On January 1, every newspaper had carried an emphatic statement issued by CPI(M) General Secretary Comrade HKS Surjeet that there will be two fronts against the BJP in the forthcoming elections. One would be led by the Congress while the other would comprise the Left parties and likeminded groups. While the direction of both fronts would be the same, the two would work separately, said Comrade Surjeet. Subsequently the CPI(M) Central Committee meeting held in Hyderabad however remained conspicuously silent about the issue of two fronts.
Comrade Surjeet did have his usual share of parleys with the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Karunanidhi and was also seen wishing Mayawati at her New Delhi residence on her birthday on January 15. But these moves have produced nothing but a few ‘photo opportunities’ and contradictory statements. While Comrade Surjeet let it be known that Mulayam Singh’s name as a possible prime ministerial candidate during the United Front days had been shot down by Laloo Prasad Yadav and Sharad Yadav, Laloo Prasad told Doordarshan that Comrade Surjeet was only making a fool of Mulayam Singh Yadav for his name had never come up! We are of course waiting to hear Comrade Surjeet’s rejoinder to that.
What really is the CPI(M)’s tactics in the present elections? We are often told by senior CPI(M) leaders that the party’s options were open regarding joining any secular government at the centre. Well, after the Thiruvananthapuram exercise in ‘updating’ the party’s programme such statements do not mean anything new. It is well known that according to the updated party programme the ‘option’ is now permanently open before the CPI(M) provided it arises in the first place. Interestingly, while such ‘open option’ statements are generally issued from Hyderabad or Chennai, in states where the party has perfect understanding with the Congress, in Kerala and West Bengal the party continues to harp on the old no-truck-with-the-Congress tune. This is probably what Prakash Karat has formulated as state-specific tactics!
This theory of state-specific tactics is nothing but a pathetic attempt to cover up the CPI(M)’s near-complete surrender of the Left’s independent identity and agenda. The CPI(M) tries to make a big distinction between joining a Congress-led front and collaborating with the Congress under the leadership of some non-Congress intermediary like the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the RJD in Bihar. But is it not an alliance with the Congress all the same? In Tamil Nadu, the alliance has its own name, the Democratic Progressive Alliance. And if you ask the Lok Janshakti Party, the RJD-led front in Bihar too is known as the Secular Democratic Alliance.
Beyond the three states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, the CPI(M) has historically had a significant presence in the two southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. In the north, Punjab was the most important state for the Left. There too, the CPI(M) has developed a durable partnership with the Congress even suffering a split in the process. It is only in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Assam where the Congress is in power at the state level and the CPI(M) in any case is not strong enough to secure any seat adjustment with the Congress that the CPI(M) may end up contesting a few seats on its own.
Another subterfuge often used by the CPI(M) to hide its partnership with the Congress is that wherever the party does not have its own candidates it would support viable secular candidates who have the best chance of defeating the BJP and its allies. A party’s tactics must first of all be judged by what it does in its areas of strength and not where it has only some notional presence. It is an indisputable fact that barring the three states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura where the CPI(M) has attained a position of political dominance, in every other state where the CPI(M)’s ‘support’ has some effective electoral implication the party is increasingly managing to reduce its strength and restrict its political presence. The dominant partners have often manipulated the choice of seats and at times even the choice of candidates in such a way that both the CPI and now increasingly the CPI(M) have had to pay a heavy price for the pragmatic satisfaction of winning a seat or two.
In terms of number of seats, the CPI(M) is the third largest party in the Lok Sabha. But its growing strategic commitment to the Congress has also reduced the party’s ability to exert any kind of pressure or influence on any of its allies outside the Left Front. Parties like the DMK, TDP, Samajwadi Party and even the RJD decide their courses of action according to their own independent assessment and political interests. The collapse of the now forgotten People’s Front at the time of the last Presidential election and now Comrade Surjeet’s failure to broker a deal between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party indicate the diminishing efficacy of the CPI(M)’s ‘state-specific’ united front tactics.
Interestingly, while the CPI(M) has given up all pretence of ‘Left unity’ to enter into an electoral deal with the Congress and the TRS in Andhra Pradesh, traversing a different path the PWG too has reached the same destination. Making a shift from its customary call of poll boycott – which anyway served earlier as a smokescreen for ‘delivering’ votes to the TDP against the Congress or the Congress against the TDP – the PWG has now reportedly adopted openly different approaches to the TDP-BJP combine and the Congress-TRS-CPM-CPI nexus. While the former is to be physically prevented from electioneering in Telengana, the latter is only to be exposed politically. To be sure, ‘political exposure’ would mean nothing more than pursuing the agenda of facilitating a Congress or TRS victory over the TDP or BJP! The CPI(M)’s abdication of the legacy of Telengana and the PWG’s attempt to resurrect it have now reached the same point. What a dialectical convergence!