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The History And Future Of Left Wing Politics In India

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Happy New Year 2018, guys! Let us open this year by talking about one of the most important but least discussed forces in Indian Politics. The Left. When we talk of the Left in India, the common perception is that of the Left parties, namely the Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the sickle and hammer flag. Undoubtedly the Communist parties constitute the major fraction of the Left. We would be definitely focusing on them, but will also look at the other political parties, outfits, and social and economic movements which can be called “Left”.

Marx’s critical analysis of 19th-century capitalism, the “Das Kapital”, and his revolutionary predictions about workers rising above their chains and taking over the means of production, gave rise to the social democratic movement in Europe in the early 20th Century. The Social Democratic Party in Germany (SPD), which is still one of the major dominant parties in German politics, was the biggest workers party in Europe inspired by Marx’s predictions.

In the early part of 20th century, there was a debate in the social democratic movement. On one hand was the “evolutionary path to socialism” led by Bernstein in SPD, and on the other hand was the “revolutionary” path led by Lenin of the Bolshevik party in Russia, who later went on to bring about the Russian Revolution and the USSR. This debate led to a rupture in the social democratic movement, wherein the Bolsheviks renamed themselves the Communists to separate themselves from the social democrats.

So why did we run through this piece of history? Basically to understand that the Left movement had and still has two strands: the social democratic or socialist stream, and the communist stream. This is the same whether in Europe or India or America. The Communist parties of China, India, Europe, Cuba, Vietnam etc were all inspired by the Soviet revolution led by Lenin. On the other hand, the Social democratic party of Germany, Labour party of Britain, Socialist parties in Europe, Indian National Congress in India etc come under the Socialist camp.

Now let us take a peek at the history of left-wing politics in India:–

The Social Democratic Stream

  • The Congress Party

In India, after independence, under Nehru who was a staunch socialist, the Congress party went on a path of trying to create a society based on social and economic justice. Nehru wanted and strived for India to be a socialist democratic nation, and his model of development was heavily inspired by the Soviet Model of heavy public sector industries, modernizing agriculture, free public healthcare and education, etc.

His daughter, Indira Gandhi, like her father, believed in socialist values, and hence enshrined the words, “Secular” and “Socialist” in the Preamble and worked on bank nationalization, green revolution, etc. The popular “Garibi Hatao” election slogan summed up the Congress party under her vision of development.

Under Rajiv Gandhi, and specifically under Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh, the Congress took a different path in trying to balance capitalistic development with the opening up of the economy in the 1990 ’s, with social welfare measures as recent as in UPA govt years like MNREGA , Forest’s Act, Food Security Bill etc.

Rahul Gandhi, after taking over as Congress president, has given a clear signal during the Gujarat campaign that he and the Congress party offer a model wherein public education and healthcare will be given prime importance. The focus will be on job creation instead of jobless growth, as seen in Gujarat. Small and medium industries will be given new impetus to take on the big corporates as these SME’s are the engine for job growth. Hence Rahul Gandhi is definitely steering Congress as a Left-of-Centre party whose policies will try to balance between economic growth in terms of GDP numbers on one end and social and economic welfare policies on the other.

  • Social Justice Parties – (SP, BSP, RJD, JD(S), DMK etc)

There was another stream of socialist politics after independence which took a different route from Nehru and the Congress. This was the Janata Party under Ram Manohar Lohia and Jay Prakash Narayan ‘s leadership and guidance. This Janata Party even formed the government in 1977 in the aftermath of the emergency.

The JP movement produced future powerful state leaders, namely Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati in UP, Deve Gowda in Karnataka, and Naveen Patnaik in Orissa, to name the prominent ones. But due to egos, internal bickering and the lack of a strong ideological framework, the Janata Party split into several state parties, the SP, BSP, BJD, RJD, JD(S), JD(U) and so on.

