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HVK Archives: Pretence of the rootless - CPI(M) in the power market

Pretence of the rootless - CPI(M) in the power market - The Indian Express

T.V.R. Shenoy ()
October 8, 1998

Title: Pretence of the rootless - CPI(M) in the power market
Author: T.V.R. Shenoy
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: October 8, 1998

N January 1961, Lyndon Baines Johnson, then Vice-President of
the United States, attended the first cabinet meeting of the
Kennedy administration. He came out raving about his fellows.
"Dean Rusk is a Rhodes scholar," he told his mentor Sam Rayburn,
"McNamara was head of Ford, and Bundy was dean of Harvard..."

Rayburn, all-powerful Speaker of the House of Representatives,
wasn impressed. "Well Lyndon, you may be right and those
fellows are every bit as intelligent as you say they are," he
said when the voluble Johnson ran down, "but I would have felt a
lot better if just one of them had run for town sheriff even

His point was that intellectual brilliance in an ivory tower and
dealing with ordinary people are two different things.
Rayburn's foreboding proved prophetic as Kennedy's handpicked
men, "the best and the brightest" of their generation, led
America into the quagmire of Vietnam.

Intellectual arrogance, that o as you are told because we are
smarter attitude, isn't an exclusively American ailment. In one
of history's ironies it is the US-baiters of the Left who show
the symptoms of that disease in India.

Men like the CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Karat were
reputedly the cream of the crop in the early days of Jawaharlal
Nehru University. (Legend has it that Yechury's twenty-year-old
term papers are still in circulation; doesn't JNU ever change
the syllabus?).

But what is the use of all those megawatts of brain-power? I
wonder if either Yechury or Karat could win a Lok Sabha race
unless they limped in via Kerala, West Bengal, or Tripura. Yet
both men adorn the CPI(M)'s Politburo, the highest decision-
making outfit in that party. It just doesn't make sense.

To be fair, Karat and Yechury shouldn be singled out. They
are, after all, merely following in the footsteps of Harkishen
Singh Surjeet. He is a native of Punjab yet his party couldn't
win a single Assembly seat in the state despite a "grand
alliance with the Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party. And this
is the man chosen to succeed EMS Namboodiripad as General-
Secretary of the CPI(M)!

That dichotomy between the actual vote-catchers and the backroom
terrorists was seen clearly in
May 1996. The hastily stitched-up United Front offered the prime
ministership to Jyoti Basu. But the CPI(M) declined on his
behalf, leading a clearly miffed Basu to grumble about a
historic blunder".

The veteran from West Bengal knew that a stint in Race Course
Road, however brief, would have vastly enhanced the stature of
the party at large. But the high priests of the Marxist doctrine
stood by the letter of an ancient resolution banning partymen
from joining a ministry unless they were in a majority. Since
that wasn't possible, they decided against participating in a
government upheld by the Congress.

That decades-old resolution is something like the poison in Lord
Shiva's throat - it can be neither spat out nor swallowed in its
entirety. (I hope the Marxists will pardon that "unsecular"
simile.). However, I had thought that the events of May 1996
would at least spark off a debate in the party about its role
vis-a-vis other non-BJP parties.

But the leaders of the CPI(M) preferred the ostrich as their
role-model. They gloried in the fact that a non-BJP, non-
Congress ministry was in power. Harkishen Singh Surjeet preened
as the media declared that he was the modem Chanakya, kingmaker
and the power behind the throne. Nobody seemed concerned in
those halcyon days that the CPI(M)-led Left Front had won fewer
seats in the 1996 polls than it did in the 1991 general

Are matters any better today? Judging by the evidence of the
party congress in Calcutta, I don't think so. Jyoti Basu gave
the Congress a clean bill of health, declaring that it is not
communal. Then he went on to say that it is, however, dominated
by communal elements. That is Grade-A gobbledygook.

But it isn't just relations with the Congress where the CPI(M)
betrays its confusion. Has anyone gone through the Marxists
comments on Laloo Prasad Yadav? Back in the days of the United
Front regime, the CPI(M) demanded his head for corruption. Yet
Comrade Surjeet didn't make a fuss when Rashtriya Janata Dal
ministers weren't sacked, which resulted in the peculiar
spectacle of non-United Front ministers in a United Front
cabinet. More recently, the Marxists were the first to defend
Yadav when the Vajpayee ministry recommended President's rule in
Bihar. Yet it still insists that it shall fight the corrupt and
inefficient government in Patna.

When confronted with these dichotomies, my Marxist friends say
they are against the use of Article 356 per se. But I didn't
notice any such squeamishness in Uttar Pradesh earlier this
year. Nor has the CPI(M) ceased demanding the dismissal of the
ministries in Lucknow and Mumbai. Who are they trying to fool
with such lies?

The CPI(M)'s internal convulsions have emboldened the lesser
parties in the Left Front to chart their own course. The point
is that the CPI, the RSP, and the Forward Bloc were all thinking
in terms of what they could tell the voters. From an electoral
point of view, it makes sense for the CPI to join hands with the
Congress in Punjab and to oppose the Rashtriya Janata Dal in
Bihar. It also makes sense for the RSP and the Forward Bloc to
draw a clear distinction between the Congress and themselves.

But the CPI(M) is trying to eat its cake and have it too. It
says it will join hands with the Congress to dislodge the BJP,
but can't promise anything beyond that. It wants to support
Laloo Prasad Yadav in Delhi but oppose him in Bihar. It
denounces the Telugu Desam as a pack of traitors, yet wants an
alliance in Andhra Pradesh.

At the Calcutta congress, the CPI(M) invited the Congress to
undergo "introspection". I hold no brief for Sonia Gandhi.
Inc., but this last suggestion is pure cheek. Isn't it the
CPI(M) that should be making up its mind one way or the other?
Signora Gandhi herself seems to be clear that she doesn't want
an alliance at the cost of making Surjeet her Chanakya.

The problem for the CPI(M) is that the likes of Surjeet,
Yechury, and Karat have no roots. And Jyoti Basu, at a ripe
eighty-three, has no real future. Between them, both groups
ensure that the CPI(M) has no direction.

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