adopt?

A: The party's priority for the Lok Sabha elections should be to unite all secular forces and keep our own claims to a rational minimum. We should play a more proactive role, as in the past, to build a broad understanding --- we seem to have ceded this space to regional leaders.

Just giving a call for supporting the strongest Opposition candidate against the BJP in seats the Left is not contesting is insufficient. Such a call will have no effect if the Left puts up too many candidates --- as its ally, the CPIML, does.

As for the state Assemblies, in West Bengal the CPM should try to have a common minimum programme with the Congress. That was our weakness in the 2016 polls, when we came together but failed to present an alternative to Trinamul.


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