In the south too, we had strong Dravidian movements in Tamil Nadu, centred around Periyar, who questioned the Brahmanical hegemony and caste system, which resulted in DMK and AIADMK. How do the above parties classify as Left? These parties adopted the concept of class struggle as put forward by Marx and replaced it with caste. So they asserted that in India, if we need to talk of empowering the oppressed, then it is not possible without empowering the lower castes ie the OBCs, EBCs, SCs and STs.

The sad part of the above parties is that they, in time, turned into parties which catered to their own caste and vote bank, instead of trying to address the bigger question of integrating caste into the class struggle. Nevertheless, this old “socialist” block is an essential component of the Left in India today , and with the coming of next-gen leaders of these parties like Akhilesh Yadav, Tejaswi Yadav, Stalin etc, they have been able to merge the old caste politics with larger concepts of  economic growth, social justice, and technological progress, and hence have brought new life into these parties.

The Communist Stream

  • Left Front (CPI, CPI(M), RSP, Forward Bloc)

The Communist Party of India was formed in 1925 and has a glorious history in the independence movement alongside the Indian National Congress. It was also feared by the British as the communist revolution had just happened in Russia and communism, in general, was the biggest threat to the Imperialist world in the first half of the 20th century. In India, too, we had revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru, and Azad of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association who claimed to be inspired by the Soviet workers’ revolution as well as revolutionaries in Bengal, Kerala, Andhra, Maharashtra etc. who had similar dreams. It was the actions of these revolutionary leaders and movements which led to the creation of CPI in 1925. CPI played a major role in trying to break the chains of British Imperialism which finally resulted in freedom in 1947.

After Independence, the CPI saw constant growth in Bengal, Kerala, Tripura and other states, which resulted in them forming governments in the above states and also increasing their numbers in other state assemblies like Andhra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu etc. CPI emerged as the alternative to Congress in these states and also at the national level. But then a debate took place in the party on the broad question of the nature of the new Indian democratic republic and on the Congress – whether it was taking India towards a socialist path or not. One faction felt that Congress under Nehru and Indira Gandhi would transform India into a socialist republic, whereas the other saw Congress as a party of big landlords and capitalists.

This debate got so intense that it led to a split in the party into CPI and CPI(Marxist). The party got split even in states, and in Bengal, Tripura and Kerala the CPI(M) was the major faction while in states like Maharashtra, Bihar, and Andhra the CPI was stronger. But this split, in turn, hit the brakes on the growth of the communist movement in India.

The Maoist faction in CPI(M) broke out of the party after the Naxalbari agitation and believed that revolution has to be brought about by the barrel of the gun and not through parliamentary and democratic means as the CPI(M) believed. This further weakened the party. Also, it was challenged by new Janata parties in the north and Dravidian and regional parties in the south. The communist parties failed to acknowledge and integrate the question of caste and regional sentiments into the existing class issues and hence could not grow beyond their strongholds.

Nevertheless, the communist movement produced brilliant leaders like Jyoti Basu in Bengal, EMS Namboodiripad in Kerala, Harkishan Singh Surjeet in Punjab and Sundarraya in Andhra. Their policies of land reforms, agriculture, focus on public education and healthcare etc made them powerful and popular among the public, and they went on to dominate the politics of Bengal, Tripura, and Kerala (which continues till date). Also, they transformed the human development indices of these states to high levels.

What Is The Future Of Left Wing Politics?

With the BJP govt under Modi taking on a bullish right-wing direction and the rise of unabashed Hindutva politics, there is an urgent need for a clear Left alternative to be presented to people of India. This cannot be done without the alliance of Congress, Communist and social justice parties. Can this alliance take shape? It depends on two key factors:

