The collective moral might and high-mindedness of the Communist parties of India miserably failed the country in the critical battle of 2014. Their numbers in Parliament dropped drastically and their presence as an ideological force is dwindling day by day. This is so all over the world, but in India the decline of the Left in the last seven-eight years has been particularly staggering.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the invisibility of Communists the world over was increasing. While their creativity and adaptability suffered after the fall of the Soviet Union, their energy to engage with the post-capitalist political systems also waned.
In India, since the Congress took over their their land reform agenda was in the 1970s, the Communists could not come up with a single issue as their national agenda for transformation. Localised Maoist movements created ripples here and there, but could not make systemic impact. Though the Communists tried to survive by building up a critique of neo-liberal political economies of the so-called globalisation era, it did not lead to any social mobilisation. It appears that they could not overcome the shock of post-capitalist technologies that came into the market and human life — computers, Internet and cellphones — and changed class relations globally. These were completely unanticipated by them, and the Communists could not come to terms with how fast and how much the working class changed.
They had no new ideas on how to address the issues of the growing young, aspirational work force. Globally they could not negotiate with identity movements that undercut the class wars very significantly. New theories of social justice that sprang up to address the problems of multiple identities confused the Communists. Theories of social justice now went far beyond the notions of natural and constitutional justice that Communist theoreticians and jurists were trained in. Their inability to understand its nuances and offer a roadmap undercut their class base in several countries, particularly in India.
For a long time they did not know how to engage with the minority and dalit questions because of their frozen view of class politics. They parroted the theory of secularism, yet even in states where they were in power, minorities and dalits did not become their vote base. Communist leaders lived in a caste-blind theoretical domain. They never thought that caste mobilisation to capture power was possible.
In 2014, the BJP posed a new challenge to the Congress and the Left. It suddenly promoted Narendra Modi, who claimed other backward status to wean away the Other Backward Class voters from the regional parties and, to some extent, from the Congress.
The Communists remained clueless during the entire campaign. When the BJP won under the leadership of Mr Modi, whom they could have never imagined as a man of a prime ministerial status because of the taint of Gujarat riots, they were in shock and I do not think they will recover from it in the immediate future.
Though they have some idea about Hindutva mobilisation, they never examined the OBC question seriously. They never allowed caste-conscious leadership to grow within the Communist parties. If one is not caste conscious, one cannot assess the caste system. There is no intelligential with them from these forces that could gauge the national OBC mind in these elections.
Communists the world over — except to some extent in China — failed to re-work their party structures so that they could re-position themselves based on the people’s needs. In India they could not match the Congress or the BJP in political adaptability. Though the Congress was seen as a left-of-centre party and the Communists had good and bad relations with it, they could not become an alternative to it.
The other problem is that they do not take any new proposition seriously and refuse to learn from experience, even their own. They do not believe that experience in itself could be the basis of analysing a society. Three decades ago this problem was much more serious in the Jan Sangh/BJP, but they reconciled with the caste question and promoted OBC leadership. Mr Narendra Modi is a byproduct of that reconciliation.
Though the Communists keep talking that change is dialectical, when we observe the global, more so the Indian Communist leaders and ideologues, their death wish seems to be deterministic. Since they dreamt only about revolution, they didn’t focus on reform. But have not brought about a revolution and are not likely to, and they do not reconcile with reform.
The Communists have not produced their own icons, neither have they negotiated with icons born and grown outside their fold. For example, they could have easily negotiated with Mahatma Phule and B.R. Ambedkar, as they emerged as national symbols of anti-caste movements across the country, but they did not. Look at the way the BJP negotiated with the icon of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
Can they sell their icons like E.M.S. Namboodiripad or Jyoti Basu or Shripad Amrit Dange outside their party fold? Perhaps the only iconic image that could be sold all over India is that of Puchalapalli Sundaraiah, a leader of the peasants revolt in former Hyderabad, called the Telangana Rebellion. But there is no agreed propaganda across the country around his personality that could attract people from all walks of life.
The Communist failure in understanding the Indian mass psyche is deep and deadly. There is no way for people to engage with Communist leaders from liberal-democratic space because they do not believe in inclusive political discourse. Their language is stoic; their symbols — at best red flag, hammer and sickle — are completely outmoded; the current crop of leaders are uninspiring. If a leader does not make a speech or write an article that makes people outside their party think, that is bad leadership to say the least. They also do not want to experiment with new leaders from different social backgrounds, experience and ideas. Their present position makes one think that they are on suicidal course.
The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad