INDIA AT CROSSROADS : The Left Alternative

Sitaram Yechury

The relevance and validity of the position adopted by various political formations in India today can be assessed only on the basis of the problems confronting the country and their suggested solutions. On the basis of such an approach it will be found that the positions of the Left today, irrespective of the tumultuous developments in the Soviet Union and former socialist East European countries, continues to be valid as the only viable alternative to resolve the country’s problems. This is not only on the basis of the subjective aspirations of generations of Indian people that fought for our freedom from the colonial yoke but also necessary to transform independent India into a modern vibrant and self-reliant country.

It is necessary therefore to outline the main challenges before the country today. These are the following (not necessarily in this order) : (a) challenges to India’s unity and integrity – specifically the secessionist threats in Punjab and Kashmir; (b) the challenges to the social fabric of the country – specifically the communal challenge and the continued casteist conflicts; (c) challenges to parliamentary democracy and democratic institutions – specifically the continued undermining of the federal basis of the Indian Union and the criminalisation of politics; and (d) the economic strategy that would ensure growing prosperity for the Indian millions.

The attempt being made here is to validate the position of the Left, especially its principal constituent the CPI(M), with reference to each one of these aspects referred above and to demonstrate that in contrast to the position taken by the other major formations this is the only possible alternative not only to safeguard but to carry forward the consolidation of modern India.

The grave dimensions of the secessionist threats to our country in Punjab and Kashmir need no repetition. It is necessary however to briefly recapitulate the emergence of these threats if for nothing else but to demonstrate that much of this has been due to the principally opportunistic position adopted by the ruling Congress of placing its own electoral interests above that of the country at large. The country was witness to the patronage given to such forces, epitomised by Bhindranwale, in their initial years by the Congress(I). The Frankestein that was let loose had to be contended, albeit not so successfully by Operation Blue Star in 1984. In Kashmir, the consistent opportunistic politicking to foist a Congress(I) government in the state, the undemocratic dismissal of the Farooq Abdullah Government and the foisting of the G.M Shah government only resulted in the growth of fundamentalist forces on the one hand and the alienation of the people on the other. Both converged to create an atmosphere in which the secessionist forces thrived.

Without going into further details,one must see how these developments could have been contained and thus prevented the loss of thousands of innocent lives and safeguarded the unity of our country. The Left, particularly the CPI(M), had all along argued that the problem of Punjab and Kashmir have to be solved from the political point of view and not merely treated as law and order problems. Specifically concerning Punjab ,the CPI(M) has always called for a political package on the basis of the Rajiv-Longowal Accord which transfers Chandigarh to Punjab and arrives at a settlement of the river waters dispute.Such a package was essential to wean away public support that the secessionists often evoked on the grounds of continued discrimination by the Centre against Punjab. Even today, the extremists are running a campaign against the execution of General Vaidya’s killers by contrasting it with the absence of any meaningful action against the culprits of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. By merely treating the Punjab problem as a law and order issue (ofcourse stringent measures to curb terrorist activities are most essential), a lasting solution can never be found.

Similarly, with Kashmir the Left has for long demanded a demarcation between the fundamentalist forces who are out to separate Kashmir and join with Pakistan and the others who seek greater autonomy and independence. By treating this only as a law and order issue the Central government and the Congress continuously club them together thereby weakening the possibility of a package to the Kashmiri people through democratic solutions to meet their genuine aspirations. The Left, particularly the CPI(M), has consistently been suggesting that the provisions of Article 370, which have constantly been eroded over the past decades , should be strictly adhered to while measures to integrate the Kashmiri people through various measures like appointments to All India services should be undertaken. The lackadaisical and opportunist approach of the Congress(I) and the blatantly communal approach of the BJP seeking abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution have only contributed to the alienation of the people and perpetuation of the threat to our country’s unity.

Communalism – Casteism :
That communalism and casteism continues to play havoc with the social fabric of our country is all too obvious to need repetition. The last decade witnessed the rise of the communal scourge to unprecedented dimensions. Whipping up Hindu communalism, the BJP and its various outfits are seeking to catapult to power at the Centre. While unleashing a campaign disturbingly reminiscent of fascism, they brand every patriotic Indian who values the secular tolerance of a multi-religious society as being pseudo-secular. In this process, these pseudo-Hindus have unleashed a series of ghastly inhuman riots that bring back memories of the bloody riots that characterised the partition of our country.

While the blatantly communal organisations of both the majority and minority varieties have to be expunged to maintain the secular-democratic fabric of our society, what has been the approach of the ruling Congress? The resolution on National Integration adopted at the Bhavnagar session of the Congress in January 1961 traces the origin and growth of these tendencies as well as others that threaten the integrity of India, to “democracy, with widespread system of elections”. The resolution observed “under the cover of political and social activities the old evils of communalism, casteism, provincialism and linguism have appeared again in some measure…Communalism which has in the past done so much injury to the nation is again coming into evidence and taking advantage of the democratic apparatus to undermine this unity to encourage reactionary tendencies.”

