According to legend, King Canute, WHO Conquered and ruled England in the 11th century, once sat on the sea shore and commanded the tides not to rise any further. Soon, he was waist-deep in water. Turning to his fawning courtiers, who had told him that everything in the world was at his command, he said: “It seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe.”
The story is probably apocryphal, but CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat and the other hardliners who run his party at the national level will do well to take note of its underlying lesson. In Kolkata, the fount of Leftist power in India, there’s a buzz—still subterranean— about a realignment of forces within the CPI(M) and the Left Front.
It is no secret that West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who has to fulfill popular aspirations and renew his mandate from the people every five years, does not see eye to eye with the unelected Karat and others of his ilk, who are more bothered about maintaining the “purity” of Marxism than about pragmatic electoral compulsions.
The local media in the state was full of reports of party faithfuls breaking up a rally in Bankura, a CPI(M) stronghold, that was organised to protest the India-US nuclear deal. The people wanted the party to address bread-and-butter issues instead of mumbling “mumbojumbo” about an issue that few understand. The matter got out of hand, the police had to open fire, and two people, including a teenaged boy, were injured. This has set off alarm bells in the state CPI(M).
If the Central leadership’s intransigence leads to midterm elections, and the Left’s strength drops from about 60 now to about 40, as seems likely, it will set the cat among the pigeons—and can even lead to the unthinkable, a vertical split in the party that prides itself on its ironclad discipline.
Bhattacharjee has said that for him, ‘i’ stands for investments and not imperialism. Some of the Left’s prescriptions, particularly its concern for the common man, are valid, but can be implemented just as well by a party of Social Democrats.
If Bhattacharjee, with the support of Jyoti Basu and other pragmatists in his party, can re-invent the CPI(M) as an Indianised version of Tony Blair’s New Labour—and junk the doctrinaire nonsense that now informs its world view—he will go down in history as a leader who delivered for his country when it mattered most. This will also be good for the reforms process. For Karat and the Central leadership, the tide is rising.