For a few months now and more specifically owing to the opposition of the Indo-US nuclear deal by the communists in India, I have been forced to mull over their world view. The CPIM/CPM has been in power in the state of West Bengal for over quarter of a century and is one of the two ruling parties which alternatively share power in Kerela. Both these states have appropriated the 'intellectual' tag in India. Bengal being far ahead of the rest of the country in many areas owing to the early start they had with English-modern education owing to the British base. While Kerela owing to a sizeable christian ethos having the highest literacy rate.
In the dirty wrestle that Indian politics has degenerated into for long, sections of the CPIM leadership appealed to me as intellectual, engaging and clean. It was a comforting example especially if you consider the muck that regional parties and the idiosyncrasies of their leaders had turned Indian politics into, a fiefdom for personal greed and feudal behaviour in the garb of progressive, hitherto backward sections assertion.
Paradoxically, the clean CPIM leadership has always supported this motley bunch of leaders whose only skills are intimidation backed by skilful selection of candidates from the regionally dominant caste group. But over the past few months and since the issue of the Nuclear Deal and the events in Nandigram have come to fore, I have been forced to examine my non-committal support for the Indian communists.
A lot of my indulgent view of the Indian communists was as mentioned owing to their image as intellectual and men of integrity, especially the communist leadership at the national level. I was and remain till today largely ignorant of the mechanisations of how the CPIM has ruled in Bengal and Kerela. Indian politics is a rough world, very democratic, you can get elected by the power of the gun, money or the most successful, appealing to sectarian or caste lines. Most regional parties and the local representation of the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, have leaders who come from the local world, where the only morality remains power and no rules to circumvent their need to bend and abuse the system in their feudal pursuits. There is not much a choice for someone like me.
The Nuclear Deal between the United States and India was a result of the convergence of interests between the two countries after almost half a century of lack of trust and the Indian leadership's proclivity towards an independent foreign policy staying away from the two power blocs of the cold war era. In practise, this meant leaning to one side, the Soviet Union during times of need. The cold war might have ended in 1992 but it took almost another decade for the two countries to rediscover each other. Being democracies and largely pushed by the elite in India, there is no doubt that the United States is good for India. Apart from the need for staying on the right side of the most powerful actor, the need for FDI and the sheer technological advantage that the United States has over other states, it is a mighty beneficial relationship. The foreign policy of the People's Republic of China is a robust testimony to the dire importance of the United States for all growing economies. After the Indian nuclear tests in 1974, the United States set about putting in place a regime to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This technology denial regime hurt India in various areas. The regime while triggered by India was also to control the number of nuclear powers in the world. The two countries also find a convergence due to their shared (in different terms) lack of trust and responses to the growth of the People's Republic of China. It was a marriage made in heaven.
The Nuclear deal was meant to cement this ongoing romance by circumventing the nuclear and technology denial regime and also for fulfilling the inflating energy needs of a growing India. The deal signed along with a Defense agreement seeks to acknowledge India's status as a nuclear power and supply it with nuclear technology to help its energy needs. It involves the separation of civilian and military nuclear reactors and the acceptance of IAEA safeguards on the civilian. It does impose a no-nuclear test clause on India but the circumstances of the tests will be taken into consideration if India does decide to test in the event of a change in strategic situation. The deal's benefits would be; improving India's power generation capability, the removal of prohibitions on the dual use technologies and the cascading effect of opening doors for permitting Russia and France to export nuclear reactors to India. The other benefits which the Defense Agreement would provide would be military hardware for the Indian forces and the benefits of American attention. There is of course an underside to it, given the unilateralism and the mess that the George Bush administration has created for the world. But to me, it seems foolhardy to think that since India becomes closer to the United States, it would support every US policy. Though there has also been some example of this brow beating, when the United States 'forced' India to vote against Iran in the IAEA discussions and also prompted India to avoid the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. Though there can be other reasons too for such a course of action, in light of the nuclear deal and visible American diplomacy and statement, it is all seen as a result of the deal.
