Congress president Rahul Gandhi addresses his supporters, during an election campaign ahead of Karnataka Assembly elections on April 7, 2018. (Photograph: Shailendra Bhojak/PTI)

Congress To Communists: “Frankly Comrades, We Don’t Give A Damn”

BloombergQuintOpinion

Ever since the Communists, with their 60 Lok Sabha Members of Parliament, propped up the first United Progressive Alliance government in 2004, and then yanked support over the Indo-U.S. Nuclear Agreement, the ‘Congress versus Bharatiya Janata Party’ dichotomy has convulsed India’s Left. The Prakash Karat/Kerala faction is keen to revert to “hard anti-Congressism”; while the Sitaram Yechury/Bengal faction is pushing for an “open, transparent alliance” with the Indian National Congress for the 2019 polls. As of now, the anti-Congress faction has won two skirmishes at the politburo (December 2017) and central committee (January 2018) meetings. The final, concluding battle between the two factions will be fought in the next few days at the 22nd Party Congress.

I honestly can’t figure out what the fuss is all about! Quite apart from the Left being torn between its hate/love attitude towards the grand old party, what in heavens can Rahul Gandhi’s ‘new Congress’ gain from this alliance? If anything, the Congress’ response should be borrowed from that iconic dialogue in Gone With The Wind, i.e. “Frankly Comrades, we don’t give a damn”.

Here are four imperative, inexorable, and irrefutable reasons why the Congress must treat the Left as a weak political adversary to be subsumed/annihilated, rather than an ally to be resurrected. 

One: Doctrinaire Communism Has Ceased To Exist

Communism was a powerful ideology for about eight decades of the 20th century, from the Russian revolution to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. That ‘Leftism’ was hard-edged with two distinct doctrines that were in sharp opposition to the America-led ‘Rightist’ world-view:

  • Its ‘secularism’ was absolute, in the sense that Communism invalidated religion and subscribed to an ungodly atheism; as opposed to the American Right which enthusiastically endorsed people’s right to worship, but professed the equality of all religions.
  • Communism also invalidated private property, believing in total state ownership of all economic resources; as opposed to the American Right, which was an advocate of free markets, global openness, and unbridled private ownership.

So the line between ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ doctrines was sharply drawn through virtually all of the 20th century; each ideology, being so implacably opposed and distinct, had clear followers and naysayers. The world was neatly divided between these two ideological camps.

But once the Soviet Union and Berlin Wall collapsed, the dividing line between ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ got blurred. Ask yourself one simple question: who are the torch bearers of today’s Communism? Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, right? But these gentlemen are dictatorial state capitalists who have spawned wealthy and subservient oligarchs; they are strategically indifferent towards religion. And they are as apart from India’s doctrinaire Left as RSS is from Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of an inclusive India!

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Xiamen on September 3, 2017. (Photograph: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People’s Republic of China)
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Xiamen on September 3, 2017. (Photograph: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People’s Republic of China)

Two: Doctrinaire Communism Has Morphed Into A ‘New Liberalism’

Clearly, our 21st-century world has moved on to new definitions and isms. Today, the ‘Right’ stands for private property, protectionism and creeping cultural insularity (shades of a Trump-led America and Modi-led BJP, right?). And ‘Left’ is the new echo of Liberalism, advocating free-market capitalism with ‘a human face’, ie more welfare, free trade, fair regulations and immigration (familiar rhetoric from a Macron-led France and Rahul-led Congress, right?).

So where does that leave India’s doctrinaire Left, which is still trapped in Lenin-ism, the idea of ‘hard-coded atheism and state-ism’ that died decades ago? 

Nowhere, I am afraid.

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury with predecessor Prakash Karat. (Photo: PTI)
CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury with predecessor Prakash Karat. (Photo: PTI)

Three: Communist Votes Are Going, Going… Gone!

Even a tough electoral arithmetic is singing the Communists’ dirge:

  • Within its erstwhile bastions of West Bengal and Tripura, the Left’s vote share is down by an incapacitating 15-20 percentage points (from the highs of 47 percent in 1989). Most of this vote will gravitate towards the BJP unless the Congress can come up with a natively modern/liberal narrative which would be more attractive for the fleeing Left cadre – to do that, the Congress must create a young, new leadership (a la Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi in 2013), tactically align with the Trinamool Congress to completely stamp out the CPI(M) and stymie the BJP in a semi-final manoeuver, before turning around as the Trinamool’s principal rival in later elections.
  • In Kerala, it would be the kiss of death for the Congress to even be seen hobnobbing with the Left, as that would open the floodgates for the BJP (a la Tripura). So there, the Congress needs to remain a trenchant and unforgiving adversary, to occupy the entire opposition space.
  • As for the rest of India, the Left’s earlier vote share of 3.6 percent (1989) across its pockets of influence in Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab, Andhra and Tamil Nadu has shrunk to an unbelievable 0.6 percent (2014). The Congress’s entire effort should be to scoop up these disenchanted leaders, cadres, and voters, thereby ensuring the Left’s complete evacuation from these shriveled up areas.
  • Imagine, in the 2017 UP assembly elections, the Left got a mere 0.2 percent, or an incredibly negligible 1.3 lakh votes all across the state. Heartless as it sounds, this is the time for a merciless extermination, rather than any alliance!
  • All data points to a complete collapse of the Left’s support among young, aspirational voters: between 1996 and 2014, its share of votes from small businessmen and skilled workers dropped from about 10 percent to approximately 2 percent, making the Left a rapidly ebbing geriatric entity.

Finally, we must remember that ‘modern liberalism’, which is far more innate to the Congress than the BJP, is also a closer fit to the erstwhile Leftist ideology; so the Congress should have a natural advantage in winning over the rudderless Left cadre (e.g., Jignesh Mavani and Kanhaiya Kumar).

Four: Recall Lessons Of 2009, When Congress Won Its Biggest Victory In Two Decades

Dial back to July 2008: Unfortunately for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his Left coalition partners saw red over the Indo-U.S. Nuclear Agreement, and withdrew support in Parliament, pushing the government into a minority. Singh’s own Congress party balked. But he stood firm. He had pulled off a diplomatic coup which enhanced India’s soft and hard power across the globe. When the vote was counted late at night on July 22, 2008, Singh got parliament’s re-endorsement, 275-256. His beaming face and exultant V wave became the Congress’s political signature for the 2009 polls; across the country, he was feted as ‘Singh is King’ (the title of a blockbuster Hindi film).

Very few understood, or cared, about the nuclear nuance. What they latched on to was Singh’s ability to stand up to the Left’s blackmail in the pursuit of modernity and change.
Pratibha Patil, then India’s president, center left, and Manmohan Singh, then prime minister, center right, pose with newly appointed ministers at the presidential palace in New Delhi, India, on May 28, 2009. (Photographer: Pankaj Nangia/Bloomberg)
Pratibha Patil, then India’s president, center left, and Manmohan Singh, then prime minister, center right, pose with newly appointed ministers at the presidential palace in New Delhi, India, on May 28, 2009. (Photographer: Pankaj Nangia/Bloomberg)

The Congress increased its 2004 mandate by 45 percent, crossing 200 seats in Parliament. The Left crumbled to 20 seats.

The Congress must now finish the unfinished task of 2009, by vanquishing and subsuming the Left within its political womb.

Raghav Bahl is the co-founder and chairman of Quintillion Media, including BloombergQuint. He is the author of two books, viz ‘Superpower?: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise’, and ‘Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World’.