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The Marxist and the Madam

The Marxist and the Madam

T.V.R. Shenoy
The Indian Express
April 27, 2000
Title: The Marxist and the Madam
Author: T.V.R. Shenoy
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: April 27, 2000

If Calcutta sneezes can Thiruvananthapuram escape catching cold? I hopeSonia Gandhi has laid in a giant supply of Vitamin C because the Congress(I), and perhaps the CPI too, seems set for a bad case of the sniffles.Dealing with West Bengal first, I know Congressmen are currently cock-a-hoopabout how Sonia Gan-dhi has nipped a potential rebellion in the bud. I amnot so sure; can Ghani Khan Choudhury draw back from the proposed Mahajotwithout becoming the butt of every satirist in Bengal? More to the point,can the Congress (I) survive if it does not join hands with Mamata Bannerjee?That is a question for the Congressmen of West Bengal to answer. But therepercussions of Sonia Ga-ndhi's decision to rein in her colleagues inCalcutta has had an unexpected repercussion in Thiruvana- nthapuram. Shehas, perhaps, inadvertently, sent out the message that the Congress (I) isnot really serious about taking on the Left Front. And this has led herparty's allies to reconsider their options.

I refer specifically to the Muslim League, a party which looms large in thepolitics of Kerala. Muslims account for 23 per cent of the electorate in thestate; while the Muslim League does not command the vote of everyman andwoman amongst them, it has enough supporters to make the Muslim League thethird (after the CPI(M) and the Congress (I)).

It should also be noted that the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF)and the CPI(M)-dominated Left Democratic Front (LDF) are neck-and-neckjudging by the results in the last General Election. The UDF is, perhaps, ashade ahead, but I believe the difference in terms of votes polled wasbarely one per cent. (The Bharatiya Janata Party has just under 10 per cent,but that doesn't count.) So, if the Muslim League jumps ship, the Congress(I) is going to find itself sinking in the Assembly elections next year.

Is there any chance of that happening? Didn't the CPI(M) denounce all``communal'' organisations about a decade ago, naming both ``majoritycommunalism'' (me-aning the BJP) and ``minority communalism'' (meaning theMuslim League)? And hasn't the Communist Big Brother kept its word in theyears since then? Co-me to that, hasn't the Muslim League stayed loyal tothe Congress (I)? So why would the CPI(M) or the Muslim League kiss and makeup?

Let us begin with the Muslim League. First, the party feels that SoniaGandhi is out of her depth in politics and her chances of making it to thetop job in Delhi are close to zero. Second, an alliance between the CPI(M)and the Muslim League would have an excellent chance of sweeping theAssembly polls in 2001. (As stated above, a contest between the UDF and theLDF would be too close to call). Finally, both the Muslim League and theCPI(M) are worried about the growing strength of the Rashtriya SwayamsevakSangh in Kerala.

Those reasons also explain why the CPI(M) would probably accept any offer ofalliance from the Muslim League. One year ago, Comrade Ha-rkishen SinghSurjeet was the head of the Congress president's cheer-leading squad: hewent so far as to question Mulayam Singh Yadav's commitment to``secularism'' because the Samajwadi Party boss refused to back SoniaGandhi's bid for prime ministership. Twelve months later the Marxists feelthey have nothing to lose by annoying the Congress supremo. Coming to powerin Delhi isn't an option in the immediate future, but losi-ng power inKerala is definitely on the cards if matters continue to drift.

The sad truth, as me-mbers of the LDF privately admit, is that the allianceis in terrible shape. E.K. Na-yanar is one of the worst chief ministers inIndia, a poor administrator, rude to his colleagues, and an absolutedisaster when it comes to public relations. Even worse, he has done nothingto quell the infighting within the CPI(M) itself. The octogenarian JyotiBasu may possess the experience and the stature to rein in his colleagues,but Nayanar is no Jyoti Basu.

It makes perfect sense, then, to come to terms with the Muslim Le-ague (evenat the cost of gnawing ten-year-old crow). The LDF would win the polls. Thesmaller parties not least the CPI would lose much of their clout if theMuslim League, the third largest party in Kerala, joined the alliance. Underideal circumstances, CPI(M) strategists wo-uld prefer to have just threeother parties in the LDF the Muslim League, the CPI and the KeralaCo-ngress (Joseph), throwing out the RSP, the NCP, the Janata Dal, and therest. In fact, the CPI(M) really has nothing to lose.

But where does this leave the Congress (I)? The party units in We-st Bengaland Kerala were preparing for the Assembly polls in both states next year.The leaders of the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee were takingpragmatic steps to unseat the Left Front, and their colleagues inThiruvananthapuram were modestly hopeful of returning to power. What is leftof those dreams today?

Ghani Khan Choudhury and his colleagues, I must reiterate, still have theoption of walking out of the party. That might destroy whatever little isleft of the Congress (I) in West Bengal after the Trinamul Co-ngress brokeaway. However, that is Sonia Gandhi's problem.

For what it is worth, I believe that Kerala's Congressmen are not asenterprising or desperate as their colleagues in West Bengal. They shallcontinue to stick by Sonia Gandhi and support her policy of seeing theBharatiya Janata Party as the main foe (even if it makes no sense in thecontext of Kerala politics).

Give Sonia Gandhi an `e' for effort. She invited the Muslim League leaderKunhalikutty to tea on April 20. (Was she remembering that other soireehosted by Dr Subramaniam Swamy thirteen months ago?) He refused to turn upand just in case the message wasn't clear he was seen at a Press conferencein Nayanar's company. ``Too little, too late!'' is that the Congress(I)'slatest slogan?

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