Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
The Left, or those with allegiance to Communism, has just got the worst electoral drubbing in the history of independent India as far as the Indian general elections are concerned. They have managed to gain just five seats, down from the best showing of 64 MPs in Lok Sabha in the first UPA tenure. Also, even as a force of movement, the Left has declined across India. There is an urgent need to relook at the strategies, tactics and politics of the Left, to re-invent itself, because the Left has been a proven voice of the marginalized and working class people.
Traditional Thinking of the Left Forces:
For a long time, protest has been considered the best form of mass mobilization. For example, in Bengal, victims of partition of Bengal and usually politically active, could be repeatedly mobilized that way for a long time. Left has always held that finding faults of the adversary is the way to position yourself. Negative campaign of the ‘other’ justified the perceived positive image of the self for long. Further, the usual Left strategy has been to talk in the language of a distant revolutionary dream engaging workers and farmers, and in terms of movements in Tebhaga, Telengana, Srikakulam, Sundarban, etc. Imagery of people’s democratic or socialist revolutions world-over, and movements for land and survival in some parts of India motivated the Left leaning youths in 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Usually, the Left or communist parties have considered anyone who in into business as anti-progress and anti-poor. Business is ‘dhanda’ and one can earn in it only if someone loses. It went well with a large mass not involved in business and a battle of perceptions could be created. Hence, the Left always held that the poor people is the only force of politics. The middle class will lead, poor will follow; upper caste Hindus by default being more educated, will be at the leadership, rest mid-level and followers. Role of the middle class intellectuals is to give ‘ideological leadership’. The theory of ‘de-classed’ leadership, though rarely practiced, has been the plank of justifying educated middle class leadership in left movement. Incidentally, the Dalit leadership within the Left also is a rarity.
As for the media, the Left holds that the mainstream media is pro-capitalism, hence to be shunned. Media is often ‘bought over’ and hence anti-people. Media is a tool to control minds and influence opinions, manufacture consent, and hence used by the ruling classes to perpetuate their dominance in the system. Social Media & Internet are of the rich, educated, of the urban largely petty bourgeoisie class. These are at best a fad, and at worst another tool to spread anti-culture and class-interests.
Many left forces have held that the caste remains a major unifier, and caste and class are identifiable. People are permanently wedded to their castes and born into a class. So, using caste and lower class is an easy and ready plank to organize them. Fear inflicted in the mind of the adversary is an effective tool of political dominance in areas. Fear is the biggest weapon to disarm or de-activate the opposition forces. Inflict fear and sustain low-level fear to continue area dominance. And, often the left forces called to find faults like vested interests or directionless movements when NGOs or people’s voluntary groups conduct any movement. Dub all non-party movements as worthless efforts leading nowhere without ‘ideological direction’ and ‘class-position’.
It must be noted that the Left has been of various shades and were not uniform. The use of arms, fear, elections, movements, et al, are different for different left forces, which can be divided into three broad groups: (A) the Parliamentary Left: CPI, CPM, RSP, etc; (B) the Agitating Left: SUCI, some groups of former CPI(ML), and (C) the armed revolutionary Left: Naxalite forces, MCC, etc.
Ground Reality Changes in Last Decade:
India has become younger, average age is less than 29 years, 54% of people are below 25 years, and 66% below 35 years of age. The perceptions of the dominant voices in India is increasingly urban, younger and aspirant wanting a better quality of life, a demand evolving through awareness of the world around. The total number of mobile phones has crossed landlines by double and is above 82 crores in a nation of 125 crores, which have at least 56 crores unique users. And the mobile is the closest tool that the mass uses today and is a personalized interactive tool unlike any other.
A large number of the mobile phones are smartphones (21% of all cell phones in use) which have low-cost options too and a good number of users feel empowered using the same. Smart-phones have made interactivity and personal information, entertainment and network search much faster and better. India is the third largest internet using and Facebook country of the world and the fastest growing one in last ten years. The internet connectivity in India has crossed 23% of the people. Hence, social media is on all time high. The Left forces by and large has not been able to understand the changing mindset of this smart-phone yielding population, who has unfortunately been radicalised considerably by the right wing forces.
Aspiration has replaced agitation as the main motivator for a large part of the masses. Agitation for aspiration is still fine, but any mass mobilization can come through a positive campaign of aspirations, and not merely negative base, though protests against injustice will and should remain. Left forces spend a huge time on what was, what will be, what is the history in some selected nations, what they believe as reality rather than the reality we face now.
Entrepreneurship is in-thing and is an example of one making his own destiny and often preferred by many in 30s and 40s today. There is a difference between hard-worked entrepreneurship and greedy large corporate business, which is completely missed by the Left forces.
There needs to be area-specific and people-specific issues, ideas, plans and strategy to mobilize people. Rather than generic issues and talks, people want to be specific to their immediate environment. There needs to be pride in our secular history and culture and people must be reminded of the same. A conscious attempt is being done by communal forces to mix faith with science, fiction with facts, belief with history, and to rake up historical injustices to justify present communal action/ mindsets, and Left has a major role in dispelling these.
Appeasement of minorities and multi-theocracy of keeping all religious leaders happy by political forces as practiced since independence by past rulers is now being replaced by appeasement of the majorities. Any appeasement of any community dictating the rule of law, which actually undermines the power of the secular state, and the Left has its task today to protect the Constitutional values.
Reviving the Left:
Broad united front of all left and democratic forces across India is an urgent need. In fact, existence of a dozen dwindling communist parties with hardly any youth force is an anathema. They better meet, brainstorm going beyond stale debates of people’s democratic versus socialist revolution, and unite. Official unambiguous front is needed keeping all big-small brother attitudes and one-upmanship or leadership egos in the Ganges. Development dialogues are also needed as the youth and larger public image of Left is that it is anti-development. Whereas the Left slogan should be Just & Sustainable Development for All without Corruption.
United front of each mass front: of workers, of farmers, of students, of women, of teachers, of doctors, of media-professionals, of entrepreneurs is another need. One single short modern name for each mass front to which all left forces should contribute their efforts to build up. Let Dialogues for each of these fronts from district to state to national level be done with a strict time-line to finalize major issues from across the nation which are of the highest concerns for relevant people.
Bottoms-Up, humility, learning from people must replace Top-Down arrogant I-know-it-all attitude. These issues/ demands/ needs will make the Charter of the Left for movements and focus ahead. All these charters of various sections of the people then can be the agenda of respective mass fronts on which state-level awareness (actually, national level finally) is to be created.
Current practice of a few learned men sitting and penning a manifesto which is neither representative not comprehended well, with a plethora of chosen Left jargon, is a practice that should be completely discarded. Let ten top current laws that benefit the masses, like RTI, RTE etc, be taken up, and people be educated on them, how to make the best use of them for their own development, and then, also their limitations be identified which this Left combine will take up in future. Hate-mongering against all business-community should be replaced with well informed criticism of corporate hunger, big business loot of the resources of India. Mass-level honest entrepreneurship has to be encouraged and appreciated.
The Left needs to take up Black Money unearthing, domestically and from abroad, as a major issue of agitation and public awareness building. Left must agree to be covered by RTI as a front or a party, and make all funding and work transparent. Make a Charter of Black Money Control measures through research and insights. Also, electoral and judicial reforms, police reforms, etc are other significant issues to focus upon. Make Aman or Peace Committees in each village, town and constituency to combat any communal tension, and let these committees have positive agenda of organizing cultural meets.
Left must be revived as a viable ideological-organizational force against the might of the Right in India.
The author is a noted media academic, columnist & participant in TV debates.