As Opposition Comes Together to Protest on Demonetisation Anniversary, CPI(M) Remains Indecisive

The CPI(M)’s unclear stance on joining the protest reflects a divide within the organisation on whether to align with other parties.

Opposition leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad of Congress, Derek O'Brien of TMC and JD(U) rebel leader Sharad Yadav at a press conference to observe November 8 as Black Day to protest note ban in New Delhi on Tuesday. Credit: PTI

Opposition leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad of Congress, Derek O’Brien of TMC and JD(U) rebel leader Sharad Yadav at a press conference announcing that they will observe November 8 as Black Day to protest note ban, in New Delhi on Tuesday. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Confusion prevails over the participation of Left parties in the nation-wide opposition call for observing a ‘Black Day’ on November 8, the first anniversary of demonetisation.

On Tuesday morning, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, rebel Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav and Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’ Brien had informed the press that 18 opposition parties, in a meeting of a coordination committee which was formed during the last parliamentary session and of which Left parties are a part, had decided on October 23 to launch a joint protest to highlight the ill effects of demonetisation.

However, later in the day, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sitaram Yechury, indicated to the press that Left parties would meet on October 25 and decide whether to join the joint protests or not.

“Various trade unions of the country except the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh will hold nation-wide agitations against demonetisation on November 9, 10 and 11. The Left front and other people’s movements have also come together under the umbrella of the Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar Andolan to protest against NDA government’s economic policies,” he said.

Even as he stated that Left parties will hold independent agitations, he stopped short of saying that CPI(M) will not join ranks with other opposition parties, which include its primary opponents, Trinamool Congress (in West Bengal) and the Congress (in Kerala).

The lack of clarity about joining the united protests arises from the intra-party debate that has been going about the political line of the party for the last year or so. Yechury and his supporters are of the opinion that given the alleged right-wing onslaught on the Indian polity under the Narendra Modi government, the CPI(M) should forge broad alliances with other secular-democratic parties, irrespective of ideological differences, to create a united opposition on the lines of previous United Front governments in the 1990s.

Also read: Ritabrata Bandhopadhyay Is Only a Symptom of the Disarray Within CPI(M)

However, former general secretary Prakash Karat and his supporters within the party advocate strict adherence to the political-tactical line the party adopted in the last party congress in April 2015 at Visakhapatnam. In the congress, the party had ruled out any alliance with parties which supported neoliberal policies. For him, the CPI(M)’s struggle against parties like the BJP will be incomplete without fighting political parties like the Congress, which remains aligned to its neoliberal economic vision.

Effectively, whether or not to ally with the Congress has become a question that has virtually split the party in the last one year. When the Left Front allied with the Congress in the last West Bengal assembly elections and ended up as a junior partner after the results, Karat asserted his view against Yechury. The party was almost vertically divided in the recent central committee meeting on this issue.

It is in this context, the CPI(M) remained non-committal about joining the joint protest called by opposition parties. Yechury, however, asserted himself at the press conference by invoking Russian Marxist ideologue Leon Trotsky’s slogan, “March separately but strike together”.

Sitaram Yechury. Credit: PTI

Sitaram Yechury. Credit: PTI

“The strategy was even used by Mao-Tse-Tung in the Chinese revolution,” he said, indicating that he was more likely to push the CPI(M) to join the ‘Black Day’ protests at the October 25 meeting.

The debate within the party has put the CPI(M) in tricky situations before. For instance, the absence of Yechury or any other CPI(M) leader from the coordination committee meeting on October 23 was widely seen as an indication that the party will maintain a tactical distance from other opposition parties. Yechury, however, said that none of the party leaders, including him, could attend the opposition meeting because all of them were busy with different programmes the party had organised. Again, with this statement he has kept all options open for the party regarding its decision to join the protests.

One may recall that CPI(M) leaders had chosen to stay away from the joint opposition rally which Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav had organised in Patna two months ago. However, its other significant ally, the Communist Party of India, had joined the rally. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) too had promised to attend the rally but backed down eventually. But since the BSP was a part of the coordination committee meeting on October 23, it is understood that it has resolved to join the front in a comprehensive way.

Clearly, indecisiveness is only a CPI(M) problem in this case.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, TMC leader Derek O’ Brien and JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, in their addresses to the press earlier in the day, made it clear that all parties were united in their resolve against demonetisation but were also free to protest in their own ways in their respective strongholds, both unitedly and independently.

Also read: Sitaram Yechury’s Job Now Is to Prevent the CPI(M) from Imploding

“Some would want to hold dharnas, some would want to do a hartal (strike), some would launch other forms of protest on November 8. All constituents of the opposition respect each other’s independence,” said Azad, indicating that the Congress was not the leader of the flock.

“We have come together on a common agenda. The government changed the rules 135 times within a month after it announced notebandi on November 8, 2016. Though the government had promised the creation of ten crore new jobs, it has ensured that ten crore people lost their jobs,” he added, emphasising that the unity of the opposition was compelled by such steps taken by the NDA government.

Azad had also announced that 18 parties had come together to observe the Black Day. But as it turns out, opposition unity may be a little distant at the moment. Both the Congress and TMC – otherwise opponents of the CPI(M) – have done their bit to set aside their mutual differences with the Left Front by supporting the call for the Black Day’. Most likely, going by precedence, the CPI too will join the call.

It is now up to the CPI(M) to respond to this issue-based unity and decide whether it wants to extend its hand of comradeship.

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