India's National Magazine
From the publishers of THE HINDU
Vol. 14 :: No. 16 :: Aug. 9-22, 1997
The Opposition and the Left
The first Left-led government in an Indian State, the Communist Government elected to power in 1957 in Kerala, was also the first to show the Indian people that there was an alternative to the Congress.
IT is characteristic of Mahatma Gandhi that his was the first voice of dissent in post-Independence India: he refused to join the festivities on August 15, 1947. Again, in January 1948 he declared openly that he was not satisfied with the type of independence that India had won. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the Father of the Nation, almost alone, acted as the first Leader of the Opposition in Congress-ruled India.
What was the root of his dissatisfaction? Was it that India was cut in twain, forming two enemy states out of a formerly united India? He had declared earlier that "the vivisection of India is like the vivisection of my own body."
THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
Mahatma Gandhi, however, was far more concerned that the socio-cultural consequences of two hostile communal states being formed was that communal passions were roused - in the Indian Union against Muslims and in Pakistan against Hindus and Sikhs. The result was the most widespread communal riots in both countries. This was contrary to the ideal of communal unity that was part of his philosophy of action. He had to see people who had lived as brothers and sisters for centuries being made enemies of one another.
He was still more pained that the colleagues and followers who followed him in the decades of the freedom struggle had, on becoming members of the ruling party in the communally carved out Indian Union, renounced all the ideals that had inspired them in the days of the freedom struggle. He went to the extent of suggesting that since the main objective of the freedom movement - the attainment of independence for the country - had been achieved, the Congress should cease to function as a political party that contested elections and competed with other political parties and communal organisations.
COURTESY: NEHRU MEMORIAL MUSEUM AND LIBRARY
"The light has gone out of our lives..." Jawaharlal Nehru announces Gandhi's death.
Mahatma Gandhi's perception on the nature and consequences of the independence that was won on August 15, 1947 was subsequently shared - for reasons other than those of Mahatma Gandhi - by the then united Communist Party of India. After a few weeks of euphoria, the party came to realise that the political independence that was won on August 15, 1947 was independence for the bourgeois-landlord classes and not for the common people. Unlike Mahatma Gandhi, who advised the disbandment of the Congress and the formation of a non-political Lok Sevak Sangh, the Communist Party at its Second Congress (held in February-March 1948) decided that on the agenda was the political mobilisation of the working people on revolutionary lines against the Congress rulers. The party called for organised mass struggle against the new (Congress) rulers, in which the working people were to be rallied under the leadership of the Indian working class.
After some time, when the party played with the idea of extending the Telengana armed warfare to the whole country, the party's protracted internal discussions led it to the conclusion that the path of advance for post-Independence India is the combination of militant mass actions and united struggle in the parliamentary arena. In the first general elections in free India (1951), the electorate gave a clear verdict that the Communist Party was the major force through which mass discontent against Congress rule could be mobilised.
Since then the party has organised struggles in the electoral arena without giving up the Marxist-Leninist line of joining and leading militant mass actions. The party steered clear of the two deviations of social democratic parliamentarism and "Left"-Communist sectarian contempt for parliamentary work.
COURTESY: PUBLIC RELATIONS DEPARTMENT, KERALA
This is how, in the second general elections of 1957, the Communist Party was voted into ministerial office in the small State of Kerala. During the 28 months of its existence, that Government showed the people of Kerala and other States in India that there was an alternative to the Congress. Although not powerful enough to replace the Congress at the Centre, the party was strong enough in one State to show that land reforms, educational reforms, the decentralisation of power to panchayats and so on - formal objectives of the Congress that were later sabotaged - could be implemented by a non-Congress government headed by the Communist Party. The Congress thus saw a challenge to its continuing rule; the first elected Communist government in a State of India was dismissed by the Central authority.
However, the message sent out by the first Left-led non-Congress government caught the imagination of people throughout the country. Together with the Socialists and Left democrats the Communists succeeded in slowly developing democratic movements that could challenge the authority of the Congress Government at the Centre. That process ultimately led to the formation of another Left-led Government, in West Bengal, together with non-Left-led non-Congress governments in half a dozen other States. The CPI(M) adopted the policy of extending support to, but not joining, the State governments formed by non-Left but non-Congress parties. Broad democratic unity was thus being forged against the Congress.
This emerging unity in the Opposition, together with the internal developments in the ruling Congress party itself, led in 1977 to the replacement at the Centre of the Congress by the Janata Party Government headed by Morarji Desai. While extending support to that Central Government, however, the CPI(M) refrained from joining it and, besides, fought the reactionary and communal forces like the Jan Sangh which were integral parts of the Janata Party and its Government. The CPI(M) joined other Left and secular democratic forces in bringing the Janata Government down and fighting the Jan Sangh and other communal forces.
Thus began two trends in the non-Congress Opposition: first, the unity of Left, right and communal forces against the Congress; secondly, unity of Left and secular democratic forces against the Congress on the one hand and reactionary communal forces on the other. The Marxist-Leninists on the Left adopted a consistent stand of fighting the Congress monopoly of power, without making any concession to right reactionary and communal forces.
It was this consistent line of fighting the Congress on the one hand and reactionary communal organisations on the other that led to the formation of the V. P. Singh Government at the Centre in 1989. After some time, when the Congress came back to power again, Left and secular democratic forces came to a joint front which subsequently led to the formation of the Janata Dal-led United Front and its Government in 1996.
By this time, however, the Congress had ceased to be a cohesive political party. The final loss of power initiated the process of the Congress ceasing to be a national political party.
While fighting this political battle against the Congress monopoly of power and against right reactionary and communal forces, Marxist-Leninists were conscious that political-electoral struggle alone would not be enough to replace the Congress on the one hand and reactionary communal forces on the other. In fact, this political struggle on the parliamentary arena should be supplemented by militant struggles of industrial and agricultural workers, working peasants, middle class employees and intellectuals and all other sections of the people who are interested in national unity, the protection of national independence and sovereignty and in going forward to a socialist society.
The Left, democratic, secular and regional parties are all interested in the struggle against the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In developing the unity of these forces, however, it is necessary that Marxist-Leninists and their Left allies maintain their independent identity and come out against the anti-national and anti-people policies pursued by certain allies in the U.F. itself. That is why the Marxist-Leninists, while extending full support to the U.F. Government, are at the same time demarcating themselves from the World Bank-IMF-dictated economic policies pursued by the Deve Gowda Government earlier and by the Gujral Government today. The line adopted by Marxist-Leninists in today's India is: jointly strike against the Congress, the BJP and other reactionary communal forces, while at the same time act independently in protecting the interests of the working people.
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