The Left: Rudderless, Confused!
Where and how to go from here?
10 parties patiently take the flack in stride
A grand gathering of Left-wing parties of Telangana, including the CPI, the CPM, the different M-L factions, the Forward Bloc, and socialist groups, held a meeting to ‘develop consensus,’ on October 21st, at the Sundarayya Vigyan Kendra, Hyderabad. The veteran leader, Chukka Ramaiah, spoke with great feeling about the sacrifices that had been endured in the past. He reminded the audience that Left-wing philosophy was at the core of Telangana political culture. He bemoaned corruption of the political system, in which hero worship had replaced participatory decision making. The veteran CPI leader, Venkat Reddy, said that despite progressive laws, complete failure in implementation was witnessed in all aspects of public policy. Professor Rama Melkote asked why the Left parties had not joined hands with progressive Dalit and Muslim movements. Professor Haragopal declared that the Left parties had no cultural roots in society, and hence were unable to mount a massive challenge to national parties, like the Congress and the BJP, though both were almost identical in their politics and class structure. Several other leaders spoke with passion about the failure of the left parties to come together, time and again, to an audience that contained the cream of Telangana’s intellectuals and activists.
The meeting, not the first of its kind, was a reminder to people that the Left parties had failed to seize the initiative during the hugely popular people’s movement for a separate Telangana, that had rocked the region for over five years. The palm of victory had been surrendered to a new political grouping, the TRS. Perhaps, at the back of the minds of the political leaders, who had summoned the meeting, was the thought that it might not be too late to put forward before the people a left-wing agenda for the future development of Telangana State.
Corrupt Congress and ambitious BJP
For such a belated expectation to produce political acceptance with the people, it might be vital to reconsider where Indians find themselves today. Disgust with the unashamed corruption of Congress leaders, who left no stone unturned to make a quick illegal buck, even in sport arenas, swung the loyalty of people away from a flaccid party which had no belief in itself towards a populist leader heading the BJP, which was vociferous in its claim to be the traditional guardian of culture. So high is the expectation heaped upon Modi’s government that there is little chance that any superman can meet the aspirations of people within the foreseeable future. Bitter disappointment could erupt into anger and chaos, and this is the greatest potential threat facing India today.
No political leader should be misled by the present-day political euphoria masking this real threat. America-trained gurus keep repeating the mantra that the fundamentals are strong, meaning that the financial market is soaring on expectations, and that the major business entities are making profits. Curbing of inflationary trends with cheaper money seems to be their cure, while they are confident that even the poorest common man acknowledges that God alone is responsible for fluctuating monsoons controlling crops. Manipulated statistics further give comfort to the rulers that poverty is declining, however slowly. The focus of the rulers of India is turned on its nuclear arsenal, its demand for a seat on the Security Council, its political competition with China, its successful billionaires, its numerous IT professionals, its well staffed army and bureaucracy. All these are of no real consequence to India’s debatable future.
What remains unseen is the swelling tsunami of aspirations, awakened by global media connectivity, and disappointment, exacerbated by inter-community rivalries, and frustrations unleashed among the young, by the sexual repression of traditional culture and class-dominated exclusion from economic opportunities. The age old patience of the Indian poor under privation will not last forever.
‘What needs to be Done?’ was an urgent question first raised by Tolstoy, and later by Lenin. An answer closer to meeting India’s crying needs was provided by Tolstoy who saw the primacy of labour not only for changing society, but oneself, and for recognising labour as the true human quality at the core of society. He provides a spiritual explanation of Marx’s labour theory of value, which the simplest Indian can appreciate, again making true his statement that ‘all great ideas are simple.’ But how is this idea to be applied practically to national development?
Left joins hands with Western adventurists!
Many in India’s Left leadership joined hands with Western adventurists on the Left and quickly dismissed Chinese developments since the 1980’s as a return to capitalism. We have failed to learn from the developmental experiences of our greatest neighbour. Despite this, the astonishing success of China and the growth of its economy remains the ‘elephant in the room’ for all economists, which refuses to be driven out of discussion. Chinese experience is all the more relevant to Indians when we consider that World War II had exhausted all economies, except the American, and India stood as a potential industrial power in 1947, while China was in shambles as a destroyed economy and polity.
The ease of growth of the Chinese economy and its commercial successes has mesmerised Indian planners into a belief that a similar trajectory is possible for India with a little more tinkering of the system. The flatulence of political bombast that has clouded Indian relations with its greatest neighbour has further obscured from reasonable analysis the causes that have differentiated the growth trajectories of the two great economies. It has suited Western theoreticians and their Indian disciples to accept the masked and politically motivated Chinese interpretation that Deng Xiaoping and capitalism happened after Mao’s death in 1976, ‘and all was growth.’ If anyone is amazed at the industry of the Chinese working classes the simple acceptable explanation among these experts is that it is extorted by totalitarian control. The Chinese have shown no intention of arguing this point.
Long March and the Long Leap
The long years of struggle and privation, and the Long March, taught Mao, the Chinese communist party and its army, that their country and its nationalities and classes lived under varied conditions and possibilities, which required local solutions and management, and that the hope for the future depended upon a working collaboration between the leaders and the communities of the poor. Building on traditional clan practices, the first years of development saw the emergence of the mutual aid teams, then the larger production brigades and the bigger communes. A feudal and oppressed people learned that they had capacities of self governance, and during the ill-fated Great Leap Forward that even simple peasants could aspire to make backyard steel. A huge human cost was paid then, and later during the Cultural Revolution, which despite the shambles posed a more thorough challenge to the Chinese bureaucratic mandarinate than Manmohan Singh’s curbing of some bureaucratic power through liberalization.
