Communism In India: The End of An Era?

Posted on October 16, 2012 in Specials

By Neeraj Ramchandran and Chandan Wadhwa:

Communism is a system in which every citizen contributes to the society according to his or her ability and receives the means of life according to his or her needs. It thrives on equitable material returns for labour and aims at ultimately creating a moneyless, classless social order.

India has had a deep-rooted connection with Communism, dating back to the 1920s, when the Communist party of India was founded as an alternative mass movement to the Congress. It was seen as a logical culmination of the simmering discontent against both the Indian and the British propertied classes, but nevertheless, could not stand a chance at winning the elections against the mighty Congress. It was only fitting that India, which was founded on Socialist principles as laid down in its Constitution, got to have a Communist opposition in the early years of the post- independence era, to ensure the checks and balances which are indispensable parts of any democracy. But, whether or not it justified, this explanation remains a subjective issue.

Communism, by and large has had a limited spread in India and this issue deserves an objective analysis. In the first place, Communism in its unadulterated form as propounded by Marx, was supposed to be a result of class struggle. In India, where the caste and religion based loyalties are stronger than the ‘elite-proletariat divide’, the motivation for a revolution does not really exist. Also, Communism has not been able to project a united front to the people of India as Communist parties largely remain divided over ideological issues.

In spite of their limited presence, the commendable work done by Communist parties in the states where they have formed governments is worth mentioning. In this regard, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh serve as an important point of reference. Kerala is a state with a strong influence of Marxist ideology which reflects clearly in its political culture. Official government records say that Kerala and West Bengal were the only two states which passed effective land reform measures, thus benefitting millions of people. At present, the agriculture labour movement is stronger and far more organized in Kerala vis-a-vis the other states. The fact that Kerala’s position is far ahead of any other state in terms of social indicators like literacy rate, infant mortality rate etc. points towards the deeply ingrained Communist ideology.

But, this still does not justify the need to have an economic model based on Communism. More so, due to the reason that whenever India has found itself in dire straits related to fiscal and monetary issues, it is the Capitalist method that has worked wonders for it (With reference to Liberalization reforms of 1991 and FDI in retail at present). Even China, which claimed to be a staunch follower of Communist ideology, had to liberalize its economy in the 1980s.

In a country as diverse as India, one of the reasons Communism failed to become popular could be the unwillingness of the leaders to change with time. Howsoever intriguing Marx’s theories may be, they are not completely feasible in their original form. The hardliner mentality of the Communist parties is also not appreciated by the middle class, which is often perceived as a game changer in Indian politics.

All said and done, Communism continues to be a force to reckon with in Indian politics and any eulogies written for it are indeed premature. It can act as a vital enabler for development on socialist lines provided it adapts with the changing times. The government on its part could experiment with new ideas from the Communist ideology to foster inclusive growth within the democratic framework. John Wooden’s famous lines, “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out” could not have been more apt.