In commenting on a death sentence awarded by Napoleon to a political opponent, the 19th century French statesman Talleyrand is supposed to have famously remarked, “It was worse than a crime, it was a blunder!” This is an apt description of the Indian left’s campaign against the UPA-led government on the nuclear deal which culminated in the ultimately unedifying spectacle of communists voting along with the arch-reactionary right-wing BJP. Now that the votes have been counted and the suspense is over, it is time to ask what the left parties, especially their largest component CPM, thought they were achieving by forcing the showdown in parliament. If UPA had lost and early elections had been called, the likely beneficiary would have been the BJP-led NDA. The latter are clearly as committed, if not more committed, to a deal with the U.S. So what was the point of the left’s action in destabilizing the UPA regime?
In recent months, the leaders of the left, most prominently Prakash Karat, have repeatedly stated that their opposition to and ultimately break with the Congress-led UPA revolves around three factors - Congress’s economic policies, which are not pro-people; the Indo-US nuclear deal, which will force India into a strategic alliance with and subservience to the US; and the failure of the UPA government to curb inflation. Leaving aside the charges on economic issues, on which any government ruling anywhere in India, including West Bengal, is vulnerable, it is quite clear that it is the nuclear deal which precipitated this ill-advised action on the part of the left, an action which carried the attendant risk of rabid communalists again coming to power in India.
Indeed in an editorial in Peoples Democracy, quoted in the Hindu of July 18, the party’s editorial writers seemed to be aware of this when they wrote: “This, naturally, raises the question whether the CPI (M) and the Left would like to be seen on the same side as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the communal forces in voting against the Manmohan Singh government. Particularly since the Left’s outside support to this UPA government, based on a Common Minimum Programme, was aimed at keeping the communal forces away from the reins of State power.” The answer they gave to their own query in their own article is very revealing of the maturity or utter immaturity of the party’s leadership: “The moot question here is to protect the country from the consequences of this India-U.S. nuclear deal which imply protecting India’s sovereignty, independent foreign policy and independence in dealing with our security concerns. This requires that this government be defeated in this trust vote.” In other words, they were willing to incur the risk of the arch-reactionary BJP coming to power, which would have bartered away India’s sovereignty to the U.S. anyway, just to make a point about the CPM’s own anti-imperialism!
The toppling of the Manmohan Singh Government, which would have meant BJP coming to power, is more than the defeat of a secular (or quasi-secular) government. In India, it is the issue of dignity, safety and equal opportunity for India’s 150 million plus Muslims, who may be in minority but who have been equal builders of independent India. The arch reactionary forces of India are represented and led by Rashtriya Swayamsewak Singh (RSS) through its various outfits, including its parliamentary wing the BJP. BJP is the second largest party in the current Parliament and ruled India for almost six years before they were defeated in 2004. RSS outfits have already done much damage from the demolition of the Babri mosque to massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, Mumbai and elsewhere. Most importantly the ascendancy of RSS has already deformed the Indian polity. When the Gujarat genocide of Muslims took place in 2002, the entire left shouted that it would not and should not be forgotten. But it has been forgotten. There was no Bandh against the Vajpayee government but recently the left called one against the UPA government - for the rise in petrol prices and nearly double-digit inflation. Perhaps Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi should have offered the posts of Prime Minister to Karat and Finance Minister to CPI leader A.B. Bardhan on the condition that they disband their respective parties if they fail to subdue inflation. What is an economic issue for the Hindus on the left is a matter of life and death for the Muslims - left or right.
One possible motive for the left’s actions is that the CPM leadership was trying to re-establish and burnish its progressive, anti-imperialist credentials in the wake of the Singur and Nandigram fiascos where it had to face withering and unremitting criticism of its policies by almost the entire independent and green left in India. The nuclear deal afforded it the chance to wave the red flag again. Another possibility, which has gained some publicity in the wake of the UPA victory, is that the CPM really believes that the so-called Third Front to the UPA and NDA, the UNPA, can be a more effective catapult to power than remaining allied to the UPA. The Hindu newspaper of July 23 reported that the left parties, UNPA, and Mayawati’s BSP have come together on a common platform to “launch a nationwide campaign” against the nuclear deal and inflation. It is rather ironic that these disparate groups used the word “immoral” to describe the UPA’s victory in the no-confidence motion vote. That word could perhaps be more appropriately used for the left’s decision to throw in its lot with the assorted “aya rams, gaya rams” belonging to the JD (S), RLD, TRS, TDP, etc., as revealed in the Hindu report. Perhaps some of the left party functionaries will now try to issue certificates of “progressiveness” to these forces to form a secular Third Front.
However, if the CPM leadership thinks that by this maneuver they would improve their image, tarnished by the Nandigram-Singur episodes, they are badly mistaken because the left front government in West Bengal has no choice but to repeat such experiments if it has to develop the state’s economy. The state of affairs with CPI is even sadder. CPI not only was in the forefront of fight against communalization of Indian social and political life, its policies and alliances were based on defeating the most reactionary forces. In his eagerness to forge CPM-CPI unity, CPI leader Bardhan has abandoned the independent role of CPI and turned himself into a virtual private aide to Karat.
Whatever the reasons underlying their actions, the leadership of the left parties has revealed itself to be bankrupt. The steps it has taken by withdrawing support for the UPA government will not only go a long way in nourishing the RSS agenda but also weaken the left as a whole. That is doubly unfortunate, since the cadre of the left and its broader supporters and sympathizers all over the country remains the main barrier to the biggest danger facing India at the present juncture - the takeover of power by the communalist forces.