ADDED 05/04/2018

The Comrade In Punjab – Lost, Irrelevant, Asleep, Even Bored!

FROM 03/05/2018 | Punjab Today

BY Kamjaat Singh

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AT A TIME when Punjab is in the throes of a massive social upheaval and there is a complete disconnect between its farmers, farm labourers and those dependent on rural economy and others in towns and cities who are more cued into structures of political power, one would have thought that vast swathes of political space is open to a strong Left or left of Centre, progressive, liberal forces to storm in and lead.
Instead, Punjab’s Left seems completely out of reckoning. Neither the CPI appointing its new State Secretary made for many headlines nor could the CPI(M) manage many eyeballs even with its 22nd Party Congress in Hyderabad from April 18-22, 2018.
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The comrades in Punjab let down the local populace when they failed to understand the essence of the uprising in the late 1980s and early 1990s, seeing it merely as a war between secessionists and unionists.
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In the divisive climate of politics that India is witnessing today, the Left had its agenda clearly cut out. That’s why its absence is jarring, except for the statements and media space its leaders in Delhi hog at times.
The 22nd Party Congress of CPI(M) also made news for its factional politics. The media speculation that re-elected party general secretary Sitaram Yechury could favour an explicit “understanding” or “electoral alliance” with the Congress was all that we got.
Harkishen Singh Surjit seems to be back in business. Ghosts are always restless in graves. So we are back to discussing if the Indian political faultline of secular versus communal and the exercise to unite “all secular and democratic forces to defeat semi-fascism” will take us anywhere.
On May 5, 2018, it will be 200 years since the birth of Karl Marx. The historic moment in time follows the 150 years last year of the publication of the first volume of Marx’s Das Kapital in September 1867. One wonders if the Left was able to sell 2017 or 2018 as major opportunities to rethink Indian polity.
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Harkishen Singh Surjit seems to be back in business. Ghosts are always restless in graves. So we are back to discussing if the Indian political faultline of secular versus communal and the exercise to unite “all secular and democratic forces to defeat semi-fascism” will take us anywhere.
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As the sketch of Marx peered down from the podium at the CPI(M) Congress, the revolutionary road was nowhere in sight. As the Economic and Political Weekly wrote in its latest edition, “The old man might just be reminding the comrades that his ideas, stripped of their revolutionary essence, will not have the power to survive. Will they heed such wisdom?”
The comrades in Punjab let down the local populace when they failed to understand the essence of the uprising in the late 1980s and early 1990s, seeing it merely as a war between secessionists and unionists.
They were quick to side with a ham-handed State that had no compunction in ignoring voices of aspiration, political assertion, demands for a revision of Centre-State dynamics and fears and apprehensions of a minority of being obliterated and divested of its identity.

Sitaram Yechury marching with party comrades in Punjab in April 2018. Forget about people, how many journalists know the name of state secretary of CPI(M)

