Where is the Left in saffronised Punjab (or India)?

Chaman Lal
Chaman LalFeb 03, 2017 | 13:29

Where is the Left in saffronised Punjab (or India)?

Looking at pictures in newspapers or electronic media, one finds candidates of all major parties coloured in saffron - going by their turbans or scarves. To know their political affiliations, one has to carefully check the logos or election symbols on their scarves, whether it is the "Hand", "Lotus" or "Jhadu"!

One wonders where the white "Gandhi cap" or "Nehru jacket", which were symbols of the Congress party after - or even before – 1947, have disappeared. Anna Hazare till recently wore the Gandhi cap, which was adopted by the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party during its debut in Delhi.

The Communist Party of India and its later variants, the CPM, CPI-ML or other Leftist groups, did not wear the red turban or cap, yet their meetings and processions during elections in Pepsu and Punjab since 1952 were marked by red flags.

But all that has changed this year. The 2017 elections seem to have cleared off all colour, save for saffron.

In some earlier elections, the two major parties in the state, the Akalis and Congress, were identified by white and blue turbans and white khadi kurta-pyjamas, and only the Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJS), an earlier version of BJP, was marked by saffron while the "Deepak" was its election symbol.

It was the Khalistan-oriented radical movement in Punjab that forced the Akalis and Congress to turn "saffron" or "yellow" from blue and white.

The movement is now over but its fundamentalist religious impact has been appropriated by traditional parties, which have pitiably left their own proud secular tradition behind. In terms of the iconic value of colours, it seems that all parties, except the Left parties, have surrendered to the saffron colour.

Not just colour-wise, they have even adopted populist and dangerous slogans and a narrow sectarian ethnic or identity outlook as well. And the way members from all three parties are changing colours by defecting to each other's camps just confirms the fact that none of them are bound to any ideology, but are in politics for opportunism and to play power games.

AAP’s popular slogans are "Bharat Mata ki Jai" and "Inqalab Zindabad", an impossible combination of RSS's variety of "nationalism" and Bhagat Singh's variety of "revolutionary socialism"! AAP leader Bhagwant Mann donning a saffron turban in Bhagat Singh style is falsification of history as the revolutionary never ever wore a saffron turban in his life, despite singing Rang de basanti chola… in courts and jail.


In his four real photographs, Bhagat Singh wore only a white turban and khadi kurta-pyjama, as was the dress of all freedom fighters of those days, not just Congressmen.

Where does the Left stand in the 2017 Punjab election? From 1951-52 Pepsu (Patiala and East Punjab States Union) elections, it had strong presence in Assemblies. Pepsu was merged with Punjab on October 31, 1956, before the next elections.

The CPI split in 1964; in the 1967 election, the CPI won five seats and CPM three. CPI stalwart Satyapal Dang won from Amritsar and became a minister in the first non-Congress government in Punjab. The CPM also split in 1967 with Naxalite groups coming into existence with the call to boycott elections, further hurting the Left. In the 1972 elections, the CPI made a comeback, winning 10 seats and one going to CPM. Dang won the Amritsar seat three times in a row.

In 1977 post-Emergency elections, the CPM overtook the CPI for the first time by winning eight seats, while the CPI got seven, yet their combined strength increased to an all-time high of 15. Dang retained his seat for the fourth time.

The CPI again overtook the CPM in 1980 by winning nine seats with the CPM getting reduced to five only. Dang, the most popular Communist leader, could not retain his seat this time.

The 1985 elections, fought under the shadow of the Rajiv-Longowal Accord, hit the communists the hardest. The CPI could win just one seat. The 1992 elections held under the shadow of Khalistani guns, were boycotted by the Akali Dal, giving a walkover to the Congress party.

The Left parties, suffering heavily at the hands of Khalistani terrorists, made a small comeback in this election, with the CPI winning four seats and CPM one. The BSP made the best show in this election.

The 1997 elections were the downfall of Left forces in the election arena and a clean sweep for the Akali-BJP alliance. By 2002, the CPM had split into CPM and CPM (Punjab), which affected its electoral fortunes rather badly.

CPI stalwart Satyapal Dang won from Amritsar and became a minister in the first non-Congress government in Punjab. 

The 2007 and 2012 elections were the nemesis of Left in the Punjab Assembly, and 2007 saw the phenomenal rise of the BJP.

It should be a matter of concern for Left forces, the way they are being marginalised in most states where they had respectable presence earlier, such as Bihar, UP, Punjab, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. They even lost West Bengal in 2011 after 34 years of rule!

The coming to power of the RSS-controlled Narendra Modi government at the Centre in 2014 and subsequent events have accentuated the crisis for the Left. The rise of AAP had initially raised hope for another liberal force coming to the fore to compensate the loss of the Congress party, but the AAP too seems troubled with infighting.

