CPI-M General-Secretary Sitaram Yechury (left) greets CPC General-Secretary Xi Jinping in Beijing on Oct 20, 2015. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Veteran Indian Communist leaders say they can draw inspiration and lessons from the Communist Party of China in seeking to reclaim their relevance with the masses and regain their support base across the country.
The Left Front — comprising the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the All India Forward Bloc, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party — enjoyed its golden period in Indian electoral politics in the 1990s and early 2000s.
However, they generally suffered in India’s recent polls except in the southern state of Kerala, where the Communist-led Left Democratic Front government made history by winning a second successive term, thanks to good governance by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
Despite the difference in political context compared to China, leaders of these parties believe they can still learn from the CPC’s exemplary track record in social governance, economic development, poverty alleviation, fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its struggle with the West, especially the United States, to protect China’s interests.
In particular, Indian Leftist leaders can learn from Chinese leaders on how to deal with communalism and political polarization in India, veteran CPI-M Politburo member Nilotpal Basu said.
July 1 will mark the 100th anniversary of the CPC with a series of celebrations held in China to mark this historic milestone.
“The CPC is a lighthouse of hope,” said M. A. Baby, a CPI-M politburo leader from Kerala state. “It is very relevant … the way the Chinese economy is progressing and fighting against imperialist hegemony,” he added.
“Now … on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the CPC, (the Party) has succeeded in removing acute poverty from the country. The CPC is currently concentrating (on) three important issues like economic disparities, environmental degradation and (eradication of) corruption from the country. We definitely should draw inspiration from China to address the same challenges in India,” Baby said.
For decades, the CPC has been reforming itself by shaping a socialist system with Chinese characteristics, including Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. During the past decade the CPC has won applause for fighting corruption.
Baby pointed out that there are some common features between India and China as both countries are populous and are developing economies.
“It is very relevant in India the way the CPC has made tremendous achievements in improving its economy and people’s living conditions in the past decade. We can learn from China … and take society forward with egalitarian socialist features,” Baby said.
In India, the Left Front’s national vote share in the 2019 general election was the lowest ever (1.75 percent), compared with a high of 10.6 percent in 1989. The strength of the Left parties in India’s Parliament has fallen from its highest ever tally of 59 seats in 2004, to 24 in 2009, 10 in 2014 and in 2019 to a mere 5 seats, data show.
A six-member delegation of the Communist Party of China (CPC), led by Sun Qingyun, vice-secretary of the CPC Shanxi province visits the headquarters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and has discussions with the leadership on Dec 6, 2013 in New Delhi, India. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Politburo members of these parties acknowledge that the Communist movement in India needs to do some in-depth introspection and ensure necessary course-correction measures, and to re-position the movement to take on the multiple challenges.
“The political ideology of the Left still has relevance, but it is not in tune with electoral politics. We need to do serious introspection, rework strategies, reorganize and reconnect with the masses,” senior CPI leader D. Raja had said after the 2019 general election debacle.
The Left parties once ran governments in three Indian states — West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. At the national level, the Left played the role of kingmakers between 1996 and 1998, and again from 2004 to 2009 during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s central government.
In the 2019 general election, the Left did not manage to win a single parliamentary seat in their former strongholds of West Bengal and Tripura while only getting four seats in Tamil Nadu state. This was also the first time since 1952 that the Left did not end up with a seat tally of double digits in the general election.
In West Bengal state, once considered its invincible bastion, the Left held the reins of government for an uninterrupted 34 years, from 1977 to 2011.
The single biggest failure of the Left in India has been its inability to change according to the times and remain relevant to a fast-changing electorate.
“A section of the same ageing leaders who have earned the people’s mistrust, annoyance and who can’t overcome their power hangover still continue to remain at the forefront. The (Left) should inject new, fresh and hardworking leaders (who) can revive the Leftist ideology with the masses,” said Subir Ghosh, a noted academician.
Members of Communist parties in West Bengal and Tripura states are leaving in large numbers, and yet some people refuse to acknowledge this fact, let alone respond effectively, according to a senior CPI-M leader who refused to be identified. “What can be more unfortunate than this?” he noted.
Yogendra Yadav, a political analyst, said, “The surprise is not that the orthodox Left faces a dead-end; the surprise is that it survived nearly three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
Now, Kerala is India’s only state ruled by Communists, after winning this year’s state legislature elections and a second term in office, a rarity in the state’s history.
Chief Minister Vijayan, also a politburo member of the CPI (M), said, “The historical victory of the Left Front in Kerala will certainly reinvigorate the Left-leaning forces in other parts of the country.”
He said in an exclusive interview that “certainly we draw inspiration from international models, including the initiative taken by Comrade Deng Xiaoping and his successors” in China.
However, while Deng was able to make China a modern state on the foundation laid by a generation of Chinese leadership led by late Chairman Mao Zedong, “Kerala is just a state of the Indian Union”, Vijayan said.
“We have to follow the general rules and regulations, policies and priorities, systems and structures drawn up by the federal government.”
The CPC has managed to stay in power in the world’s most populous country by frontloading enormous economic reforms and economic progress, said Swaran Singh, professor and chairman of the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Singh noted that the political situation in India is different with more parties of similar strength vying for parliamentary control.
Analysts noted that the CPC has been consistent in seeking truth from facts and observing an independent path of development that suits China’s specific national conditions while encouraging others to explore their own paths.
The different growth lessons for both India and China are worthy of reflection, said Amit K. Biswas, a professor in the department of economics and politics at Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, West Bengal.
By 1978, after the death of Mao Zedong, China had an economy with a large but relatively poor population. China then shifted its national focus to economic development and prioritized investment in labor-intensive industries to create jobs for its huge labor force.
On the other hand, since 1990, India incentivized capital-intensive industries through tax subsidies, and neglected job-creation.
“The lessons for India from China are very clear: incentivize and increase investment in labor-intensive industries to create more jobs,” Biswas suggested, adding that India can remove restrictive labor regulations to increase job-creation.
In January, the International Monetary Fund had projected an impressive 11.5 percent growth rate for India in 2021, followed by China with 8.1 percent growth.
The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.
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