Left parties’ dilemmas in Tamil Nadu

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | M R VENKATESH
Published Mar 21, 2016, 6:25 am IST
Updated Mar 21, 2016, 6:25 am IST
A third front option again, but with Tamil Nationalists?
R. Nallakannu
 R. Nallakannu

Chennai: As the age-old maxim goes, squaring a circle is logically impossible. But it also lays bare the most unseemly contradictions and pragmatic combinations in the real life-world, more so in politics in an open, democratic society.

For the Indian Left parties, whose core constituency mainly comprising the “working class, the poor peasants and agricultural workers”, which the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – (CPI-M) has even recently described as the ‘core of the revolutionary alliance’, it is a constant running against the wall in trying to narrow the mismatch between ideological fury and grassroots reality. India’s caste fortifications hardly seem to be de-freezing into classes.

 

And by CPI (M)’s own candid admission, as the most dominant force in the Indian Left spectrum after breaking away from the Communist Party of India (CPI), the pulls and pressures of ‘Parliamentary politics’ that as its recent plenum document says, “confines the party’s activities to electoral work” and fighting elections, it is an unenviable dilemma the Indian Left parties face.

The oddities with which that dilemma unfolds for CPI and CPI (M) in Tamil Nadu in the run-up to the May 16 Assembly elections, particularly after the Left parties reached an electoral understanding or ‘seat adjustments’ with the Congress in West Bengal to take on Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, is news by itself.
It is not the apparent contradictions of with whom they team up or not; neither it is about vote-shares of the two parties, which have oscillated between 5 per cent to 6 per cent in Tamil Nadu since the 1967 watershed Assembly elections, irrespective of the alliance choices the CPI and CPI (M) have made over the years.

In this context, the 2014 Lok Sabha polls stand out when CPI and CPI (M) in Tamil Nadu made a radical departure in announcing that they will jointly contest as a single bloc, after the ruling AIADMK had left it with a ‘take it or leave it’ situation with offer of a single seat for each. Since then, political observers say their ‘independent tactical line’ has acquired a new focus.

They had then decided to contest nine seats each out of the 39 Lok Sabha constituencies in Tamil Nadu, on the plank of fighting ‘communalism, corruption and money power in elections’. This appeared to be a basic shift in their poll strategy to fighting elections in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, though there is no singular pattern to explain the post-1967 scenario.

For instance in 1967, CPI (M) was part of the DMK-Swatantra party grand alliance that trounced the Congress in the State, while in the 1971 Assembly elections CPI was part of the DMK-led alliance that had then struck a deal with the Indira Congress after the major split in the All India Congress.

Broadly, through the MGR-led AIADMK era in the State (1977-87) and later right up to 2004 LS elections — when both CPI and CPI (M) were part of the DMK-Congress ‘United Progressive Alliance (UPA)’ in Tamil Nadu, along with PMK and MDMK on a larger secular platform to take on the BJP-led NDA — the CPI has fought more elections with AIADMK and the CPI (M) has been largely a DMK ally.

But the 1996 Lok Sabha election was again an exception to that trend, when CPI contested as part of DMK-TMC alliance, even as the Marxists sought to forge a ‘third front’, with the MDMK led by Vaiko and the erstwhile Janata Dal. The DMK courting both BJP and the Congress in successive Lok Sabha elections, the previous Congress regime signing the Indo-US deal for civil nuclear cooperation and the subsequent 2G spectrum scam had also contributed to the Left distancing itself from the DMK later. Thus, both CPI and CPI (M) were part of the AIADMK-led alliance in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and in the 2011 Assembly polls when Vijayakanth-led DMDK was also on board the Jayalalithaa-led front.  

As early as 1996, when Harkishen Singh Surjeet was at the helm of the CPI (M), the party saw in Vaiko’s MDMK “an alternative” to the main Dravidian parties, DMK and AIADMK.

But as that strategy came a cropper then, and with the advancement of the right-wing Hindu nationalist forces under BJP with the economic liberalisation since the 1990s’, and ascendancy of smaller caste-based parties, the Left again pinned their hopes on DMK or AIADMK, a strategy which also helped to ensure a good presence for the CPI and CPI (M) in the Assembly.

Seen in this backdrop, the CPI and CPI (M) now backing the formation of the ‘People’s Welfare Alliance (PWA)’, coordinated by MDMK leader Vaiko and also including a key Dalit party in Thol. Thirumavalavan-led VCK, seems only a widening of its earlier line of finding space for an independent ‘third front’ in Tamil Nadu politics. More so, when both the Left parties have been vigorously taking up Dalit and women’s issues in recent years.

The Left parties’ latest strategy in blessing the PWA, has not only enabled them to steer clear of the main Dravidian parties which they have been mulling for quite some time, but has also helped CPI and CPI (M) to ward off smaller regional parties like DMDK and the PMK.

But, notwithstanding the PWA’s common minimum programme to keep off contentious issues like the Sri Lankan Tamils problem, the irony facing the Left
parties this time is that in eschewing regional and sub-regional parties, they unwittingly find themselves in company with Tamil Nationalists!

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