So for most of us in the strategic community, the deal was seen as a triumph of the India-US engagement in the post-liberalisation era. The CPIM is a important partner that supports the Congress led government in New Delhi and owing to the CPIM's opposition, this deal appears to be dead with the end of the Bush Presidency on the horizon. The CPIM has made many arguments as to why they oppose the deal,these range from the loss of independence in foreign policy to the redundancy of nuclear energy. But at the heart of the matter is their ideological opposition to the United States, a strain that has deep resonance with communists of any sort.
While the benefits of the deal are not in doubt, there are concerns with regard to how the Indian state would handle the quid pro quo provisions that the American establishment has inked. On this issue, there are two things which can be mentioned, one that while each country strives to maintain independence in its foreign policy, it is handicapped by its capabilities and the need for a-you scratch my back and I will scratch yours in return. For it is not difficult to imagine that relations between two countries are a matter of give and take. This is not something so complicated which the Left cannot understand. Secondly, I would also like to assert that the Indian diplomacy since independence has has proved well how they can exhibit more than an independent strain without compromising national interests. Only the ignoramus can claim otherwise, the Indian state holds the distinction of the highest votes against American proposals in the United Nations, much more than the erstwhile Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China.
It has been proven repeatedly that foreign policy ought to be based on pragmatic lines and should be solely determined by national interests. The revolutionary ideology that provides the framework for the understanding and interpretation of Left policies in India cannot even be said to suffer from a time warp. For if we suggest the Left is out of tune with the times, it would be asserting that the foreign policies of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China had something ideological about its foreign policy. Since Trotsky was exiled from the USSR and Stalin become the sole authority, romantic ideals of the International Revolution became a pipe dream. None in their right minds ever believed that the red countries was solely a communist exercise, I rather and many will agree with me, read it as a national liberation movement. The Communist Party of China has only the needs, strengthening and survival of China at heart. How does nationalism fit into communism is a theoretical exercise for commie spin doctors to work out and which they gorgeously trudged out when the Tibet issue was getting the world's eye balls. But the Left in India is obviously working on different logic. Symptomatic and illustrative is the reactions to the Indo-US nuclear deal from around the world. The non proliferation warriors in the United States and around the world hate it, those wanting good relations with India, love it. The only two countries who have had impolite reactions to the deal are Pakistan and the People's Republic of China. Even this is a good way to judge the value of the deal.
This rant, this verbosity is prompted in part by the events of the past few months in which the Left has been blackmailing the Congress government over the deal. Apart from this the events in Nandigram, West Bengal where the CPIM cadres have been violently forcing villagers to hand over land to a industrial house, the Tatas for the construction of a car plant, also brought CPIM policies in the state of West Bengal to the national newspapers which were illuminative in terms of the schizophrenia that afflicts its leadership and the sheer gun power through which they smother out any opposition. In Nandigram, the Government of West Bengal, gave land to the Tatas for a project, the land acquisition ran into trouble as the villagers would not give up their land. They organised themselves into a association and with the help of extreme Left groups, the CPI (ML) and some others, started opposing the government action. This brought into fore the hostility of the CPIM and its cadres. So while it was not possible to normally bully the villagers, the CPIM started arming its cadres and a free of all of sorts was permitted in Nandigram till a national furore brought the full glare of the media on the CPIM. For many years, this is how the CPIM has ruled Bengal, similar to the lumpenism exhibited by the Congress, the BJP and the regional parties. The hypocrisy runs deep and it shows up on many levels. Sample this, the CPIM central leadership opposes all efforts the efforts of the Indian government when national level policies of opening up or liberalisation are debated, but the CPIM leadership in the state of West Bengal goes out of its way to do the same.
To further buttress the sheer ineptitude and failure of the Left leadership in India would involve bringing the story of the right wing forces. The success of the right wing in all spheres has to do with the lack of modernity in our traditional cultures, Hindu and Islam, where in reaction to the ascendant West, an idyllic past is created and regurgitated in many different forms. If for example we just take the case of the Hindu right wing, we will pick the issue of pseudo-secularism (and whatever Advani meant by that) and the fact that all non-Hindu political parties actually practise a form of minority appeasement which is glaring. The Left or the Left of centre in India has never been able to provide answers to these rare but legitimate issues that the right wing forces use to mobilise. These issues have conveniently been swept under the carpet and this dismissive attitude has gone a long way in diverting Hindu support to the right wing BJP from the Congress. The Left has actually shared the same platform with the Muslim right wing when George Bush visited in India. I will reiterate that my issue is not with opposing Bush, rather it is the sharing of the platform with equally obdurate, paranoid and medieval representatives (as Hindu right wing) of Islam.