  1. The ability of Rahul Gandhi to forge a strong political and economic alternative based on secularism, social justice and welfare economics. Rahul Gandhi, in the Gujarat elections, has brought back the confidence that BJP can be defeated. By winning 80 seats in the Gujarat assembly in Modi’s den, the Gujarat Model and Modinomics stand exposed. Rahul Gandhi and the Congress have shown to the entire opposition that the way to fight the BJP, is to keep the debate on economics and not allow the narrative to shift to communal topics like Gau Raksha, Love Jihad, Hindu Muslim conflicts, Pakistan etc, as all this suits BJP and they can sway away the electorate from their economic failures to stir up majority sentiments by feeding on topics like Hindutva.Another interesting thing to note is the model adopted by Congress: presenting itself as a platform for leaders of social movements to join and thus strengthen the struggle. Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor’s social movements worked in tandem with the Congress party’s organizational strength in giving BJP a run for their money.Congress’ brilliant performance in Gujarat has shown that Congress is down but not out, and is the main pillar of opposition – and no alliance in 2019 is possible without the Congress. Also what matters is that Rahul Gandhi, like his mother Sonia, needs to forge an alliance with a wide spectrum of parties like SP and BSP in UP, DMK and the Left in Tamil Nadu, RJD in Bihar, NC in Kashmir, NCP in Maharashtra, and the Left in Bengal to name a few. In short, Congress has to be the magnet which can attract the entire opposition camp.Hence Rahul Gandhi and Congress need to take a Left turn and will have to keep the narrative about economic issues and present a clear alternative to people based on secularism, social justice, and welfare economics.
  2. The debate within the CPI(M) on the question of alliance with Congress. There is a debate going on within the CPI(M) on whether the party should go with a broad alliance with secular, democratic parties including the Congress or go alone. The faction led by Sitaram Yechury and the Bengal unit is keen on contesting the upcoming elections in 2019 in alliance with Congress in Bengal, where the party is facing an existential crisis in keeping its cadre motivated. The Trinamool led by Mamata Banerjee is fueling Muslim fundamentalism on one hand, and BJP is flaming Hindu communalism, thus squeezing out the Left and Congress. Sitaram Yechury is one of the most charismatic of opposition leaders and is a pragmatist and recognizes that the Left would be further squeezed out of Indian politics if it takes an isolationist stand.On the other hand, Prakash Karat, backed by the Kerala unit, wants no truck with the Congress as in Kerala, Congress is the direct opposition to the Left. Prakash Karat and hardliners in the CPI(M), PB and CC, were the ones who opposed Sitaram Yechury’s re-nomination into the Rajya Sabha which required support from Congress. The dogmatic stand which they are taking will make CPI(M) irrelevant in Indian Politics if  further “historic blunders” are committed. Already the CPI(M) had committed a historic blunder, in Jyoti Basu’s own words, by not allowing Jyoti Basu to be the PM in 1996 in a United Front Govt.Hence it is imperative that in the CPI(M) Party Congress to be conducted at Hyderabad in April 2018, the political resolution should be passed in favor of Sitaram Yechury and the Bengal unit, as this will strengthen his position and sideline Prakash Karat and the hardliners, and also ensure the alliance between the Left and secular, democratic forces. The CPI(M) in Bengal has already decided to go with Congress in the upcoming Panchayat polls, and this would be their direction in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, irrespective of the central leadership’s stand. Also, the CPI has already passed a resolution in favour of joining an alliance with all secular, democratic parties to take on the BJP juggernaut. So let us hope that Sitaram Yechury can emerge victorious and powerful enough to lead CPI(M) to better results in the 2019 elections.

What Should Be The Main Policy Direction Of The Left In 21st Century India?

A few key points would be:

  • Increase the GDP percentage to close to 4-5% for public healthcare and education.
  • Increase the Minimum Support Price for agricultural produces and put more of a technological focus in irrigation and organic farming to help increase productivity for farmers and make agriculture a profitable alternative.
  • Protect and enhance the capabilities of public sector units and make them profitable, instead of disinvestment.
  • Focus and give incentives to SME’s to help create jobs instead of giving huge tax benefits to big corporates.
  • Build on a welfare state model by increasing taxes for rich corporates and using that tax money for public welfare programs and building infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities in both the public and private sectors, which would, in turn, create jobs.

Hence, to summarize, left-wing politics is imperative in Indian politics today, as this alone will help balance the right-wing offensive which has been unleashed by BJP-RSS and has posed a serious threat to the secular, democratic order!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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