Facing up to Hindutva — Can a Left-Congress Alliance be the Key?


Many commentators, in the mainstream and social media, have been urging the Left to indicate clearly its willingness to align with the Congress in the parliamentary elections due next year. . Several of them, who have harping on the theme for some months now, turned harshly critical when the CPI(M), following its central committee meeting, announced on January 21, 2018 that it was against electoral tie-ups in any form with the Congress. A substantial part of such commentary emerges from sections who believe that the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019 is of such over-riding importance that all other political considerations should be put aside. Alongside such a view, many of them also drive the critique of BJP to ever shriller heights with increasingly extreme characterisations. Any attempt to inject some sobriety or realism into such assessments is met with the charge that the depth of the danger is being downplayed, suggesting panic rather than a serious assessment of a way forward.

Any serious assessment must obviously begin from the acknowledgement of the basic and obvious point that the CPI(M) has always made – that the roots of the rise of Hindutva in its current form lay in substantial measure in the nature of Congress rule and in particular the UPA governments of 2004 to 2014. And, as the CPI(M) further argues, given the hold that Hindutva has obtained on Indian society as a whole, across various spheres of national life, mere electoral defeat, is hardly the key to halting its advance. Without mass mobilisation on issues that affect the people and without convincing a substantial section of the inability of Hindutva to meet their aspirations, without a mass movement for secular and democratic advance, banking on electoral arithmetic alone is likely to be of little use and indeeed diversionary. It is also clear that such mobilisation cannot have unity with the Congress party as its basis, when the alienation of the people at large from it has formed the very basis of the rise of Hindutva.

Current events lend substantial weight to this political understanding – one has only to recall the collapse of the Nitish Kumar-led Mahagatbandhan experiment that was much touted at the time of its victory (and the Left excoriated for its non-participation in this alliance) and the failure of the Akhilesh Yadav- Rahul Gandhi led combine in the UP elections, returning the BJP to power in a virulent avatar in a state where it has faced electoral defeat before. One may fruitfully contrast these to the example of the firm resistance to Hindutva that comes from the LDF in Kerala. In retrospect it is clear that even the defeat that Hindutva forces sufferred in the 2004 elections was merely a temporary setback, from which they emerged to victory, considerably strengthened, in 2014. To drive the point home, the victory in 2014 was led by none other than Narendra Modi, under whose dispensation the Gujarat riots of 2002 were the nadir of the first spell of BJP rule.

On the other hand, from the large-scale mobilisations of farmers in the agitations of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and the workers rally in Delhi to the prompt condemnation by incensed scientists against the obscurantist remarks of the Minister of State for Education on teaching evolution, from the mobilisation at Una to the protests at Bhima Koregaon and its aftermath, the long-drawn student agitations in a number of leading universities – all of these speak to the scope for mass mobilisation against Hindutva that is clearly ample in extent. To convert the energies and advances of such movements into lasting political capital is undoubtedly the challenge.

In what way is the Congress responsible for the steady advance of Hindutva, over the last twenty five years or so, despite its periodic electoral setbacks? In the view of the CPI(M) it lies in the determined pursuit of neo-liberal policies by the Congress (and State governments of the non-Left variety) that had alienated the people, with little improvement in their general well-being on a mass scale. Arguing against the view that one must tackle communalism first and other issues subsequently, it laid out its perspective in the Visakhapatnam congress in 2015 in its review of its political tactics. In its own words:: “In our understanding, the fight against neo-liberal policies and communalism are interconnected. There should be an integrated approach of taking up the struggle of the people’s livelihood along with the fight against communal forces and the Hindutva ideology. Only by integrating these struggles can we mobilise mass support against communal forces. From the social angle, the fight against the Hindutva communalism requires the struggle against caste and women’s oppression as the Hindutva ideology is embedded in the caste system and patriarchy.” As the record of the Narendra Modi government has established, as in the case of the Vajpayee regime before it, the BJP is no slouch in following the same policies, even if they had criticised them when the Congress was in power. The point is though that this hardly provides confidence in the Congress as a key element in confronting the BJP, even if they are not a communal, anti-secular force in the manner of the BJP.

Further the CPI(M) document added: “Given the danger posed by the communal forces reinforced by the BJP in power with an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, we should strive for the broader unity of the secular and democratic forces. Such joint platforms are necessary for a wider mobilization against communalism. Such platforms, however, should not be seen as the basis for electoral alliances.” In short, the key was mass mobilization through movements, and not electoral tie-ups of assorted kinds.