To add more meat to this tirade against the Left and its deceptiveness on issues of secularism (or pseudo secularism), I will bring into this story, the case of Taslima Nasreen. Taslima is a Bangaldeshi writer who faced trouble in her country owing to her writings which attacked Islam from the feminist perspective as well as highlighting atrocities on the minority(Hindus in the case of Bangladesh) community. So Taslima took refuge in Calcutta, that vanguard of progressive Bengali culture, the centre of Bengali literature and arts. But what Taslima did not contend with was that the same progressive Calcutta, which pretty much defined the national movement for independence had suffered and was not as safe and free as she imagined it. So the Muslim community in Calcutta, picked the gauntlet against Taslima and there was a violent demonstration against Taslima. And what do our Marxists do, they bundle Taslima out of Calcutta within a day or two.
The immediate provocation for this post was a statement by Prakash Karat, the high pundit of CPIM who pontificated that India should "disentangle..[itself] from a[the] trilateral axis with America and Israel". I wonder and I think and it leaves me flustered thinking of the sheer incredulity of such a point of view, not least for the use of the words 'axis'. The Israeli state is important to India for their advisory and technological inputs in handling the situation in Kashmir. It was only in 1991 that India diplomatically recognised Israel, else the Indian state has been among the most vociferous of Palestinian supporters. New Delhi has a Palestinian embassy! The Israeli's are also a easy source of the some of the military hardware they develop for their own paranoid needs as well as those provided by the Americans. So the Indian government utilises these functions. The point I appear to be making and even if it comes across densely, is that durable and strong armed forces provide the necessary bulwark against any emergency like situations, they need not compromise rational and creative dispute solving mechanism whether related to Kashmir or the border dispute with China. To suppose that well prepared and modernised defense of the country will necessarily mean a proclivity towards use of force is not something feasible given Indian strategic capabilities and the nature of the globalised world. In the ensuing bitterness of the Left's blocking of the nuclear deal, many of the eminent people and columnists accused them of being Chinese agents. This is without doubt over drawn and not possibly true in that old world, Enemy country-agent manner. However, the success of Chinese cultivation of a section of Indian politicians who could be sympathetic to their concerns is a possibility that cannot be eliminated. I could use the example of the editor of the respectable newspaper The Hindu to illustrate my point. Mr. N. Ram, Left ideologue and editor of the news magazine Frontline, every two years does a cover story on Tibet and expounds the wisdom of the beneficial effects of the Chinese Communist Party. I am not certain how true this is but when questioned on this, he is reported to have asserted that he gets a free junket to Tibet each year for the little work he does and that why should he change tacks and lose that lovely trip. To me this cuts to the credibility quotient, considering that this man influences opinions, passes judgement and is a influential leg of one of the pillars of democratic society. This same man is of course a card holder of the party. The Hindu in all ways was very supportive of the nuclear deal till the CPIM politburo took its position. From the very next day, the same newspaper changed sides and the public outcry prompted an intervention by Ram himself. To me that is criminal.
I think I ought to stop somewhere, this tirade appears to be unending but I will just complete what I set about doing in the previous paragraph. If the CPIM in India does feel some sort of brotherly attachment to the Chinese Communist party, it ought to be their prerogative but to actually use such ties to influence state policy would be fool hardy. I will not even represent the Indian case as the right one, the Sino-Indian suspicion while exacerbated by the unsolved border dispute is one if competing self images and nationalisms. The Chinese are also in an extension of that logic in no way correct and nor can one in any manner call the Chinese past, its present or its durable and short term future communist in any manner. So under such circumstances, it might be difficult for the CPIM to explain its love for China. In fact in a liberal reading the Chinese state ought to be pretty much an embarrassment for the CPIM. Now when the Chinese communists have consistently approached their own nations security and diplomatic needs in pragmatic terms, I wonder why our comrades don't learn the right lessons.