For the third time, the commissars, cocooned in their principled fastness, have rejected the Congress offer to support Sitaram Yechury as a candidate from West Bengal for a Rajya Sabha seat. The decision was taken at a politburo meeting this Friday. The fantasy that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) can fight a political battle of any consequence by remaining outside the parliament is what it is – a fabricated illusion.
It is hypothetical and a waste of time to imagine Indian politics if in 1996, the CPI(M)’s principled commissars had relented to collective appeal and perhaps some wisdom of the entire non-Bharatiya Janata Party, non-Congress political formation of regional parties and allowed Jyoti Basu to head a government at the Centre. It is equally futile to imagine what could have happened if the CPI(M) had relented in 2004 and accepted the job of deputy prime minister.
The offer of support for a Rajya Sabha seat is a titchy thing, in comparison, but infinitely important at this juncture in Indian politics. It would have added heft to the coalescing of anti-BJP forces in the Rajya Sabha, where every seat that is snatched from the BJP adds to the capability of the opposition to push back and break the intense pressure of the Narendra Modi government. The capacity of the BJP to be ruthless, by using every means to intimidate various regional party leaders into submitting to its will, has been on display over the passage of amendments and legislations, including on Article 370 and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, among others.
If there are principles that the CPI(M) is committed to defending and fighting for, it needs to do more. It cannot nurse ideas of its superiority and qualitative difference from the rest and wait for the forces of history to lift the party out of the ditch, even as it grows weaker and weaker to the point of fading away in its longtime bastion of West Bengal.
The fact that the CPI(M) is losing in West Bengal and to the BJP does not seem to have registered with the leadership. The state party is in denial that the 16-plus percent votes it lost in the 2019 general elections, when it did not win even one seat, is a measure of the distance between its image of itself and how voters see it – as a waste of a precious vote.
In other words, the CPI(M) is a lost cause, because it suffers from a deadly combination of arrogance and political stupidity. The decision to reject the Congress offer of support for a Rajya Sabha seat for Sitaram Yechury from West Bengal is precisely the way in which it is doing so.
If it were a matter of principle, then the party should condemn the joint public rallies with the Congress that have blocked Kolkata’s streets, the day after Amit Shah’s public meeting at the Shahid Minar grounds, when a small group of participants shouted “goli maro” in the heart of the city. Students belonging to the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M) should have been stopped from participating in joint rallies against the CAA, National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register exercise.
Fuzzy thinking masquerading as principled politics has marginalised the CPI(M). By squandering yet another opportunity to put one effective member in the Rajya Sabha with Congress support, the party has confirmed that it is distancing itself further and further from the realities of India’s political crisis. The Congress certainly believes that Yechury would be an asset for the opposition as the fight against the BJP intensifies and episodes of incited violence like North East Delhi menace the still strong and peaceful resistance of protesters against CAA, NPR and NRC.
The deepening and spreading danger to the constitution, its values of diversity, harmony and freedom require a collective fight back inside and outside parliament. Instead of identifying the BJP as its principal enemy, inimical to the social and political culture and traditions of India and a disaster for the economy, the CPI(M) has hyphenated the Congress with the Sangh and rejected its support. In doing so, it has given the BJP yet another stick with which to beat the Congress on the one hand and jeer at the CPI(M) on the other.
The effects of the rejection will impact the forthcoming municipal elections in West Bengal. The elections will be dangerously polarising in communal terms. The BJP’s majoritarian politics has spread into the remotest parts of the state, increasing the number of communally sensitive locations and raising the volatility of the situation. In the border districts and in North Bengal, by stirring up memory and mingling it with angst, the BJP has established bases from where it hopes to make successful forays against the Trinamool Congress in the 2020 municipal and state assembly elections due in 2021.
A four-way split in votes will improve the BJP’s chances in terms of seats. As a challenger to the Trinamool Congress, that would be the best possible advantage that the BJP can hope for. By signalling that the CPI(M) will be an unreliable ally for the Congress, the seat-by-seat consolidation needed to keep the BJP restricted will not happen.
The rejection of support from the Congress to the CPI(M) could end up being a boon for the BJP. A Sitaram Yechury in the Rajya Sabha is an entirely different kettle of fish from the same Yechury outside parliament, where the amplification of his messages is limited to the small social media groups that follow the Left. A Congress-Left consolidation in West Bengal, managed with political skill, would shrink the space available for the BJP and reduce its capacity to win. It could mean that the CPI(M)’s electoral chances would further decline, as the move increases the unreliability of the party as a partner.
Instead of increasing secular consolidation in one corner of India and signalling a larger consolidation across India, the rejection could end up weakening the consolidation and giving the BJP an opportunity to make deeper inroads into West Bengal. Instead of working to squeeze the BJP, the CPI(M) has worked to increase its chances.
Shikha Mukherjee is a Kolkata-based commentator.