After Tripura debacle, CPM's national fortunes rest on money sent from West Asia to Kerala

The most common reaction to the CPM’s rout in the Tripura Assembly elections on Saturday was the reference to a rather prophetic statement of the party’s national general secretary Sitaram Yechury recently. At a conference in February last week, he had reportedly told delegates that the “party is CPI (M), and not CPM (Kerala)”. His angry taunt was targeted at the proxies of CPM’s Kerala leadership that sought to dismiss the Congress as its national ally against the BJP.

Communist Party of India (Kerala) sounds like a misnomer. But with the disastrous results in Tripura on Friday, that’s precisely what the party has been reduced to. A national party (undivided), which was the principal Opposition in the first ever Lok Sabha, has now been pushed to a tiny land that accounts for hardly three percent of the country’s population. And social media was immediately abuzz with derisive memes recalling Yechury’s statement. The statement was also featured in the headlines of major news channels.

In terms of electoral significance, the CPM has been wiped out from India, barring Kerala. In West Bengal, the CPM-led Left Front was defeated by the Trinamool Congress in 2011 and 2016 after being in power for seven consecutive terms since 1977. The party has now been trounced in Tripura after 25 years of uninterrupted rule. What’s truly catastrophic is that in both the states, the Opposition has thrown it out with two-thirds majority.

In West Bengal, the party is apparently in irreversible shambles following two consecutive routs, even failing to send a nominee to the Rajya Sabha for the first time in sixty years. In Tripura, its first defeat itself is portentous because the BJP literally came out of thin air.

With a jubilant BJP president Amit Shah training his guns on the South next, the big question now is if the CPM can safeguard its last vestige: Kerala. The answer is most probably yes without much trouble. Firstly, the state’s demography (nearly half of the state’s population comprise Muslims and Christians) doesn’t give the BJP enough room to polarise. Moreover, CPM's communism is funded by West Asian capitalism.

Since the demography has been discussed time and again, let’s focus on the socio-economics and violence.

Despite all the alleged machinations by the Trinamool and the BJP in West Bengal and Tripura respectively, the principal reasons that did the CPM in were socio-economic stagnation and its violent ways. Although on some fronts the states’ records appeared better than the national average, they did badly in where it mattered the most such as infrastructure, electricity, education, access to health, banking and employment.

File image of CPM leader Sitaram Yechury. News18

File image of CPM leader Sitaram Yechury. News18

Of the two, West Bengal with a per capita income that was lower than the poor national average was worse off. In a list of 10-15 states arranged according to various indicators, West Bengal languished at the bottom. On the other hand, Tripura had been trapped in a vicious cycle of poor infrastructure and industrialisation, low capital formation, and high levels of unemployment among other economic ills.

While it made little progress on these counts, the CPM didn’t moderate its violent domination of Opposition. In both the states, the Opposition parties accused them of “cell rule” in which the party called the shots in public institutions and delivery of services. It was a policy of deliberate social exclusion that provoked counter-violence. Bad development and violence were a bad combo, when somebody was offering an alternative, whether it was bogus or not.

The CPM in Kerala is also accused of similar — or worse — level of violence and cell rule, but what protects the party’s rein is the socio-economic superiority of the state. It’s among the states with highest per capita income (55 percent more than the national average) and highest levels of consumption, and some of its human development indicators are comparable to that of the western countries. Although it also has the highest unemployment rate in India and poor primary and secondary economic sectors, the state tops the list in terms for the quality of life. In other words, socio-economically, there’s no disgruntlement against the CPM, in comparison to West Bengal and Tripura.

What’s ironical is that the CPM has nothing to do with this relative affluence and socio-economic stability because what sustains the state’s high income, high consumption and high levels of human development are the remittances from overseas migrants, mostly in West Asia. Every year, they put more than 100,000 crore rupees directly in the hands of people. (Not to forget, the princely states of Travancore and Cochin that accounted for two-third of the state had established a remarkably high socio-economic baseline even before the birth of the Communist Party of India)

According to the latest estimate by eminent migration researcher S Irudayarajan of the Centre for Development Studies (CDS) in Thiruvananthapuram, remittances account for 36 percent of the state’s GDP. This is much higher than some of the remittance-dependent countries in the world with comparable human development indices. Irudayarajan estimates that remittances support one in three households in the state directly and another one-third indirectly.

In fact, the influence of remittances vividly reflects the economic profile of the state. According to the Central Statistics Office of the PRS, 62 percent of the state’s economy is in the tertiary sector (real estate, trade, services) and 26 percent in the secondary sector (like construction). The primary sector is marginal and has been growing downwards.

With practically no clients from the primary sector, what sustains both the tertiary and secondary sectors that account for 88 percent of the state’s economy are remittances. As long as the remittances continue to flow, there will be no West Bengal or Tripura scale under-development and poverty that the CPM has to worry about. In other words, it’s West Asian capitalism that’s sustaining the party’s rule. It will also determine the party’s future, not only in Kerala but also in the rest of India because it’s the money from the state that’s keeping the party afloat at the national level.

Given the income-elasticity of 88 percent of the state’s economy, it will be a completely different ballgame if the remittances fall even by a small margin. According to an economist of the Indian Institute of Growth in New Delhi, even a ten percent fall can lead to a collapse of Kerala’s economy. Various reports warn that employment opportunities in West Asia are drying up and that the number of returnee migrants is rising. If this trend reaches a certain threshold, the CPM will be in trouble because it has no alternative policy other than rhetoric. It doesn’t even know how to leverage the present flow of money and its historic development gains to establish a sustainable welfare state.

In simple words, it’s not ideology or any progressive policies but West Asian capitalism that will keep the rump of the CPM or rather communism alive in India. When the remittances start falling, we will see the real test.

Published Date: Mar 04, 2018 15:26 PM | Updated Date: Mar 04, 2018 15:46 PM

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