Sunday, March 30, 2008

In Search of a Third Alternative: A Report from CPM’s Kovai Congress

The CPM 19th congress calls for the formation of a third alternative in the country.

I HAVE just returned after attending the inaugural session of the 19th CPM conference in Kovai which started on Saturday, March 29. As I crossed the Western Ghats that separate Tamil Nadu and Kerala, what struck me so much was the freshness and originality of the way this conference was being organized, the way it seamlessly merged with the Tamil culture giving a direct experience of how a global ideology can be converted into something our own; something uniquely national even as it remains essentially international. As a person who has attended many CPM conferences both at the state and national level as a reporter in the past 25 years, I see that there is something original and unique about this Coimbatore congress.

First, there was this Tamil touch to the whole affair. There was the sweet melody of nagaswaram music as the floral tributes were being paid to the martyrs; there was the unique slogan of veera vanakkam which touched one’s heart as one remembered the hundreds of martyrs, and then the smell and beauty of fresh roses offered to the leaders and guests. Even the delegates from fraternal Communist parties from across the globe were received not with bouquets, but with a traditional ponnada.

And I also saw colourful balloons going up in the air giving it a celebratory mood and the white pigeons flying off, that gave one a sense of the libratory nature of Marxism, something we used to feel in the seventies...

Perhaps why I felt it so much is because I do not find such warmth and camaraderie any longer in Kerala where the entire party establishment has turned quite bureaucratic these days. Remember the final moments at the Kottayam state conference where the final scenes and the lasting impressions were of volunteers pouncing upon the comrades and a speech about discipline, discipline, discipline and it eerily brought to mind the memories of the roughnecks bullying people, of the politics of muscle power unleashed on a defenseless population…

And here in Kovai, what I saw was something different, something deep, humane and may be more revolutionary... It showed the ecstasy and energy of a party poised for growth, a party that is reaching out to the masses, an organization that has an organic relationship with the grassroots.

It is very clear that our country’s politics is all set to change. The left forces, for the first time in our history, have emerged as a major force in the political spectrum and they have come to stay there. The Kovai congress tells everybody that even outside its traditional strong-holds the CPM is now taking deep roots. The party seems to be making great inroads among the people, speaking their language, touching their feelings, developing deeper links to their lives. Coimbatore could surely be a turning point in many ways, I feel.

At the political level, this is the conference which saw a complete change in the leadership, a transformation that marked the shift from an earlier generation to the new. At the 18th congress in Delhi, veterans Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu were still there, but today Surjeet is laid up ailing and Jyoti Basu, though alert, is too weak and unable to travel.

So it was Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechuri, the two young leaders of the party, who controlled the affairs of the 19th congress. They have an enormous task cut out for them: the country is going to face another election later this year or early next year, to the 15th Lok Sabha, and the left forces need to retain their strategic significance and electoral numbers which is a tall order, as they have to ensure defeat for the right-wing BJP and its allies on the one hand and keep their independent image distancing from the Congress and the UPA allies on the other. Karat spoke about a third alternative, but that is only a long shot right now and what emerges as the most likely scenario is a three, or even multi, cornered contest, with strategic adjustments with the Congress and regional parties in the next election too.

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