By seeking to explain away the emergence of communalism and its continued recurrence in independent India to such a facile observation, the Congress officially has all along sought to mask the real issue behind the continued potency of such divisive trends in our society.

The Left, particularly the CPI(M), had all along held that the continued existence of such divisive trends emanates from a fundamental contradiction that characterises post independent India and that contradiction is – the attempt to build capitalism without eliminating the vestiges of feudalism. The Indian bourgeoisie which assumed the reigns of power after independence had to compromise with the feudal sections in order to maintain its class rule. The bourgeoisie was thus incapable of undertaking any thorough going agrarian reforms that would at once break the shackles of feudal exploitation in India. Feudal production relations by themselves foster a social consciousness which seeks to perpetuate the divide between the people on the basis of religion and caste.

This inability must also be seen in the background of the conscious attempts that the British had made particularly after 1857 to consciously engender a division within the Indian people. This divide and rule policy and the political culture that it evolved had as its objective base the continued pre-capitalist feudal relations of production and agriculture. Hence any attempt to eliminate the basis on which these divisive trends thrive can be complete only if a thorough going struggle against the remnants of feudalism is undertaken,on the lines of the anti-imperialist struggle when the people of India cutting across caste and religious barriers united against the colonial oppressors.

Therefore, the continued existence and at many places the domination of feudal relations in India also had its political manifestations with political parties using these divisions for electoral purposes. Manifestations cannot be mistaken for the cause.

It has only been the Left that has consistently argued that only a full-fledged agrarian revolution can remove the basis of such a social consciousness that breeds communal and caste divisions . In today’s conditions this is all the more relevant. With regard to the continued caste divisions, the Left particularly the CPI(M) has repeatedly stressed that while certain palliatives like reservations are important to break the centuries old structure of social oppression, these by themselves cannot redress the social and economic oppression of the scheduled castes and tribes and the depressed sections of our society. It is once again a question of the economic status of these sections. This cannot be improved in India unless radical agrarian reforms are undertaken, where these sections have the economic wherewithal to resist social oppression. The Left, therefore, while supporting measures like reservations etc has always regarded these as one, albeit minor, component of the policy measures necessary to alleviate the status of the oppressed sections of our society. This has been its approach both in terms of the reservations for the SC/STs and the Mandal Commission report.

In doing so the Left has not, as viciously argued by its detractors, abandoned the concept of class.In this case, there is no question of replacing caste by class. The Left neither refuses to recognise caste distinctions but nor does it recognise only caste distinctions. Rather ,it addresses itself to the concrete reality which combines the growing formation of an exploitated class within the existence of caste distinctions. It is this dual process that was recognised by the Left that while a major section of the oppressed class come from the oppressed castes in our society, inequalities however can never be solved by ignoring the class inequalities. Our history is also witness to the fact that all variants of anti-caste struggle that sought to fight in isolation from the main class struggle of our times have failed and produced pitiful results. Caste oppression has to be fought as a part of contemporary democratic class struggle. Caste inequality and injustice have become an integral part of all modern class injustices. To remove them requires a common struggle of all the exploited strata to whichever caste they belong.

In sharp contrast, all variants of the ruling class parties have utilised the caste conflicts and sought to divert the challenge of unemployment and poverty by pitting one section of the downtrodden castes against the other . It is only the Left that has had a clear cut position on these matters.

These challenges to our country’s unity and integrity both in terms of its territorial sovereignty and in terms of its society combine together in a larger threat to the very existence of the federal polity that the Indian people embraced after independence. There are various disquieting factors that face us today. The criminalisation of politics, the increased irrelevance of the actual individual voter’s choice, the constant use of Article 356 of the Constitution and the role of the Governors as surrogates of the Central government have all brought into question the issue of Centre-State relations to the fore.

On all these issues the Left has had a clear cut position. With regard to electoral reforms, the CPI(M) has consistently argued in favour of proportional representation that removes the ridiculous situation of a party polling less than 50 percent of the vote getting more than 80 percent of the representation. Further, proportional representation would undermine the base of opportunist politicking which continues to utilise caste and communal factors. The CPI(M) has persistently advocated the abrogation of Article 356 and suggested that Governors be elected to eliminate their role as agents of the Central government. While these measures in themselves are necessary for maintaining the federal structure of our Union and Constitution, a more fundamental issue is at stake and this relates to how the unity of a country as vast as ours, inhabited by people of diverse cultures, languages and customs can be kept united. In the memorandum to the National Integration Council in 1968 the CPI(M) had stated with reference to the growing problems of disunity that a correct and scientific approach must be based on “the realisation that our country comprises of several developed and developing nationalities with their distinct and separate languages and corresponding cultural frames of mind, notwithstanding the existence of certain common features of all-Indian cultural background and economic and political interests”. The CPI(M) had come to the conclusion, “that unity of the Indian Union can be effectively defended and the process of national integration can be carried forward only by a consistent application of democratic principles and methods to one and all aspects connected with this issue.” The CPI(M) programme in 1964 states “although our state structure is supposed to be a federal one practically all power and authority is concentrated with the Central government. The constituent states of the Indian Union enjoy very limited power and opportunities; their autonomy is formal. This makes these states precariously dependent on the central government, restricts their development and other nation-building activities and thus hinders their progress….It is but natural that in such a situation the contradiction between the central government and the states should have grown. Underlying these contradictions often lie the deeper contradiction between the big bourgeoisie on the one hand and the entire people including the bourgeoisie of this or that state on the other. This deeper contradiction gets constantly aggravated due to the accentuation of the unevenness of economic development under capitalism.”

