In response to the article on the CPI(M), "Good practice, bad theory", by historian Ramachandra Guha, I had this dialogue with him.
I read your article "Good practice, bad theory" on the CPI(M). I agree with you when you write: "Communist leaders and activists are probably more intelligent than their counterparts in other parties, and without question more honest. Where other kinds of politicians have eagerly embraced the Page 3 culture, many communists still do mix and mingle with the working people."
However, I would disagree with the analysis that "the central paradox of Indian communism is that its practice is vastly superior to its theory."
Let me share my personal thoughts with you!
Living in West Bengal, through 28 years of CPI(M) rule - has revealed that the real practice of the CPI(M) is as abhorrent as anything else, if not worse! The party in West Bengal is today hostage to the lumpen cadres and promoters who have entrenched themselves in positions of power. Corruption is endemic. The party is an enemy of the right to information, and thrives on disinformation and concealment of the truth. It is an enemy of democracy, which goes entirely against the culture of non-accountable centralised power that the party is associated with.
Today, the party in West Bengal is completely alienated from the Muslims. While they have ensured that communal riots do not take place - nonetheless, the peace here is the peace of the graveyard, as the socio-economic and human development status of Muslims in WB worsens rapidly.
While paying lip-service to secularism - the reality is that the party is completely blind and insensitive to the real concerns and aspirations of Muslims, the overwhelming majority of whom are poor, low-income, lacking in education. Non-Muslim party members - tend to be communal and bigoted in their make-up, mirroring the communal and bigoted mindset of the Bengali Hindu society. Hindus and Muslims in Calcutta are completely segregated, and for the educated, middle-class Hindus Muslims might as well be non-existent.
And in this context, any effort to articulate the problems of Muslims - is labelled communal.
The party leadership is dominated by caste Hindus, and the party may be seen as a (cynical) ingenious means by the babu-bhadralok society to use grassroots discontent of the have-nots to attain and remain in power, giving people the illusion of psychological empowerment without any material means to realise actual empowerment.
As the policy and pronouncements on (hand-pulled) rickshaws have repeatedly shown, the party is also very parochial (anti-Bihari). It is greed for power and not concern for or solidarity for the downtrodden people which drives the CPI(M).
The abysmal record of WB in human rights - e.g. custodial deaths - may also be brought up. (Last Friday I accompanied a friend of mine from Delhi who interviewed Sujato Bhadra, Secretary of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights, APDR. Sujato summed up the 3-decades of work of APDR. It was a fascinating account, and a rare privilege to hear that.)
Through my work in one large Muslim basti in Howrah, I have had occasion to look very closely at micro-domain politics, corruption, crime and criminality; as well as how things have changed over time. It would not be incorrect to say that the CPI(M) has been responsible for destroying the organic community leadership and spirit for self-improvement in a historically disenfranchised migrant labouring community. In its place there is today an enfeebled, disempowered community, living in a severely criminalised environment, entirely dependent upon the token patronage of the party.
Illegal construction activity in the bastis of Calcutta - is rampant. This pre-empts any possibility of a wholesome redevelopment of bastis in favour of the shelter and habitat of the labouring poor. Besides, such illegal construction severely worsens the already degraded environment in bastis - e.g. the illegal structures discharge excreta into the basti drains. If the rains and floods that visited Bombay recently had hit Calcutta - the likely outcome is too horrific to contemplate.
The central govt has a scheme to provide a subsidy for the conversion of service latrines (which need to be manually cleaned) into sanitary latrines. There was a nice arrangement in the (CPI-M controlled ) Howrah Municipal Corporation to appropriate this subsidy without actually doing anything. The very foul conditions existing - because of service latrines - in some Howrah bastis are a major environmental health hazard. As a result, the incidence of infant mortality and gastrointestinal diseases is very high.
Of course, it must also be conceded that it was Siddhartha Shankar Ray who, as CM, introduced criminal / lumpen elements into the political space of Calcutta.
The CPI(M) in WB - is an out-and-out fraud on the people, utterly bankrupt in terms of developmental capability, and totally devoid of the barest concern or sympathy for the poor. And thus e.g. the real record of abysmal failure in primary education and literacy. The condition of Urdu medium primary education in metropolitan Calcutta - I doubt whether apartheid-era South Africa could match this.
In the interest of the party and its singular dominance - at any cost - over every aspect of life and society all institutions have been taken over and degraded. Witness Calcutta University, where every appointment from that of a peon to the Vice Chancellor is party-controlled.
I could go on and on, narrating instance after instance of ugly corruption, flagrantly illegal and anti-democratic collusion of the party with promoters, against the public interest, for private profit and transfer and appropriation of public resources.
It would not be wrong to say that the party is an anti-national force, severely detrimental to the long-term well-being of society. In terms of ethics, aesthetics, humanity, democracy, economics, culture, civility, taste - in every respect, the CPI(M) in WB is simply loathsome, a shame, blot and indignity.
Yet, thanks to the predominantly casteist, communal, anti-people, anti-democratic and reactionary make-up of the Indian privileged classes, the CPI(M) can bask in its pro-people rhetoric.
In my work, some of my close colleagues are CPI(M) member-activists. They are aware of the reality and have no illusions - and yet remain in the fold for purposes of public action for want of any alternative.
Civil society - is non-existent. And of course, there is no political opposition to speak of. So we shall have to simply wait for a collapse.
The BJP and the RSS could learn more than a thing or two from the CPI(M).