The CPM congress, which concluded in Kozhikode today, was expected to be about change, not status quo. For a marginalised party struggling to stay relevant in national politics, the least that was expected was introspection and a radical course correction. The big meet delivered no such hint that the party was even interested.
The party was still talking 'neo-liberalism', 'imperialist globalisation', 'bourgeoise vices' and 'transition capitalism to socialism'. There were calls to restrict party workers from indulging in vices but the ideological resolution set no direction for the party or goals. In the end it just was a big talk shop.
"The party does not assess its growth based solely on electoral gains," Politburo member S Ramachandran Pillai said. This virtually stops all speculation on the CPM trying hard to seek out new constituencies to bolster its electoral standing. The proceedings also gave out the impression that the party is not going for an image overhaul in a hurry.
The party could have replaced party general secretary Prakash Karat with someone younger like Sitaram Yechury to send out a signal that it is thinking fresh. Karat’s tenure at the helm has been disastrous to say the least. Under him the CPM has lost friends across the political spectrum and more importantly, lost its political relevance. He is perceived to be too standoffish and intellectually inclined to negotiate artfully and take other parties on board.
His move to withdraw from the UPA over the Indo-US nuclear deal was questioned by some party members from West Bengal but he resolutely defended himself. Ultimately, it was the Kerala lobby within the party—it is more hardline in its approach and less amenable to new ideas—which ensured that he carried the day. There’s no clear picture yet whether his leadership was challenged strongly, but there are indications that many of his decisions were put to question.
While the draft political-organisational report observes that the CPM is fast becoming the organisation of the aged, there appears to be little effort to put in place correctives. It observes that a majority of the members of the party are in the 32-51 age group and youth below 25 years of age constitute only 6.25 percent. However, the report does not mention that not many in the 32-51 group are in the upper rungs of the party.
There are no young faces in the party with whom the youth can relate to. It is not clear where the big loyalists of Left ideology in the country’s most reputed institutions vanish. Why aren’t they in the party, speaking for it, speaking about it? Obviously, the party doesn’t want to lose sleep over it. Attracting young blood is the last of its concerns. It does not want the old order to be challenged. It does not like to invite fresh ideas.
Of course, the biggest problem with the party is its inability to look at the economic realities around with a fresh outlook. It refuses to acknowledge that the country is populated by a young, aspirational people who have tested success after the economic reforms and want more. They won’t be bogged down by any ideology.
Individualism has found a firm footing on the economic front and it won’t succumb to the non-existent mothballed ideas like communism. Even the core constituency of the Left is far different from it was four decades ago. The CPM meet fails to take all changes—social, economic and political—into account and offer a new roadmap for its own progress.
But knowing the Left in India, does it surprise? No. The party wants to survive, not grow. That is one of its biggest failings.