he left in India has been a driving force in the Indian political system and has played a pivotal role in shaping the dynamics of politics in India. It has been a tough journey for the Indian left which has often found itself in the toughest of situations and come in attack from everywhere in recent times.
This liberal-left nexus is a strange phenomenon as they have very little in common especially on their ideological basis but with the rise of radical right-wing Hindu nationalism, the left, as well as the liberals, have been pushed to the corner. The left is commonly seen through the eyes of CPI, CPI (M), and CPI (ML).
The liberals meanwhile are mostly present around in the parties like INC and some various other regional parties where they have a robust presence. While globally and especially in the west the liberals would like to distinguish themselves from the leftist, but it seems that in India they have found a common ground as nationalism takes charge on both central as well as regional level.
The Hindu nationalist considers the left-liberal camp a threat to its ideologies and beliefs. The focus should be on the left and its problem from the national to the state level. When the 2019 parliamentary election was concluded the left was reduced to a single digit. From being the third-largest front in 2009 elections to not entering the double digits says about the left and its ideological decline. A lot of it can be attributed to the rise of extreme nationalism which saw its rise after the 2014 elections.
There have been few states like West Bengal, Kerala, and Tripura where the left has done well but otherwise it has stagnated which has led to its fall. We should go through the history and the roots of the left parties mainly CPI (communist party of India) and later many different leftist parties which are an offshoot of it.
The CPI was founded by MN Roy in 1925. When this party was founded all such activities were banned and especially communists were very much the thorn in the flesh of the British more than anything else. But there were two other major parties one was INC and the other was The Muslim league, but it was the communist and their efforts which saw the creation of a system where ideas of freedom flourished.
The INC and The Muslim league were more or less busy with their own political agendas. The left ever since its inception has done a tremendous job of ensuring freedom and democratic principle prevail yet at times has failed at multiple fronts especially since the turn of the 21 century which is quite appalling.There have been many reasons for its fall which have existed ever since its existence and it seems some of them have continued.
The Indian left has been trying to emulate progressive American leftism as it tries to strengthen its grip in India, especially since the late 80s, as its vote share and popularity have taken a bad hit. This to some extent has proved ineffective as the ideological and founding principles are different in both nations. This can be seen as a desperate attempt to create awareness among the masses but as of now has provided nothing much.
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The other important factor is the revolutionary idea that is associated with the left as people believe the need for a strong left is not felt in India. When India got its independence the people saw the role of communists as mere revolutionaries who would remain on the sidelines and not enter much in the main political arena as they didn’t feel the need for it.
This revolutionary tag has to be scrapped by the left if it has to mainstream its positions rather than remaining on the fringe. The other dilemma has been a subsequent change in the policies of the Left form when it was started and to some extent, it can be justified as during that time the entire region was under British. When the communist party of India was launched in 1925 it went through many phases from being the most anti-British element in the Indian political system to the one with the most chaotic and authoritarian leadership.
The communist party of India was at the forefront of the Indian freedom struggle and since then has been a key member of some great ideas, guidelines, and policies from land Acts to reservations.
There are the things for which the left has been known for such as reservations, as it reflects the primitive leftist ideas of true Marxism which has been missing in recent times. Back during the time of the British many members of the left were imprisoned and hanged for their comprehensive efforts that led to India’s independence. Many cases were lodged against communist leaders; some of them include the Peshawar case, Meerut case, Kanpur Bolshevik case which led to mass arrest and severe crackdown on the progressive principles during the British rule.
The sovereignty of the British in India was so much threatened by the communist even though they constituted a very minuscule minority among the major political parties yet its ideas were so strong that it faced the worst brunt of the British. Trade unions and many organizations were formed by the communist leaders from students to the labor front for which many prominent leaders of the left like M.N Roy, Muzaffar Ahmed, Nalini Gupta, Shaukat Usmani, Ghulam Hussein, and R.C. Sharma was charged for sedition. Political parties like the Labor Kisan Party of Hindustan also merged with the CPI to form a broader base for communism in India. We often don’t think about how the left has shaped our present world especially policies like nationalization of the economy which was scrapped in the early nineties, advocacy for work for all, and limiting the privatization efforts of the government.
The Left has also put a very soon strong emphasis on unions and councils while Hindu nationalist parties like BJP want to encourage free-market capitalism and international investment in India. It is the strong presence of the left which has been at the forefront to stop the opening up of the markets as it puts the Indian companies at a greater risk of loss and could lead to mass unemployment. The left-leaning parties have been against privatization, capitalism, and vigorous advocate for socialism.
When we talk about the left we most focus on the CPI and to some extent CPI(M) which came into existence in the mid-sixties after a rift within CPI but there are other left-leaning parties within the regional level across India. The left has always been a nationalist in India which is a crucial recipe for any party success; it was one of the few major parties back in British India which was opposed to the partition.
The efforts of these communist revolutionaries culminated in the formation of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) in 1920 to fight for the rights of laborers. CPI also and left parties also suffer from the small vote bank and it seems that’s also shirking, as a result, it has to devise new policies to gain more foothold across India.
There have been several social issues from caste-based violence to the regional demand from every part of the country which the left had to face. While BJP and Hindus nationalist parties try to centralize the power the CPI has a different approach to it. Some parties openly profess their focus on a particular group like AIADMK calling for the separate and special identity of the Dravidian population especially in Tamil Nadu to the Naga people front which stands for the Naga population and their identity, as the left believes that local identities should be protected.
