By Swapan Dasgupta
In his speech in the Rajya Sabha during the Constitution Day debate last week, the CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechuri expressed both concern and amusement that the BJP was inveigling its way into securing for itself a role in the freedom struggle. His speech mirrored Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s aside that those who had no role in the framing of the Constitution were now trying to appropriate it.
Battles over history are not uncommon in healthy democracies. At the time of Independence, it was not uncommon for Communists to be charged with a lack of commitment to the newly-established Indian Republic. This charge stemmed from the grim reality of the (then united) CPI unleashing a wave of violence—which they grandly proclaimed an insurrection—against the Jawaharlal Nehru government which was portrayed as a puppet of imperialism. In line with what was called the Zhdanov thesis that divided the world into two antagonistic camps—imperialism (bad) and socialism (good)—Communist cadres attempted to disrupt life screaming “ye azadi jhoota hai” (this independence is spurious). In Telengana, the Communists led a rural uprising that, in effect, complemented the Islamist Razakars who were trying to ensure that Hyderabad was preserved as a Pakistani island in the heart of India.
What was significant is not the Communist rejection of the post-Independence dispensation—in charitable terms that could have been explained away as a political miscalculation resulting from the belief that the ‘masses’ were ready for a revolution. Far more ominous was the fact that shift in the ‘party line’ from P.C. Joshi to B.T. Ranadive was effected almost entirely at the behest of Moscow. In 1951, when Stalin moved from “correctness to correctness”, the CPI abandoned insurrection and participated in India’s first general election.
Again, following the India-China war of 1962, the CPI split. There may have been differences between the two groups on the issue of the “progressive” credentials of the Indian bourgeoisie but underlying it all was the belief among those who constituted themselves into the CPI(M) that “socialist” countries such as China don’t wage wars of aggression. In short, while Indian jawans—thrust unprepared into battle by a callous Nehru government—were dying all along the eastern border, the Communists were dancing to the tune of the enemy power. No wonder the Nehru government—otherwise soft on Communists, particularly those who shared Nehru’s social background—felt obliged to detain many thousands of the comrades, to forestall the creation of a fifth column within India.
We could go along with this list of perfidious behaviour of the same folks who have positioned themselves as the certifying authorities for secularism—how during the Bangladesh war of 1971 the CPI(M) painted the walls of Kolkata with the slogan “Indira-Yahya ek hai”(Indira Gandhi and Yahya Khan are synonymous) and how the CPI became the intellectual Praetorian guard of the drift to ‘socialist’ authoritarianism after 1969, culminating in the ‘anti-fascist’ Emergency.
The reason for invoking these inglorious chapters of Communist history is not to undertake another bout of what has come to be known as ‘whataboutery’—Comrade Yechuri is too well versed in his movement’s history to need lessons in history. The purpose is to suggest that nothing can be meaningfully gained by unending bouts of recrimination. The CPI(M) has, over the decades and particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s turn to illiberal market economics, turned its back on the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and embraced social democracy. That is a turn for the better. It may serve the purposes of an undergraduate debating society to remind Communists that they are no longer upholders of a discredited dogma but it can hardly be the case for arguing that they undertake a bout of ideological regression and join the Maoist insurgents in the jungles of Bastar.
If Communists have moved away from their historical legacy, it is good and the trend should be encouraged rather than mocked. Likewise, if the Congress has turned its back—implicitly rather than explicitly—on some of the more dodgy facets of Indira Gandhi’s record, it is reassuring.
The point of the Constitution Day debate was not for MPs to point accusing fingers at each other—though some it is inescapable. It was to reaffirm faith in a Constitution that has granted and guaranteed personal and civic liberties for all citizens. To the sceptics—some of who will never be convinced—the Prime Minister’s speech fell short of expectations because he didn’t mention Dadri and the award wyapsi gang. However, in reaffirming his faith in the principles of the Constitution and locating its ethos in India’s larger intellectual inheritances, he was doing much more that.
It is a tragedy of India’s political discourse that people (and not least the media) hear only what they want to hear. What doesn’t fit into a pre-determined script is expediently ignored. Narendra Modi has often been at the receiving end of selective indignation. He will continue to arouse strong likes and dislikes. Those who opposed him unendingly since 2002, reaffirmed their opposition prior to the voting for the 2014 general election and have re-stated it in another garb after he became Prime Minister will not see virtues in his recognition of the contribution made by all governments since 1947. For them he is incorrigibly partisan and with no hope of redemption. But for common folk, this debate over ‘intolerance’—real or contrived—has gone on for far too long, and purposelessly. It is time to apply closure and move on to the more serious business of governance.
Dissecting history is a worthwhile intellectual pastime but creating opportunities for all Indians is a nobler endeavour. It is to this latter project that Modi must dedicate himself.
Sunday Pioneer, November 29, 2015