Sitaram Yechury succeeded Prakash Karat as the chief of India’s largest Communist party in April 2015. The CPI(M) currently rules the states of Tripura and Kerala and was ousted from power in West Bengal after a record run of three decades. Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress has governed the state since but it has offered to join hands with the left to defeat Hindutva in West Bengal and in the country. The CPI(M) has dithered over the idea. Yechury from Andhra Prade-sh and Karat from Kerala are both former students of JNU, and both have been presidents of the student’s union of the leftist campus. Both were excellent debaters and both were prone to be defeated by their rivals on a lean day in a debate or in a vote count. Debate was the hallmark of the leftist campus they had helped create, and their successors are holding aloft the tradition despite the daily assaults by a handpicked Hindutva administration. Now, it seems, Karat and Yechury are at loggerheads over the party line on Hindutva. Should the CPI(M) align with the Congress against the threat the Narendra Modi regime poses to democracy? Or shou-ld the party work to unite leftists to retrieve the depleted progressive space? Yechury apparently believes that the CPI(M) and other leftist groups should join hands with the Congress. Karat’s unpublicised argument seems to be that supporting the Congress would weaken the party in Kerala where the Congress is its principal opponent.
There are clear reasons, therefore, to open the debate on this make-or-break moment for the party and for the country, to involve as many opinions as can contribute to a clearer understanding of each theoretical idea and their related strategy. However, leftists of the Communist stripe seem to come with a personality disorder. On the one hand, the partisans make excellent debaters and analysts, as Karat and Yechury no doubt are. On the other hand, the comrades can be utterly intolerant of a rival view, more so if it comes from within their ranks. This has led to nasty purges and splits in the movement across the world. These days they face a third problem. It is difficult to miss this marked contempt bordering on celebration among Indian leftists and liberals alike about the right wing’s lack of intellectual finesse. However, even as Yechury and Karat remain locked in their secretive battle for a better future, Hindutva has deftly occupied the centrestage of the raging political debate by flau-nting its intellectual sinews.
Who would have thought that the most trenchant criticism of Narendra Modi’s premiership, for example, would come from the right, from men who have not hesitated to genuflect before the Hindutva pulpit in Nagpur but who have also shown intellectual mettle by questioning an autocrat in power? The style and substance of their critique was once the preserve of the left. One of the critics, Arun Shourie, has been a combative editor of an English daily. His recent formulation that the Modi government is “UPA plus cow” was reminiscent of how Communist stalwarts like Bhupesh Gupta and Hiren Mukherjee would underscore their substantive points with biting humour. But Shourie is also the original author of the Hindutva strategy to conflate the Indian left with Islamist extremism. Another BJP intellectual who has been poking Modi in the eye to the general mirth of his liberal and leftist opponents is former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha. While the right has been debating and berating Modi, the Congress has just increased the number of Hindu temples Rahul Gandhi will visit in Gujarat. And the CPI(M) has published the following statement: “The Polit Bureau discussed the outline of the draft political resolution for the 22nd Party Congress. This will now be taken to the Central Committee at its meeting from October 14-16, 2017.” We have till the party congress in April to figure out our chances.
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