This huge diversity is what the left has to conquer, understand and try to assimilate these local left-leaning parties into a much more national mainstream.
In the parliamentary elections in 2019, there were two MPs of CPI which is very unfortunate considering the role CPI has played is bewildering. But should we be surprised by this decline in left parties in India? What was the prerequisite that led to the rise of the left in the first place? Its early electoral success was very much due to the land reforms it undertook especially in three states of Kerala, West Bengal, and Tripura which put an end to feudal practices in agriculture.
The reforms were indeed widely popular among the general public, especially peasants, but they didn’t reach everyone, and a huge part of the society deprived of their benefits which mostly included the weakest sections of the society like women and Dalits. There were many incidents in left ruling states where land was forcibly taken and given to corporations and a movement of privatization started.
CPI and all the left parties have stood for equality, justice, and strong government policies for and have always wanted a bigger say of the government in the economic as well as a social issue of the people. As we know during the early years of India’s independence the policies that the nation adopted were very much socialist. Over time as we move forward, the left-leaning leaders in mainstream Indian politics disappeared and centrist and even some right-wing ideas started to pour into the politics of India.
Since 2014 it is this wagon of nationalism that the parties across the country have to carry if they wish to win in elections. So this transition from a very socialist republic to a nationalistic state can often to attribute to the failure of the leftist for not going deeper into Indian society. Even today the left image has been somewhat maligned especially in the states where they have historically done well. In Bengal, the left was able to rule the state for seven consecutive times with massive landslide victories in all elections.
Since 2011 there has been a huge decline in left policies and a surge of the saffron.
Since the left has always claimed to be a circle of the oppressed people yet never had a Dalit leader. In fact, within the CPI there is a huge disparity between high caste and lower caste. Over the years, the Left Front led by the CPI (M) shed members who were committed to communist ideals and the revolutionary aspirations of the working classes. Many of those who remained did so for the sake of power and self-enrichment, some eventually becoming millionaires. CPI (M) leaders, such as former Chief Minister of West Bengal Buddhadeb Bhatecharjeee, increasingly grew friendly towards big corporations, changing tax policies in their favor and welcoming the implementation of anti-worker legislation such as the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act introduced by the central government.
In fact in the left ruling states the cases of oppression against the Dalits have been increasing. Another major problem with the left in India has been its hypocritical policies within the party and outside as well. Left has always been about the working class and poor people yet most of the time it has displayed a disdain for its major supporters.
The left’s growth was mostly due to land reforms, which has been slowly there has been a shift to lean towards the corporations. There is ever-increasingly an authoritarian behavior that is prevailing in the left which has dented an already bad image. Until the Indian left doesn’t go back to the old roots and the same ideas of freedom, fraternity, rights for everyone it will continue to face an existential crisis, and a strong powerful left is very important for the democratic future of India.
Now coming to the Indian liberal, they have always been the most confusing entity, mostly individuals who are trying to do a simple copy-paste of what western liberalism stands for. It has never worked and has caused a dubiety in Indian society. Most liberals in India have been somewhat left-leaning but they differ with their leftist on many fronts that they have established themselves into a whole new entity which at times are progressive but still have some neoliberal elements. Liberals in India have always been under the show of the larger left circle which somehow has assimilated them.
But since the last few years the liberals in India have come out of their leftist credentials and have tried to create space of their own but at the core, their main fight has always been against Hindu nationalism. Their Indian liberals are more like frogs in a well; they don’t have a unified party through which they can make their opinion count in the public sphere. In the US the liberal-left circle is represented by the Democratic Party. But due to two-party systems the liberal and leftist which at times are in total opposite ideas have to live under the same roof but India doesn’t have the same two-party systems and the liberal have a good chance to create a specific platform for their ideas.
The liberals in India also face a tough problem of reaching out to the maximum population as they are more concentrated in urban cities where they try to impose that so-called new –liberalism and to fight against racism, casteism, and women’s rights. The liberal ideas have faced some tough resistance from the Hindu extremist; it will be a challenge for them to manage in such hostile conditions.
Liberalism and leftism haven’t been very much different from each other in India like we see in the US. Where people on the far-left want national healthcare and abolishment of the private health system while liberals oppose it. Far-left politicians also support a 15 dollar minimum wage, more government intervention in the economy.
The aim of the liberal-left in India has been somewhat simpler as they have to fight against the hateful authoritarian ideas and to push for an equitable society yet it has become ever so important in the times when right-wing ideologies are taking over. The other thing which left-liberal circle has to take into consideration is that they need to understand the importance of culture and heritage and accept the regional diversity as the hallmark of the Indian society and that in India it plays a major role for the people.
The left has to forge a cultural revolution that it can mix with its Marxist- Leninist ideas and in the long run regional parties along with the CPI can make strong inroads especially in the Hindi heartland and to make India a stronger socialist country and elitism has to be fought within the inner circle of the left and weaker section has to be given more roles in the policymaking.
In the end, the future of the Indian Left will depend on its ability to forge a ‘cultural revolution’ and fuse it with economic egalitarianism, thus retaining at least a semblance of substantive – not merely procedural – democracy in India.
Author can be reached at Jibranmalik058@gmail.com