It is actually the BJP which is expanding its socio-political base at the cost of liberal and Left forces. In the aftermath of autocratic and fascist decisions of the central government, it was expected of secular and Leftist forces to lead a strong resistance movement, but it seems that the Left, in India in general and Punjab in particular, is failing in its duty.

So what are the Left forces in Punjab? They are of two kinds - parliamentary groups/parties who are participating in elections and some radical mass organisations, campaigning for "raj badlo, samaj badlo"(change the system, change the society). In their campaign, they urge people to use the NOTA button.

Those participating in elections is the three-party Left alliance of CPI, CPM and RMPI (CPM-Punjab earlier), and the fourth partner of this alliance, CPIM-L (Liberation), has come out and declared its own eight candidates.

There are two more Left-oriented forces in the electoral fray - AAP rebel MP Dr Dharamvir Gandhi-led Punjab Front, inclusive of among others Democratic Swaraj Party led by Prof Manjit Singh, an activist of CPM now with Yogender Yadav’s Swaraj India (which has broken from AAP). All these groups have put up candidates on many seats against each other.

The three-group Left front has declared support for 69 seats to AAP or Congress candidates, while contesting on 48 seats themselves - CPI 23, CPM 12, RMPI 13. Dr Gandhi's front is contesting from 15 seats with some candidates from Democratic Swaraj Party being supported by Dr Gandhi. A few more Left candidates might be contesting as independents as part of other groups of CPIM-L.

The groups campaigning for NOTA are mass peasant organisations such as Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan), Bharti Kisan Union(Ekta), Naujwan Bharat Sabha, etc. Some of these organisations do hold a strong base among Malwa peasants and are able to get compensation and other relief for suicides committed by members from some peasant families, via radical agitations.

Though they don’t trust the parliamentary system, by campaigning for NOTA they are legitimising that very system. While launching radical mass agitations, they have no compunctions in negotiating with the CM or other officials from the government.

It is ironic that training and appropriation of Marxist ideology by cadres of revolutionary groups is so weak that they can’t be trusted to be sent to Assemblies/Parliament.

Radical groups in India have not yet gained such mass appeal that they can fight battles, like in China, Russia or Cuba, to seize power through insurrection. In the absence of that, not availing the opportunity to participate in the bourgeoisie-led parliamentary system is self-defeating. 

CPIM-L (Liberation) worker and iconic Dalit singer Bant Singh Jhabbar has now joined AAP and is campaigning for them.

Punjab has gone through the terror of the Khalistani movement and is now facing the crisis of peasant suicides every day, with high unemployment among youth which is leading them towards the suicidal path of drugs. Corruption by the ruling parties, earlier the Congress and now the Akali-BJP combine, is also a pinching issue for common people, so is the Centre's notebandi and police atrocities, institutionalised even worse than during the colonial period.

What will the Left get in this year's crucial election - they themselves think that stopping the ongoing "communal fascism" and the danger of its continuation beyond the 2019 general election is their primary task - if it is not able to impress upon people the need to send even a few of them to the state Assembly?

Sadly, none of the parties including the Leftists are presenting an alternate socio-economic-political vision for Punjab or India in general, based on their iconic heroes, Bhagat Singh and Ghadar party, the ideal of revolutionary socialism.

The Left parties' tactic of contesting elections on a large number of seats is a flawed one. What they get is just a few hundred votes in each constituency, forfeiting their security deposits and becoming the target of ridicule.

If the Left is serious about making its presence felt, it should focus on just 10-12 constituencies, where they think they have a strong base, and focus all their energies on winning those seats and reaching the Assembly to raise real issues such as peasant suicides, youth unemployment or institutionalised police atrocities. It will make a difference if mass organisations supporting them come out on the roads while elected MLAs fight for these issues inside the Assembly.

In the current elections, the Left forces are trying their luck at 60-plus seats out of 117 in the Assembly and it is doubtful they will win even one. So just like 2007 and 2012, the 2017 Punjab polls will again not see any Left representative getting elected.

It is not too late for leaders of the four Left parties, Dr Dharamvir Gandhi, rebel AAP MP and Democratic Swaraj party to get together and identify not more than 15 seats all over Punjab and make a powerful joint campaign - by convincing even the NOTA campaign groups to join the united effort to send at least five members to the Assembly.

They had 15 MLAs inside the Assembly at one time - let them regain that lost ground by breaking the jinx of zero for the last decade!

On other seats, they should make a realistic analysis and advise their cadres accordingly, with the Akali-BJP alliance being their main target. Among the two possible alternatives of the AAP and Congress, they should make a dispassionate critical analysis of both.

Last updated: February 03, 2017 | 16:42
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