The 2019 Lok Sabha election is practically knocking on the door. So loud and clear is the sound that India's political firmament is being transformed: Foes are becoming friends and ideological differences are being cast aside. The latest to seemingly give into such pressure is the Communist Party of India (CPI), which invited former prime minister Manmohan Singh to deliver the AB Bardhan Memorial Lecture in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Manmohan, speaking on the 'need to defend secularism and the Constitution', said that despite being from different political parties, CPI stalwart Bardhan played an important role in bringing growth and social justice during the United Progressive Alliance regime.
Nothing but an eye on the 2019 polls can explain the CPI's sudden desire to hear Manmohan speak: keeping in mind that when the latter was Union finance minister under then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, the CPI was one of the most vocal critics of the government's key policies, such as opening up the economy.
It is to be recalled: In 2008, the Left parties, including the CPI, nearly brought down the Congress-led UPA regime after its decision to sign the India-US nuclear deal. On July 2008, the Left Front, which had 59 representatives in the Lok Sabha—and supported the UPA government without being part of it—withdrew support. It was a big blow to the Manmohan government. In an interview with The Telegraph on 11 August, 2007, Singh said, “…we cannot go back on it (nuclear deal). I told them (Left parties) to do whatever they want to do, if they want to withdraw support, so be it.”
However in his lecture today, Manmohan referred to CPI Rajya Sabha member D Raja and CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, and said, “Raja, Yechury had been a great support to me… ensured that the UPA wasn’t out of the race… in following the common minimum programme.” Yes, politicians make strange bedfellows. And ideologically opposed Left parties and the Congress choose their ideological battles carefully.
When asked the reason behind choosing Manmohan as guest speaker, CPI general secretary Sudhakar Reddy told The Hindu, “Why not? What is wrong in it? We are together in this fight against communalism.” Speaking on secularism, Manmohan referred to Jawaharlal Nehru and said, “Nehru disliked communalism. He said that no majority can crush a minority… India will not become a Hindu State.”
So, the fight against communalism brings the two together at the Centre, while parliamentary equations in Kerala ensured that the Congress finds itself a part of a coalition called the United Democratic Front (not in power now) along with All India Forward Bloc, a Left outfit. And the Opposition between the Congress and the Left in Bengal is very well known. The Left Front that ruled the state of West Bengal for seven consecutive terms (from 1977 to 2011), was born out of a common Opposition of various Left parties to the Congress.
Even today, the Left in Bengal is not willing to form alliance with the Congress. So, is there a message that the political pundits can read in Manmohan's presence at the CPI lecture?
“The Left Front committed a blunder by withdrawing its support to the UPA. We also lost one of our finest parliamentarians and stalwart leader Somnath Chatterjee in the process. Had we stayed with them, it would have been easier for the UPA government and us to fight communalism, which has reached its nadir at present in the country. Today we’re virtually nowhere except in Kerala,” a central committee member of CPM said on condition of anonymity.
Somnath, an ex-Lok Sabha Speaker, was expelled from the CPM for not toeing the party line on the nuclear deal and refusing to step down. A growing rift between the Congress and the Left became visible. Gradually, the Left parties, whether CPM or CPI, started losing its base both at the Centre and in states. With just one member in the 16th Lok Sabha (CN Jayadevan from Thrissur in Kerala) and one in the Rajya Sabha (D Raja), the CPI is clearly in survival mode. Is it trying to align with the Congress to stay afloat?
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Updated Date: Sep 25, 2018 21:20:21 IST