After the first general elections in independent India the then Communist Party of India emerged as the biggest opposition party. That was the time when in US McCarthyism was targeting the communists. In India around this time RSS was promising the ruling Congress Government that they will help the Government to eliminate the menace of Communism. This also has the backdrop of the writings of the major ideologue of RSS, M.S. Golwalkar. Golwalkar, writing in his book, ‘Bunch of Thoughts’, clubbed Communists along with Muslims and Christians, as being three ‘internal threats’ to Hindu nation.
As matters have changed over a period of time; in the last Lok Sabha elections (2014) BJP emerged as the largest single party and is ruling the country with motley combination called NDA. As such essentially it is the BJP which is calling the shots as a part of the agenda of its parent organization, the RSS. The last Lok Sabha results were a big setback to the parliamentary left which suffered a massive decline. It is in this context that the proceedings of the plenum and the Congress (April 2015) of the largest Left party in India, CPM, assume a great significance.
Prakash Karat, the previous General Secretary of the party gives us a glimpse of what transpired there and what CPM plans to do in the times to come. Karat’s article, ‘Winning back the people’ (IE, 7th Jan, 2016) summarises the themes, which according to the party are the major threat to Indian democracy and how CPM intends to combat it. While many a deliberations sound like a breath of fresh air and shows a resolve to engage with changing times, to connect to people, middle classes and marginalised sections in a more engaging ways, its analysis of the politics of communalism undermines one major aspect of the dynamics of communalism, and that is related to electoral politics.
Karat points out correctly that ‘there is a misconception that communalism means defeating BJP in elections,’ this is eminently true but what follows this sentence shows that CPM is underestimating the role of electoral politics, role of BJP being in power for BJP. This becomes clear when he says that ‘Electoral defeats do not necessarily weaken and isolate communal forces’. The point of continuous ongoing struggle against communal forces is very relevant and crucial for protection of democratic ethos, but one has to wake up to the fact that electoral success for BJP has given communal forces a big ‘lift’ every time BJP comes to power. The electoral defeat similarly weakens the communal agenda. To begin with the latter, lets hypothetically assume BJP had won in Bihar assembly 2015, would that have strengthened communalism or not?
Today’s clout of RSS agenda has been contributed a lot due to BJP being in power earlier in 1998 and now in 2014. While communal agenda operates at multiple social, educational levels, it also operates by infiltrating into state apparatus, into bureaucracy and police in particular. It also has an agenda of working through education and media apart from other cultural mechanisms. One concedes that these aspects of RSS agenda were operational even before 1996 and then 1998 when BJP came to power at the Center. The point is; once they occupy the seats of direct political power they facilitate the activities of the BJP associates, which are mistakenly called fringe elements, as they are the inalienable part of RSS scheme of things, as they are part of ‘division of labor’ within the Hindutva umbrella.
Even in the earlier BJP led NDA regime, we saw the regressive saffronisation of education amongst other components of communal agenda, out in the open. With Modi Sarkar coming to power in May 2014, Karat can perceive the qualitative leap in the divisive agenda of Hindu nationalism. Since May 2014, the march of this agenda has become more intimidating and stifling. It is this intensity of communal politics, which led to the ‘Award Wapasi’ by the eminent citizens. We do need to recall that with the formation of Janata Party in 1977, three cabinet ministers were inducted in the cabinet from the previous avatar of BJP, the Jansangh. What is clear is that with that the process in which the RSS cadres or sympathizers come to occupy a space in media and education apart from other social intuitions, became more dominant then before.
From May 2014, Karat needs to recall as to how systematically the institutions of national importance are being occupied by those who are believers of Hindu nationalism (FTTI, National Book Trust among others). Efforts have been made to intensify the communal campaigns around beef eating, love jihad and ghar wapasi. The sharpness of anti-Pakistan hysteria became intense even before Pathankot terrorist attack took place.
One welcomes the innovative thinking comrades are having, but this initiative has to be supplanted by an additional goal of ensuring that communal forces are kept away from the seats of power. This realisation should make the CPM and other parliamentary left recall as to how left was able to act as the force; which tried to keep the ruling Congress in UPA I on track as, as they could influence many a policies. Today also there is a need for the left to learn from what non-party secular groups and individual have contributed to the anti-communal struggle. Be it the struggle for defense of minority rights in Gujarat or Kandhamal for example, or be it the programs to reach the secular understanding to the people at large or be it the cultural initiatives to promote the diversity and pluralism, all these have contributed to the resistance against communal onslaught.
Cultural initiatives promoting pluralism and harmony have to be part of the struggle against the sectarian mindset and divisive stereotypes which have become part of the social common sense. While taking up the issues of marginalized sections, the issues of religious minorities need to be underlined. The attempt to address women’s issues, issues related to caste, Adivasis and other marginalised sections on regular basis are welcome with a proviso that Left also needs to become an important player in electoral battles to ensure that those taking oath in the name of Hindu nationalism are confronted at electoral level as well as electoral victories enhance the clout of communalism in a very strong measure. That also means that left has to think of electoral alliances which ensure that the votaries of Indian nationalism, despite some of their shortcoming are supported and allied with. This can be a major departure from what left parties have been practising so far.