These suggestions were not accepted by either the Congress or the other political formations of the ruling class. The net result has been the growing hiatus between the Centre and the states, fuelling the divisive tendencies further.

This issue must also be seen in a different perspective. After more than four decades of independence a section of the hitherto oppressed peoples amongst the tribals and others have acquired a social consciousness to rebel against their conditions. Their enhanced aspirations not tackled in a democratic manner have resulted in growing secessionist demands. The CPI(M) has consistently advocated that such problems can be resolved only by granting greater autonomy to these sections in the areas where they are in a majority. Witness the tackling of the Gorkhaland agitation by the Left Front government of West Bengal and the autonomous district councils set up by the Left Front government in Tripura to ensure the integration of these sections .

While the Congress ostensibly upholding the federal structure of the Constitution is increasingly moving towards a unitary state, the BJP advocates the division of the existing states into smaller units negating the struggle of the various nationalities in our country which resulted in linguistic reorganistion of the states. By tampering with the linguistic, cultural and other traditions of the various nationalities that comprise our vast country, the BJP’s policies will only stoke the divisive tendencies further.

As stated earlier, the entire question of maintaining the unity and integrity of the country in all its manifestations can only be undertaken on the basis of democratic approach and methods. Central to this is the question of decentralisation of power and authority. It is not a mere coincidence that the only states where such decentralisation has been undertaken and regular democratic elections are held to the panchayat level bodies is in West Bengal and Kerala. Therefore with respect to the larger issues of democracy, so crucial to the unity and integrity of our country, it is the Left that both in precept and practice has been advocating a consistently progressive position.


The inherent contradiction of modern India that we spoke of earlier between the attempt of the bourgeoisie to develop capitalism in alliance with the feudal forces has also generated a very deep imbalance in the path of capitalist development in our country. Neither is it theoretically possible nor has it been practically demonstrated anywhere in the world that capitalism can thrive without eliminating feudal vestiges. Two important consequences follow by adopting such a strategy. First, the vast mass of the rural poor continue to be subjected to increased oppression and exploitation. Secondly, in economic terms the domestic market in the country continues to be limited due to the impoverished levels of the vast millions. Radical agrarian reforms especially land reforms are necessary not only for ameliorating conditions of the poor but also for creating a domestic market on whose basis capitalism can develop further as demonstrated by the experience of West Bengal in the last decade. Land reforms unleashed productive forces in agriculture generating a surplus that feeds the growing working class for the process of industrialisation.

Unable to adopt such a course and actually by betraying the agrarian revolution, the Indian bourgeoisie had to increasingly rely on that small strata of our society who had the purchasing power and at a later stage on overseas market. Both these – the consumption goods for the Indian elite – and the export market require a technology that increasingly propelled the Indian bourgeoisie towards foreign capital, thus abandoning in the process their own slogans of self reliance, a socialist pattern of society etc (which were necessary at a point of time for the growth of capitalism in the country). The present leadership has embarked upon a path of economic liberalisation. The Left far from being insular or anachronistic has taken the position that such liberalisation, on the terms of foreign capital, today cannot redress the basic problems facing the Indian people. In the first place such a policy became necessary because of the narrowness of the Indian domestic market. Unless this is expanded no long term solution for India’s economic prosperity can be ensured. Those who cite the examples of Japan and South Korea would do well to remember that neither of these two countries embarked upon the path of industrialisation without undertaking radical land reforms.

The effect of these policies are there for everyone to see. Notwithstanding the rhetoric of a falling rate of inflation, the prices of foodgrains during the last one year has gone up by 25 percent. Unemployment continues to soar with the threat of exit policy looming large. Industrial production has declined. Exports are sluggishly growing but imports outstrip these growths by many times perpetuating the balance of payment deficit propelling India to borrow more and more to safeguard this deficit. Thus in a nutshell this economic strategy is one that while increasing the burdens of the poor continues to push the country inexorably towards a debt trap, thus mortgaging our economic sovereignty. For India to be self reliant and develop economic strength to resist imperialist pressures,it is necessary that it resolves its fundamental contradiction that keeps its domestic market narrow and its millions impoverished. It is only the Left, particularly the CPI(M) that has such a vision of a future India.

To return to where we started from. Notwithstanding the cries of irrelevance of socialism, the Left in India today, with reference to all that has been discussed above, is the only political force that offers a viable alternative to the multi-dimensional challenges faced by our country. A patriotic coalition of all those who cherish the values that galvanised the Indian people for the struggle against British colonialism will have to be forged to deliver India out of this crisis. The Left is the catalyst in this process.