Thursday, June 25, 2009

Throwing the Maoists a Karat

The Left’s ideological contradictions, of late, appear to be its only consistency. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, is not the only party grappling with existential issues after a major defeat at the polls. But recent events highlight the fissures that have long lain below the surface.
Naxalite violence in West Bengal has thrown a wrench between CPM general secretary Prakash Karat and the state’s chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, also of the same party. Karat is up in arms against a Centre-mandated ban on Maoists, who have long terrorized the state.
What does this squabble reveal about the CPM? Karat and Bhattacharjee have always had a tense relationship: The former isn’t much more than a coffee-house Communist, a party ideologue who is unlikely to gain any ground in electoral battles; the latter is a seasoned politician, who has had to make the kinds of ideological compromises that come with pragmatic politics.
There could be several reasons why Karat so vehemently opposes the Centre’s ban. Broadly, the Maoists have become a formidable group in West Bengal which cannot be ignored. It would have been political suicide to outwardly crush a movement with that much popular support. The CPM may also fear the political ramifications of supporting the Centre’s suppression of the Maoists. In the 1970s, a Congress government-led crackdown on Naxalites in the state alienated many through its repression, bolstering popular support for the CPM. The party might fear that supporting a crackdown now would lead to support for the opposition, such as Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.
The greater issue, though, is how the CPM has long tolerated Naxalite violence because it has been in its political interest to do so. Under CPM control, decades of blundered development projects, financial mismanagement and corruption have allowed the Maoists to flourish with popular support. The Naxalites, despite their acts of terrorism, have provided many social services for a population where the CPM has failed.
The CPM’s duplicitous stance on the Naxals has become complicated. Last week, party cadres put pressure on Bhattacharjee to ban Maoists as their own comrades had been killed. It’s doubtful whether the CPM would have reacted similarly if opponents had been targeted. Such are the contradictions of the Left.
Should the CPM support the Centre’s ban on the Maoists? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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