Has the Indian Left been left behind by the AAP?
As the Indian Left watches the AAP take up issues it has been talking about for years, perhaps its time for a round of introspection
Voices Saturday, September 13, 2014 - 05:30
By Sanjaya | March 27, 2014 | 5 PM IST Now that the left seems to have been maneuvered out of a possible post-poll third front, it may well be time for CPM and CPI to take stock of its politics. Too often their energies have been spent in cobbling up alliances and fronts at national and state levels, with little progress to show as far as their growth is concerned. They observe from the sidelines as every new political trend and idea, such as the Aam Aadmi Party, that could potentially be theirs is taken up successfully by others. The backward classes movement, dalit upsurgence, and now the middle class renaissance campaigning for good governance and against corruption Ã¢â‚¬â€œ these should have had their origins in the left or at least received their grassroots support. The left typically starts by ignoring new ideas that spring up. Then it employs its formidable Marxist sledgehammer analysis to dismiss them. And finally when the ideas solidify into a political base the left looks for a tie up but by then the ideas have run their course. The left was out of the Anna Hazare movement. The CPI was lukewarm toward the idea of Lokpal since the party sought to protect government employees who could be nominally part of a trade union base. Prakash Karat has said he would like to wait and watch what positions AAP takes. Many leftist commentators have argued that AAP doesn't go far enough, or, in other words, is not Marxist enough. For instance, they critique AAPÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vision document saying it is not against private education, merely for upgrading public education. They say corruption is only an outcome of crony capitalism and it is capitalism that has to be opposed. Karat cites a recent CII talk in which Kejriwal declared he was not against capitalism. But CPM's own leaders including the venerable Jyoti Basu had said that several times. In the party's perspective, the Indian revolution will be democratic and therefore include much of the population. It will unleash dormant productive forces (which will initially have to be capitalism, according to Marxian theory) and empower vast sections. CPM's ideologues had in the past couched Basu pitches for investment in such Marxian terms. Without using Marxian jargon, AAP has successfully hit targets that the Indian left has traditionally claimed to be its bugbears. The left has missed the public eye when it comes to needling Ambani. Karat has said in an article in the party organ PeopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Democracy that gas pricing is an issue that left MPs have consistently raised in Parliament. He may be correct. But it took the energy of a police case by an elected AAP-led government to bring the issue into sharp focus. It would be unthinkable for a left front state government to do something as daring and innovative as Kejriwal's move. It's perhaps the organizational culture of CPI, CPM that doesn't allow new ways of political messaging or even attract new talent. Karat and Sitaram Yechury are significant exceptions to the general trend of idealistic youths not finding traditional left organizations attractive. In the 60s and 70s, many of these youths became Naxalites. Later the promise of direct action and the possibility of delivering tangible and immediate benefits to people drew them into NGO work. Karat, in an early tract as a CPM ideologue, had sneered at NGOs. He found them harmful and hurdles to the leftÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s progress. These amorphous, non-organization youths driven by passion and idealism, however, have always been at the forefront of gamechanging social movements in India. Schooled in the NGO world, these activists know how to play the media and the political world. They are now flocking to AAP and similar parties and movements. But things weren't supposed to be like this. The Soviet Union was crashing down and the Soviet bloc had vanished when Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury were inducted into the politbureau of CPM in Chennai more than 20 years back. At that time, many thought these two may crack the Indian puzzle -- the question of why a nation with a majority of its population crushed by poverty had little room for genuine leftist politics. They may have the breadth of vision and knowledge to come up with creative ideas, it was hoped. But two decades later, CPM, led by these two, is a pale shadow of its original self. Economic growth has made a dent on poverty in India and the middle class is no more sympathetic to leftist politics unlike in the past. Karat's major political initiatives, drawn from Leninist classics, have largely been failures. And the left, led by Karat, sits outside and watches as yet another churning is happening, which could provide political space for regular middle class folks and professionals. 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