Comrade Yechury, Don Quixote of our times
After being elected at the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s 21st congress to replace the jaded leadership of Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury, -considered to be the ‘good’ communist, honed in the Left politics of Jawaharlal Nehru University – gave the war cry at a public rally in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. “The Ashvamedha Yagna of Modi’s neo-liberalism and communalism will be stopped by the twins of sickle and hammer”, he declared to great applause from his followers.
Sure, Comrade Yechury, there is nothing wrong in trying. Now, if some running dogs of imperialism and stooges of capitalism compare you to a certain Spanish knight on a rickety horse, who charged at the windmill, taking it to be a fortress holding a dame in distress, you shouldn’t mind such caricature, and charge ahead. After all, you did declare at the recently-concluded party conference that “this is the congress of future, future for our party and our country”.
Those who are familiar with Marxist jargon will recognise that the Leftists invariably describe themselves as ‘the people’. The Chinese communists, the North Korean communists under one family rule, and even the American communists, all claim that they are ‘the people’.
Never mind the fact that the big and powerful ruling the communist party in China, incarcerated a blind dissident writer in his house and built huge walls around it. Or that the so-called ‘People’s Leader’ in Pyongyang reportedly let loose hungry dogs on his dissident uncle. In Cambodia, the ‘People’s Ruler’ in the 1970s bludgeoned thousands to death to protect the ‘people’s Government’ from ‘reactionaries and counter-revolutionaries’. ‘The Party’ is like the Orwellian Big Brother – it is always right.
In India, if you posit to ‘The Party’, how its parliamentary strength was reduced from 43 MPs in 2005 to 15 MPs in 2009 to a mere nine MPs in 2014, it will tell you, in Marxist jargon, that its strength is not in the number of lawmakers, but in its presence among workers and peasants, the youth and the students, all of whom support it.
Comrade Yechury, you cannot shut your eyes to the fact that, from the mid-1990s, when your illustrious predecessor Harkishan Singh Surjeet was the king-maker, the CPI(M)’s story has been on downward trajectory. Today, the Marxists have also been rejected in West Bengal and Kerala, the only two major States where they had substantial influence until recently.
Comrade Yechury, today your party can’t find a place in the legislatures of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, where it once had great leaders like P Sundarayya and Ravi Narayan Reddy, and communist SA Dange, respectively. In Punjab, it has not had one eminent leader after Surjeet. In Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and Gujarat, it is non-existent for all practical purposes. In Odisha, Prashant Patnaik is its lone face. In Tamil Nadu, it’s happy to live off the crumbs that fall from AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa’s table.
However, one must not hold the CPI(M)’s past against its present or its future – and more so, when a well-spoken, eminent intellectual of the JNU genre, like Comrade Yechury, has recently replaced the party’s dyed-in-the-Marxist-wool leader. The Marxists should have a future -their claim to slay the BJP demon, notwithstanding.
The Marxists were with the BJP in getting Rajiv Gandhi to resign from the Prime Minister’s post and calling for a fresh election in 1989. The two parties also kept the VP Singh Government in power for as long as it lasted. In the 1990s, the BJP pushed forward while the Marxists declined.
Will Comrade Yechury and his party leaders learn from history and let ground realities determine their revival strategy or will they go back to deadwood from the 19th century? The year 1991 saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Fatherland of Communism. Today, any communist leader from Asia is an unwelcome guest in Moscow where ‘progressive writers’ once flaunted their awards from Joseph Stalin. The 1990s also saw Chinese communists invite foreign firms to set up shop in their home country, while their Indian comrades denounced foreign capital and American imperialists alike. Even the Vietnamese communists, who battled US forces for decades, are now rolling out the red carpet for the Americans.
In India, the 1990s saw the Congress jettisoning Nehruvian socialism and opting for a free market economy. Over a period of just 10 years, India went from a country of perpetual scarcity to relative prosperity. Add another decade, and food grain production had increased to 200 million tonnes – so much so that storage of surplus grains had emerged as a new problem. The days of milk coupons and scooter quotas had quietly ended.
The Marxists, however, continue to live in the ghetto of an economic theory that has passed its expiry date. They still blame American imperialism for not just letting young Indians gulp down Coca Cola but also much else. Indian Marxists have failed to assess the aspirations of the youth who now constitute 65 per cent of the total population. Dange, Sundarayya and also former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu are legendary names but mostly for those born before the 1990s.
Yet, at the Visakhapatnam rally, Comrade Yechury made it a point to condemn American imperialism. He also said that the Modi Government’s policy of neo-liberalism and the red carpet that it had laid out for foreign capital, was an imperialist conspiracy. Yechury should visit the American Centre in New Delhi. He will find hundreds of young men and women pouring through books, many sitting on the floor as all the chairs are occupied. These youngsters are hoping to study in American universities.
Comrade Yechury will also see such aspirational folks in buses and metro trains, reading and sharing class notes, headed for the many private universities that teach engineering, business management, bio-technology and much else. He can still talk about imperialist conspiracies and Marxist theory but few will listen to him. The new leader should know that when he and his comrades talk to India’s youth – who are aspiring to move from cycles to two wheelers to four wheelers – about launching an assault on neo-liberalism and imperialism, they look like the Spanish knight in the celebrated novel of Cervantes.
Today, even the best of students and young professionals in India are giving up cushy jobs in big firms to launch their own ventures. They have private capital-owners risk millions of dollars to back them up. In such a situation, does Comrade Yechury think he, with his mythical knights, horses, windmills, some Sancho Pazas and slogans of ‘Down with the Internet’ will be relevant? Calling themselves ‘progressives’, Indian communists are marching back to the past. Will Yechury be able to change that?