Communism in India: Destined for Failure?

Written By : Anonymous

What image comes to your mind when you think of an Indian Communist? Most of you might visualise a man at least in his sixties, in a white kurta, wearing glasses with an unconvincing smile on his face. He seems to be giving a speech in front of an oldish microphone, shouting ideological jargon- words like “revolution” and “cholbe na” being commonly uttered. However, between the leader and the crowd stands a virtual wall of disconnect- with the former being unable to mobilise the latter anymore. Empty promises, bureaucratic inefficiencies and brutal oppression have tarnished the image of Communist parties in the country. The Communist Party of India (from hereon, CPI) from being the second largest party in the first election, have fallen from grace, where in the latest general election, all Communist parties could only gain control of mere five seats. What could have been the reasons for this collapse? This blog would try to precisely answer this question. 

(Up)Rising From the Bottom 

During the times of the ’64 Indo-China war, the CPI split into various factions, but the vast majority stuck to two popular factions, namely the Soviet Union favouring CPI and China favouring  CPM. While the CPI declined in strength, CPM dominated the states of Kerala and Bengal, where they enjoyed decades of dominance. The reader should note that in the eventual future, both parties often contested together on a “left-front” to ensure that the votes weren’t split between the two Communist parties. 

While discussing the role of Communist parties in India, one must not disregard the so-called “Kerala Model,” where the Left Front managed major reforms in the state. Kerala has continually performed well in various Human Development Index (HDI) indicators such as education and health. Effectively, the government succeeded in decentralising various programs, such as bringing primary healthcare centres and sub-centres under the management of local governments with sufficient funding, to enable the healthcare system to closely work with the community. Similar was the case with education. The government was also successful with land reforms, notably by abolishing tenancy, benefitting more than a million households. 

The outlook of the Indian public towards the Communist parties in the sixties was very different to what it is today. According to an article in the magazine The Atlantic, the Congress party was a tree being “rotten at the core,” with the party leaders winning only based on the legacy of the freedom struggle.  The CPM was seen as a genuine threat to the stability of the Congress party, as it made gains in many parts of rural India. In Bengal, the party sided with landless farmers and sharecroppers (Bengali: Bargadars), waging a ‘class struggle’ against the feudal landed nobility. They launched Operation Barga in 1978- one of the most radical land reform acts in history. This enabled Bargadars to be free of exploitation, with them having protection against the eviction of their land, coupled with the government buying their crops at a fair price to prevent big landowners from securing crops at exploitative prices. Despite Congress’ continual efforts to topple Bengal’s state Government, CPM ruled Bengal unopposed till 2011. Then happened Singur and Nandigram. 

Maa, Mati, Manush 

The late nineties and the early two-thousands were characterised by stagnation in West Bengal. While liberalisation enabled other states to take off in terms of economic growth (albeit most of it was concentrated in the cities) West Bengal remained where it was a decade ago. There was a need for radical reform to open up the Bengal economy, increasing investment, without disturbing the main voter base. The Left Front, however, majorly underestimated the reaction to their reforms. Choosing to build the Tata Nano factory in Singur and a chemical factory in Nandigram without the masses’ consent was the turning point for the Communist parties in West Bengal. The mentioned areas were populated by peasants, who were unhappy with their lands being taken away. This already was not taken very well by the public, but worse was yet to happen. In March of 2007, fourteen peacefully-protesting villagers in Nandigram were shot dead by the police. The already enraged Bengali population had lost faith in the Left Front and expressed their anger by voting in TMC’s Mamata Banerjee as their new chief minister. Communism was dying and was buried by the 2021 state election, where they didn’t win a single seat. 

Two Sides

It would be unfair to credit the “Kerala Model” to the CPM, considering there was and still is a sporadic rule of the Congress intervention in ruling Kerala since independence. Additionally, the HDI indicators only paint a very one-sided picture of the state.  Economic growth is still quite stagnant in the state. Many Keralites have had to move to the Gulf to earn higher incomes in terrible conditions due to the lack of good jobs for the state’s skilled workers. These factors continue to blemish the state’s performance, giving people the right reasons to be suspicious of the regime. 

A Point of No Return 

Communism in India has reached a point where its legacy has been permanently tarnished in India. Bureaucracy, violence, authoritarianism, and ideological rigidity have become synonymous with the Communist parties. Most of the population remains averse to the promises made by such groups, knowing that they have taken no efforts to reform the party from the inside. Lack of youth participation in the party proper and near-absolute control of ageing party heads repels the young Indian population from exploring the idea. 

So, is there any role Communism can play in India? In its current state, probably not. However, we see that the current system does not have solutions to all problems. While India has a lot of wealth, most of it is concentrated at the top. According to a UN report, the top 1% of the country owns 77% of the country’s wealth. According to the World inequality Index 2022, the top 10% of Indians earn 96 times as much as the bottom 50%. Big businesses are replacing SMEs, causing considerable job losses. Living in cities is becoming increasingly expensive with a constant rise in prices of housing and necessities. The youth is increasingly growing apprehensive of the current system. Is there a need for resistance? Is there a requirement for higher workers militancy to achieve improved working conditions amongst the exploited? Can Communism answer these questions? I’ll leave this to the opinion of the reader.

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