This great storm-tossed political period from 1949 till the beginning of the 1970’s was a period, which can be called one of ‘latent development,’ that is, an economic process that was real but hidden from view, which could not be measured in economic terms while it lasted, but which would ensure economic growth in the future. Hence it had not much to show in dollar terms in the years between 1949 and 1976, but vastly more than the world had ever seen before in the rise of the self-confidence of the masses in their own social, technical, economic and political abilities. ‘The battle for China’s past,’ as a recent scholar, Mobo Gao, has put it, is by no means over in terms of understanding it, but it is time our economists researched it.
What is clear is that ‘development is a political process,’ which requires politicization of associations of the people, as farmers, as artisans, as women, as workers. Real development cannot occur without a genuine partnership between government and communities, however destabilizing this may be for inefficient and self-serving politicians. Such a partnership would be a real growth initiator, while the much touted public-private mode is merely collusion among the despoilers.
Partnership with communities
The possibility of such partnerships with communities should not be viewed as a mere heuristic construct in the present instance. Telangana with under-developed natural resources, and lacking in a large cadre of skilled professionals, is blessed with a large population of poor SC and ST communities who could be mobilised in their and the national interest. Telangana’s present situation in any case is far better than that of Cuba in 1992 when soon after all Soviet help was withdrawn, Cubans were left with little financial resources, no markets, and a crippling American economic blockade that was forcing them into starvation. The record of the remarkable recovery of this tiny island and its brave people holds many lessons for Telangana’s leadership in how to create self-sufficiency through such government and local community partnerships.
So far in India, developmental processes have been entrusted to bureaucratic hands, which can only do what was previously laid down. But ‘development’ immediately implies change across several dimensions, and this depends on the political acumen of the masses to take appropriate and sustainable decisions for their myriad disparate communities and localities. The elite belief that a few experts can solve problems created by complex differing development issues over a vast landscape has proved self-delusional, and dangerous for national stability.
A stable future depends on the rapidity with which grassroots communities are politicized and linked to empowered Panchayati Raj Institutions in a working planning relationship with higher structures of government. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments must cease to be political ploys and PRIs must become in reality engines of local governance. This cannot happen unless the masses are mobilised in their own interests. The labour of India’s excluded masses are the only engines of steady growth. The primary agricultural sector can sustain itself despite periodic monsoon failures, and support the manufacturing sector, whose growth must exceed that of the tertiary sector for years to come if the economy is to meet people’s aspirations.
None of these ideas can be termed in common parlance as rocket science. They have the virtue of simple common sense. And the Indian elite are also well aware that this is so. After the days of Mahatma Gandhi, the political elite lazily corrupted itself benefitting by the patience and enormous ability to bear pain of the masses. But media and the globalizing world warn that the days of unaccountable self-serving indulgence are fast coming to an end. The elite for survival need to change.
A Cotton there and a Sankaran here…
The bureaucrats and the learned middle-classes have grown up within a hierarchical system of governance created by the East India Company, and inherited without much change by Independent India. If Mahatma Gandhi had been alive he might have seen the dangers of a continuation through brown sahib rule, but the aristocratic Nehru found the old system convenient and to his taste. The early British rulers had little need for development, and none for trusting the people. A system was created to keep the masses in their place at little cost. There was no thought of involving subject races in a partnership of governance. Upper caste Indians who came later to rule the country found no issue with this approach. But their own survival in a darkening future depends on accepting the simple idea that the Indian masses can be trusted to develop their communities and localities, and save the nation from the possibility of chaos and collapse. Individual good men while reaffirming our faith in human nature can do little by themselves, however committed they may be. Telugu-speakers have seen great and good men do their best for people over the last two centuries. Sir Arthur Cotton could help irrigate five million acres, but he could not give land to the tiller or prosperity to Indian farmers. SR Sanakaran, a saintly bureaucrat, helped many Dalit families, but dalit communities continue to remain oppressed and dispossessed.
The freedom struggle, though by and large peaceful, was extraordinarily revolutionary in a systemic sense, for its tactics and processes of struggle were such that the oppressors were ‘unable to rule in the old way,’ while the struggle itself taught the masses through practical experience that they need not ‘be ruled in the old way’ – a distinction that Lenin would have welcomed.
A people-centred Telangana political leadership should mobilise communities not to support their party, but around people’s own immediate interests and demands. The leaders must support people in their demands for better agriculture support; public distribution systems, water, energy, housing, jobs, medical and educational facilities. If these are non-negotiable political demands of people, independent of whatever delivery system the government has inherited, technical solutions can be found. If these demands remain petitions, the age-old system structured to deny people their rights and resources will continue to starve them of all benefit. These demands can only become political demands if associations of people and their PRIs have rightfully seized power guaranteed to them by the Constitution. If the left leadership can bring about this peaceful transformation of rightful political inheritance by the people they would have created a revolution of greater consequence than that of the French, of the Bolsheviks and of Mao, for they would have created a replicable revolutionary model for other Third World peoples to follow which cannot be countered by force or by fraud.