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How Can The Left Reinvent Itself: ‘Up Up Socialism’ Instead Of ‘Down Down Capitalism’

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By Abdul Muheet Chowdhary:

The Left is now virtually absent from the Indian political space. It is barely a contender in any of the coming elections. It is in power only in one state, Tripura. It has virtually no voice in Parliament or influence on policy. Its perspective is unheard of in the media. Its general ideology is either largely unknown or outrightly reviled. Leftist academics have descended into arcane and esoteric debates about poststructuralism and the like which reminds one of the medieval ‘dark age debates’ in Europe about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. The litany list can continue but suffice to say that the Indian left is in the midst of a historically unprecedented decimation.

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The impact of this on Indian polity is profound and the revival of the Left is very necessary. This article therefore lays out some suggestions as to how this could be done. These encompass larger questions of strategy as well as practical suggestions on tactics.

Focus On Being In Power, Not On Being In The Opposition

The first and most fundamental question the Left must ask itself is this: does it want to be in power and bring about a change? Or does it want to be a watchdog and perennially point out the flaws of others?

This question has already been answered by the Left and it is of course that it wants to be a watchdog. That is the only explanation for why it is constantly in ‘opposition mode’. When one reads pamphlets or general leftist literature (all references are to the political Left unless mentioned otherwise) the following words are dominant: oppose, reject, resist, smash, destroy, fight against, down with and so on. The general tone is negative and the focus is on what should not be done, not on what should be done. The consequence of this is that it is unclear what the Left stands for, only what it stands against. The political message sent out to voters is thus a negative one that focuses on the flaws of others. In trying to fashion itself as a ‘force of resistance’ it has ended up being seen as a force of obstructionism. The electoral results of this strategy are evident.

The Left must therefore fundamentally change its strategy and focus firmly on being in power and bringing about a change. It must constantly say what it wants to do and reserve criticism for what comes in the way of those goals. This way the message will be loud and clear as to what the Left stands for. In this it has much to learn from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the BJP. The AAP started out on anti-corruption plank but then made it clear that they would provide a Lokpal, an honest government and a pro-poor administration. The BJP under Modi made it clear that they would provide a strong, stable government that would ensure ‘Sabka saath sabka vikaas’. This positive and consistent messaging coupled with excellent mobilisation and charismatic leadership was responsible for their subsequent victories, both stunning. The Left should adopt this strategy and focus on telling people what they want to do instead of what they don’t want others to do. Some examples:

1. ‘Free education for all’ instead of ‘Resist commercialisation of education’

2. ‘Social peace and harmony’ instead of ‘Reject communalism’

3. ‘Up up socialism’ instead of ‘Down down capitalism’

This is the first and most important step for the Left. It must come to a firm consensus that it wants to be in power. It must then decide on a positive, practical and credible agenda which it can take before the public. This agenda must then be campaigned for using the aforementioned strategy of making it repeatedly clear what it stands for, and reserving criticism for what comes in the way of those goals.

Social Democracy And Socialism

What will be this agenda? The Left can study the Nordic model of social democracy that is practised in the Norselands of Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, etc. Salient features of this model are:

1. Strong social security, public pension plans, free education and universal healthcare.

2. Strong property rights, contract enforcement, and overall ease of doing business.

3. High unionisation combined with strong and responsible industrial associations. Here the German model is apt for India where the government ensures consultations between the two before laws are mandated. Efforts are made to maintain continuity of employment through recessions, and to use slack periods as opportunities to strengthen skills.

4. High direct taxation which specifically targets the rich and has a lower inflationary effect as compared to indirect taxation.

Thus this is a basically capitalist model where the government has a strong role in terms of regulation, social security and providing basic services. The Left can adopt this model with suitable alterations for the Indian context. This is necessary as it is a fact that capitalism and a market economy are here to stay in India, at least for a while. There is still plenty of space for growth for capitalism in India and it is a long way off from the crises of overproduction which the late industrial economies of the US and Western Europe are facing. Thus a pragmatic role for the Left would be to focus on being in power and managing capitalism to the best of its abilities.

