Saturday, 21 March, 2009

A manifesto hard to live up to

The release of the 2009 election manifesto by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has evinced much interest thanks to the involvement of the Left parties in the incumbent UPA government till mid-2008 and their recent attempts to forge a third front for the impending general elections. The manifesto while retaining the socialist ideals stands on slippery ground this time compared to past elections as the CPI (M)’s state units in Bengal and Kerala are seen as having drifted significantly from the Marxist ideology.

The manifesto touts the efforts of the Left for having stalled attempts of the Congress-led government to enable full convertibility of the rupee, the attempt to increase FDI’s in insurance, privatization of pension funds, allowing foreign banks to buy Indian private banks, etc. It also explains in detail the efforts made by the Left to support and later prevent manipulation of the NREGS and the RTI Acts.

The manifesto also details the CPI(M)’s criticism of the several "neo-liberal" policies of the Congress which it could not obstruct like FDI in retail and real estate, not restoring capital gains tax from the stock market and unnecessary mollycoddling of the rich and the corporate sector when focus should have been on the common man. But the manifesto also puts the question mark on what a communist party was doing supporting an out an out capitalist political formation.

The actions of the West Bengal government in Singur and Nandigram have alienated its rural votebank and damaged its “leftist” credentials. The CPI (M) seems to have learnt its lessons from its misadventures in industrializing Bengal through the SEZ and acquiring farm land route. Atleast that is what the manifesto says. To quote from the 31 page document, “The Special Economic Zones have become the instruments for large scale transfer of land to corporates depriving the farmers and the rural poor of their meagre landed assets.”

The manifesto also calls for scrapping the Fiscal Responsibility and Budgetary Management (FRBM) Act and consequently the recommendations of the 13th Finance Commission in the current recessionary scenario. This stems from the ideological confusion witnessed in the Kerala unit of the CPI (M) with the clear demarcation between the hardcore communists who preach the Marxist ideology if not in practice (?) and a dominant faction which believes that liberalization and private capital is imperative as the 13th Finance Commission’s allocation for States is insufficient to pursue a socialist agenda that is driven by the government.

Also finding much space in the manifesto is corruption by those holding public office, but the SNC-Lavalin scandal which has implicated its Kerala secretary and polit bureau member Pinarayi Vijayan, has deflated the anti-corruption moral high ground that the party could earlier boast of.

Perhaps what the manifesto clearly needed to enunciate was how the “neo-liberal” agenda can be reversed, in stages or at one go. A section in the manifesto says, “no further tariff cuts in agriculture and industrial goods” without any mention of restoration of the tariff rates to the 80’s and pre-mid 90’s levels that protected the farmer. The CPI (M)’s inability to catch the fancy of the masses or the classes despite its comprehensive manifesto indicates that the manifesto written in Delhi by its top rung ideologues, is unable to connect or effectively convey a concrete action programme, to the cadre or the ordinary people.

P.SFirst time I am writing an editorial. Bringing out daily newspapers now. Have learnt to appreciate newspaper editorials who have to present an in-depth take on issues within the constraint of 500 words and a few hours deadline.