But this really is only part of the story. A crucial part of the problem is that the current enthusiasm for Left-Congress unity, whatever be its immediate provocation, has old roots. It has been a persistent illusion afflicting a section of progressive intellectuals that the Congress is in fact a viable vehicle for the project of secular and democratic nation-building. Since the Congress has been the dominant political formation for the better part of post-independence India, even after the neoliberal turn of the early 1990s, it is tempting to attribute all forward movement in any sphere of national life to the leadership of the Congress. Unfortunately what this one-sided view misses is that the Congress is also equally responsible for all that has not been achieved, and that it presided over the pursuit of a path of development that had fundamental contradictions, leading to the all-round crisis that began enveloping the Indian state at the beginning of the 90s.

Even after the sharp, rightward shift in economic policy , the illusion has persisted that if not the Congress, other parliamentary coalitions could be the vehicle for a radical movement forward, with the Congress, even if reluctantly, being somehow forced to join. In this view, what was needed was a return to the positive features of the dispensation of the pre-reform era, albeit with some modifications, that could be achieved within the parliamentary framework. This illusion has been further sustained by the fact that the two responses of the Indian state to the crisis of the 90s, economic reform on the one hand and the push to abandon the secular ideal on the other, have been led by two different parties, the Congress and the BJP respectively. In reality, this has not stopped the latter from embracing economic reform when in power (however critical they may have been in opposition) and the former from discreetly avoiding head-on engagement with the anti-secular agenda. Both of course have come together in lining up to become a camp follower of the US in foreign policy.

The record of the CPI(M) shows that it chose, since its formation, a completely different course, with much justification. In an earlier era, in the 60s and 70s, it stood out in its refusal to tail the Congress, holding it responsible, as the key representative of India’s ruling elite, for the condition of the masses. It led a rising wave of resistance and opposition to Congress rule across the country in whatever manner its strength allowed, leveraging in some areas the effect of other currents of opposition, even while being critical of their shortcomings. Within ten years, with the Emergency, the correctness of its assessment was amply demonstrated, with the party emerging in the post-Emergency era with substantial gains in its strength and mass following, in striking contrast to the dimunition of the role and strength of the CPI. In the subsequent years, one of the testing periods was that of the V. P. Singh-led National Front government, to which the CPI(M) provided outside support,, that came to office in the decisive rejection by the people of the Congress in the wake of the Bofors scandal, and that fell to the Singh government’s principled refusal to allow the Hindutva a free run in its attack on the Babri Masjid.

From then on, the CPI(M) in the main has stood its ground, refusing to downplay its critique and characterisation of the Congress, even while acknowledging and grappling with the challenge of the rise of the BJP as an equally significant representative of the country’s ruling elite. But it is a measure of the depth of the contemporary crisis that even the CPI(M) in the attempt to forge various parliamentary alliances to ward off the Hindutva danger had in some measure lost focus on its core agenda. Critics of the party’s current position would do well to go back to its public, and frankly self-critical, analysis of its political tactics over the last twenty five years adopted at its Visakhapatnam congress. This analysis highlighted the fact that the pursuit of electoral alliances, however fruitful in the short term, had led to distraction from the key issue of building the independent strength of the left and democratic movement, without whose significant presence no stable political shift away from Hindutva could be consolidated.

It is evident that the CPI(M)’s latest decision has followed this understanding, even if, as is well known, there have been strains earlier in implementing this view in the Bengal assembly elections. Critics would do well to give credit to the fact that the CPI(M)’s view arises from a well-argued and well-debated understanding and not reduce it to mere factional doings within the party or to attribute motives and float innuendo on the decisions that it is taking and articulating on this question. For many others, like this writer, and unlike the articulate critics in the media, the position of the CPI(M) seems eminently well thought out, keeping at the forefront both its commitment to the Indian people and the vision that underpins its very rationale. It is also a position that does not have illusions of grandeur, and has an objective and realistic view of the ground realities.

There can be no short-cut to fighting Hindutva. We are in for the long-haul and it will be a grim fight indeed. But panic-stricken and hasty assessments and the search for quickfire solutions through hasty electoral alliances have not worked for the last twenty-five years and more. They are unlikely to do so in the future too.


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