Nevertheless, it must be made clear that this would be a compromise. The Left must retain its ultimate objective: world communism, which is a global society free of national boundaries and all property is publicly owned. This goal is what gives the Left its identity and in this day and age it is vital that this now-forgotten dream be once again revived and propagated to the people. Thus it must be constantly repeated that social democracy is only an intermediary step on the road to world communism.

Embrace Pragmatism

One common pattern in Left parties across the world is their tendency to splinter at the drop of a hat and this is no different in India. The undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) broke up in 1964 into the CPI and CPM. Three years later the CPM further split into the CPM and the CPI-ML. Two years later the CPI-ML itself disintegrated into about 30-odd ultra-Left organisations. Contrast this with the Congress which was founded in 1885 and stayed united through the freedom struggle despite having hard Leftists such as JP Narayan and hard Rightists such as Purushottam Das Tandon.

The reason why the Left splits so easily is its doctrinaire approach and emphasis on ideological ‘purity’. Such an approach makes the leaders zealous and even fanatical (think Pol Pot) and unwilling to compromise. This is a dangerous attitude, especially for a democracy like India.

The Left must therefore wholeheartedly adopt an approach of pragmatism and compromise. The pragmatic approach would focus onpractical and immediate benefit over my-way or the highway ‘idealism’. It would not hesitate to negotiate, bargain and compromise (of course within limits) to further its objectives. The underlying principle of such an approach is that ‘a step ahead today is better than a giant leap in the future’. With this approach, it must not hesitate to capture power wherever possible. It is far better to be in power and do some good, even if one has to compromise on ideals along the way, than to be out of power, let a far worse party take control and sanctimoniously claim that one’s ideological purity is unsullied. This approach becomes all the more important when seen that the Left is literally facing an existential crisis and faces a very real chance of political obliteration.

Media Presence

The emergence of social media offers an unprecedented opportunity for the Left to make their perspective known. However they have not yet taken full advantage of this. The only well-known Leftist on social media is Kavitha Krishnan, which is a shame given the galaxy of Leftist intellectuals. Members of all Left organisations must force their cadre to become active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (posts), YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, WhatsApp, Telegram, Snapchat and whatever other option they can get their hands on. These spaces are currently dominated by the mainstream parties and the Left perspective would be a powerful addition.

Secondly the internet has also made it very easy for self-hosting of content either through blogs or crowd-sourced publications. Left cadres and sympathisers must be encouraged to relentlessly and ceaseless make themselves heard on these spaces while at all times retaining the basic principle of making it clear what they stand for, not what they stand against.

A third and crucial space that they must capture is Wikipedia. It is a vital source of knowledge today and Left cadres and sympathisers must be trained on how to use and manage content on it. Currently there is a huge presence of right wing ideologues, especially from science and engineering backgrounds, on the site and this space must be reclaimed.

The mainstream media frequently ignores the Left and there have been some truly shameful media blackouts of trade union rallies and other mass left events. Nevertheless with regard to TV debates and the like, frequently the Left itself does not engage proactively. This must change and every opportunity must be taken to come on TV. The english media is a particularly important target as it ultimately sets the media discourse.

Mobilise, Mobilise, Mobilise

The ultimate strength of the Left however will be their organisational strength and ability to mobilise the masses on the ground. Here it must learn from the Hindutva right which has slowly and painstakingly managed to build a powerful organisational base which is now being used to wreak havoc on Indian society. The Left must get out of its elitist bubble and once again take a ‘back to the basics’ approach and spend time among the people, helping them with their issues such as getting job recommendations, electricity connections, transfers and the like. It is this sort of mundane work that is absolutely essential to strengthening an organisation on the ground, and was well recognised by Mahatma Gandhi who used to ensure that Congress party workers went into ‘social reconstruction mode’ after every mass movement so as to prepare the people for the next one.

These were some suggestions for the revival of the Indian Left. Fortunately, the majority of them require only a shift in perception and a change in strategy. It is only the last two which require a lot of effort. The Left still has a very strong place in the hearts of the Indian people, who long for government which is truly secular, pro-poor and most importantly wants to work hard for the development of the country. The victory of the AAP should serve as an inspiration to the Left in this regard and with the right steps hopefully they will once again retain their rightful place as an influential and major political force in India.

This article has originally published on

Abdul Muheet Chowdhary ( is a legislative aide to B Vinod Kumar, Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha). Views expressed are personal.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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