Aditya Sinha: Is communism dead in India?

Mar 05, 2018, 06:12 IST | Aditya Sinha

Though communist ideologies might go out of fashion or find it tough against caste ideologies in India, they can never truly die

The BJP is dreaming of replicating the Tripura triumph in Kerala, where the communist party is still in power, at the next assembly election. Pic/PTI
The BJP is dreaming of replicating the Tripura triumph in Kerala, where the communist party is still in power, at the next assembly election. Pic/PTI

Aditya SinhaDoes the Marxist government's decimation in Tripura mean that communism in India is dead? Though it is still in power in Kerala, it appears to be comatose in Bengal. On the other hand, one of the world's most powerful man, China's President Xi Jinping, is a communist; and he just had his country's constitution modified to remain in power beyond his second term. (Okay, I'll grant that the Chin's communism is more an agnostic realpolitik veering towards imperialism, rather than a paradise of workers owning the mode of production.) Greece elected socialists following the global economic slowdown. A large swathe of India is dominated by Naxals, who preach Mao's brand of communism. Bihar has its stubborn handful of communists; even Kashmir has its Marxist Yusuf Tarigami. An ideology might go out of fashion or find it tough against caste ideologies, but it can never die.

Is the Tripura verdict different from that of the BJP-led alliance in Nagaland, or the Congress remaining in first place in Meghalaya? In some respects. Small north eastern states like Nagaland will always vote for whoever rules at the Centre out of fiscal compulsion. Small, hilly and sparsely-populated states with neither industry nor manufacturing or services, rely on grants from New Delhi that come at 90 per cent grant, 10 per cent loan. In the last Naga Assembly there was no opposition member because everyone wanted a piece of the pie. On the other hand, Meghalaya's voters take their Christianity seriously and the BJP is not seen as particularly hospitable. No wonder the Congress focused its efforts here (as it did in Gujarat a few months back, ignoring Himachal Pradesh). Tripura, no doubt, had the inevitable anti-incumbency after 25 years of CPI-M reign; the BJP's credit is in taking advantage to propel itself from non-existence just five years back to power. It helped that in recent times, 12,000 Congress workers migrated over.

For communists, the Congress is a puzzling factor. Their campaign was hurt internally, no doubt, by the long-running ideological struggle between Prakash Karat, who wants purity and equidistance from the Congress, and Sitaram Yechury, who pragmatically inclines towards building an anti-BJP front. These questions confuse the cadre, not just op-ed writers. It goes without saying that a left-wing ideology is required in India, which is still poor despite its seven per cent GDP growth (economists say to get out of poverty, India needs to hit double-digit growth), and which is just not creating enough jobs for its youth. The Congress is by no means left-wing. Its president Rahul Gandhi has given enough indication that he fits in the Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram economic wing of the party, which, like the BJP, believes in a single agenda — stronger ties with America. With the rise of China, one wonders whether India dumped non-alignment in haste.

On the other hand, there's a reasonable argument that the arc of Indian electoral politics tends towards a two-pole system with the BJP and the Congress at either end, and others coalescing with each without great fidelity. On such an electoral landscape, it is doubtful whether the Left would ever join hands with the BJP, despite the precedent of 1989, when both ideologies supported VP Singh's National Front government from outside (remember, it was a short-lived experiment). This is a matter that has to work itself out over time. The BJP is dreaming of replicating the Tripura triumph in Kerala at the next Assembly election; while the Congress will anticipate the return of its prodigals, namely those who left the party over various issues, including Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin. She no longer leads the Congress, so a Congress parivar could very well come to be before the next election. Only time will tell.

It's a tough time for India's communists, made doubly so by the fact that unlike during most of our post-independence period, they have no foreign politburo from whom they can seek ideological advice. Around the world, though, the Left seems to remain relevant — whether you take Jeremy Corbin of the Labour Party as an example, or the California wing of the Democratic Party in the USA. The Left will remain relevant in these times of populism and hypernationalism — in fact, appropriating economic populism, as Bernie Sanders attempted to do in the US in 2016, is an available strategy for the global Left.

As for its current electoral fortunes, the BJP's win in Tripura and its 'hold' in Nagaland are hardly reasons to get excited. These results might pause the BJP's internal 'House of Cards' intrigue, and it might make more tempting the plan of an early parliamentary election in November-December; but it is not a gauge of the mood in today's India. That will come in Karnataka, in not too many weeks from now.

Aditya Sinha's crime novel, The CEO Who Lost His Head, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to

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