The comrades chose to back a State that found in fake encounters an instrument of state policy, and were happy with unscrupulous police officers showering money upon their favourite party mouthpiece newspapers. That was blood money, and should have been too red for even the Reds.
These are different times. One would believe that the Left in Punjab has travelled some distance since then. Troublesome legacies are hard to get rid of, but a consistent, pro-people approach and presence in the political sphere often helps mitigate such painful memories.
Sadly, that’s where the Left is again letting down Punjab. Where is the mainstream Left activist in the villages of Punjab where farm suicides have become staple news? Where is the mainstream Left activist when tamasha-style loan waiver events are held in the state and thousands are rallied to celebrate a benevolent chief minister?
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The Left needs to talk about people’s problems in people’s language. It needs to ask why a P Sainath roaming in Punjab’s villages and speaking about farm suicides has a better traction factor than a comrade talking about intensification of neo-liberal capitalist exploitation.
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Where is the mainstream Left activist when communal forces run riot in Phagwara for days? Where is the mainstream Left activist when Shiv Sena factions mushroom in Punjab? Where is the mainstream Left activist when the RSS poison seeps into the body polity all the time?
Why should there not be a Left position on convening Gram Sabhas in Punjab’s villages? Why is the Left out of the picture when a CM starts running micro-administrative tasks from his chopper seat?
The Balwant Singhs, Charan Singh Virdis, Sukhwinder Singh Sekhons, Bhupinder Sambhars, Jagroop Singhs or Joginder Dayals need to ponder if they are part of the problem, if they are obstacles. True, these are leaders who have played a part, mostly constructive, but then not bowing out in time is a capital offence in politics.
If a Narendra Modi can tell his party colleagues to dine at the houses of dalits — and we have no doubt that it is a mere tamasha — why can’t the mainstream Left take a moral high ground and be with the families of hundreds of farmers and farm labourers who have committed suicide?
It is true that the Left activists are the only ones who are seen in the field when a protest happens. It is equally true that many shades of Left are indeed active, reaching out to the downtrodden in Punjab. But our pet peeve is the mainstream Left.
They could have impacted the larger polity. Instead, they have rushed to become irrelevant.
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Where is the mainstream Left activist when communal forces run riot in Phagwara for days? Where is the mainstream Left activist when Shiv Sena factions mushroom in Punjab? Why should there not be a Left position on convening Gram Sabhas in Punjab’s villages?
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The fact that no political party in Punjab even commented on the 22nd Party Congress of CPI(M) should be a lesson in this irrelevance. True, the enemy ignores you. Truer still, that you make it possible, even inevitable.
The comrade in Punjab, ready to fight over a Pash or even over a Gagbani churner, is not persuasive enough to get his fellow comrades to engage in any united struggle. It is incapable of building unity of people to fight the communal forces at the grassroots. At best, it is engaged in appropriate electoral tactics to maximize the pooling of anti-BJP votes.
P. Sainath at Patiala, on April 28, 2018.
It needs to talk about people’s problems in people’s language. It needs to ask why a P Sainath roaming in Punjab’s villages and speaking about farm suicides has a better traction factor than a comrade talking about intensification of neo-liberal capitalist exploitation.
The BJP now rules 21 of India’s 29 states. The CPI(M) has only 9 seats in the Lok Sabha, and the CPI, just one. Comrades have been humiliated in their bastions in West Bengal and Tripura.
They need to think beyond cadre violence. They need to speak more clearly than the Congress on Kashmir and AFSPA. They need to engage with their own role in Punjab during the dark days. And they need to get in and get dirty in Punjab’s villages where death is knocking at the doors of the most hardworking of our people.
They need to deal with the Caste question upfront. They need to engage with Ambedkar and Ambedkarites with more open heart. They need to talk in terms of local idiom and rooted politics. They need to deal with political aspirations of those they characterised as hotheads – in Punjab then, in Kashmir and northeast now.
They need to confront comprador bourgeoisie forces without using words such as comprador bourgeoisie forces. Why is Guru Nanak missing from their speeches? Why is Banda Singh Bahadur’s Land to the Tiller slogan missing from their approach?
Punjab’s comrades have failed to bring lessons from Kerala’s collective farming, the women’s movement there, to Punjab. That’s because they were busy speaking about landlord-corporate-bourgeois class without doing anything about it.
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It is true that the Left activists are the only ones who are seen in the field when a protest happens. But our pet peeve is the mainstream Left. They could have impacted the larger polity. Instead, they have rushed to become irrelevant.
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Of course, it is true that even in Kerala, the communist governments have done little to make the Marxian egalitarian social order a reality so far, but we need to at least follow the southern state’s social democratic welfare model.
Also, the party can forget about attracting more young people to the fold if it continues to function in this fashion. Post-2019, even this space for democratic functioning may shrink. This is the time to forget trivia and get real.
Mere talk of fascist threat will not do. The revolutionary road will lead to nowhere if it does not pass through the radical essence of Marxism. You cannot hope for a revolution if you do not want to engage with the biggest revolutionary the land has produced – the one who said Kirt Karo, Naam Japo, Vand Chhako.
All we can say is: Kaamraid jee, jaago, aur jaagte raho.
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