Be The Change

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Left Front or Left Behind?

Posted by k.r.a.k.t.i.k on February 19, 2006

Yesterday, as I was flipping channels, I chanced upon an exclusive interview on Headlines Today, the english affiliate of the popular newschannel Aaj Tak. The interview panel were the India Today Group’s Editor and Exec. Editor. In the hot seat was Sitaram Yechury, CPI MP and Politburo member.

Not an interesting recipe? Read on.

A number of issues were on discussion of course. What struck me the most at the outset was, for one, the immaculate way in which Yechury conducted himself – just the exact opposite of the archetypal notion of the politician that we all seem to take for granted and propagate without a second thought. Articulate, composed, and perfectly at ease in any one of 3 languages – quite a mix.

Quite a few issues under discussion, given that the Left is a key member of the current ruling alliance, the UPA, and more often than not at loggerheads with the ruling party, the Congress. What was different, however, was how sane the left’s views sound when they are actually expressed as articulate thoughts instead of insane, 70s era gramophone repetitions.

It had me wondering – here is a party that has never really been in power (except for the brief dilly-dallying with a third front in the 90s which itself wouldn’t have been possible without the express outside support of a major national party). Except in their traditional bastions of power, W Bengal and Kerala, the Left has never really come into its own as administrators, and has always been branded the fiery opposition and at times an exasparating bunch of down and outs out to flog a theory that has outlived its usefulness the world over including Russia, Eastern Europe and South America.

Not so – a few examples (and I paraphrase mostly here) :-

On Walmart and the entry of retail giants into India:

The feeling Yechury gave was that the Left is not per se and en bloc opposed to the entry of foreign investment into India, but the (very interesting) points he made were these:

i. The government shouldn’t go overboard in allowing foreign investment in areas that our people make their livelihoods in – you’re hitting at your own stomach that way

ii. Any foreign investment that comes into the country must satisfy a couple of criteria, which include genuine creation of employment (a point we will come to in item iii), betterment of life for the average worker and most importantly, accompanying technological progress that benefits the country (read industries and plants in the country, not just back office support)

iii. The employment that is generated by this foreign investment must be genuine, i.e, you don’t allow supermarket chains to set up shop and just take over businesses and show the (cut-down) workforce numbers as newly generated employment; which is also hitting at all your long established individual cultivators and vendors in the unorganised sector.
Something like Colombian oranges selling over your Nagpur variety because SuperXYZMart offers them for 20 p. less.

Another divisive issue – the vote over Iran at the UNSC.

Apparently the Left is trying to stress the fact that they are not following their policies with regard to this matter because of a pro- or anti- stance towards any given country, but rather with India’s best interests in mind (which of course is the proper thing to say, it being a televised interview). Whatever decision is taken must be in India’s interests – however, what it is that is in the country’s interests, nobody seems to be master of.

Those were but 2 instances from this (quite captivating) interview. Captivating because of the wide spectrum of difference there is in views between the traditional Left-aligned parties and the Government of the day on the one hand, and the ruling coalition and the (popularly called) Right-leaning section of the polity.

As I mentioned earlier, the Left has never really been in power on its own in the country. They’ve always either played the role of aggressive opposition, or done what they do best, support a government from the outside and threaten to pull the plug at any opportune moment. Might it be interesting to see what they would do if they were truly in power? This was put to Yechury too, albeit in a lighter vein –

H: So there is no question of drawing a “Laxman Rekha” for the UPA and the government in this Lok Sabha, and a third front / alternative emerging?

laughs …

Y: Definitely, in this Lok Sabha, the BJP and the Congress combined have over a majority, so a third-front is not a possible option. But I am not ruling out that we cannot have another Lok Sabha before 5 years are up …

H: Is that a threat?

Y: No, not a threat – but we are watching the government …

laughs …

Jokes aside, they are watching the government, from issues like Iran to FDI, Disinvestment to PPF and employees’ rights. Sometimes it is good for the boy-who-cries-wolf to actually be in the hot seat. In an interview, on the big stage. Are they the Left Front, as they like to call themselves, or are they just a bit Left Behind?

And more important than that is for everyone in the country, especially the youth, to take an interest in these affairs. Trust me, they make for riveting exercises in thought – and nothing is more crucial for the country’s future. Nothing.

Of course, I like to think of television, sound bites and interviews all as a mirror – it shows you everything as it is, really; only – it inverts it all.

12 Responses to “Left Front or Left Behind?”

  1. sharique said

    Well i don’t think it was unnatural for the Left to talk in contemporary terms. These voices have always been there within the party but never really expressed themselves. Perhaps they need younger communists to provide an impetus to their campaign….

  2. jayaprasad said

    lefts need to continue politics in india only with their old leaders and their old saying of defending worker rights.i dont agree with their stand in foriegn investments(this is only reason for india marvelous growth after 95).but we would definitely suffer for voting against iran with whom we have relation well(in oil).

  3. Sharique –

    I agree with you – its not only the Left Parties, each party needs young people to provide an impetus; not only to their campaigns but to the way everything is run in general. And yes, it is not unnatural for them to talk in contemporary terms – that in part was what I was trying to convey with this post – that they aren’t the jaded out have-beens that everyone makes them out to be.

    Jayaprasad –

    I don’t agree with you on the only old leaders slogan – definitely, they need to continue defending workers’ and people’s rights as they have been advocating, but we need some fresh thought as well. As far as Iran is concerned, only time will tell.

  4. Hiren said

    Very nice title and extremely well written.

    I feel that what yechury has said is correct. Even our shastras talk about discrimination in everything that we do. It is best to bring liberalize only for genuine technological benefit.

    The left’s basic ideology however also has to change. No sane person is going to allow anybody else to fool around with his inheritance or what he has earned in his lifetime. Their basic premise has been a failure because it was implemented with wrong motives.

  5. Hiren –

    What Yechury said was definitely right – it only remains to be seen whether the left will implement it, and with 2 elections coming around, it would be a good time to count the promises that will be made.

    As far as the ideology question is concerned, if you delve back, the left parties were actually formed with the issues of the people at mind – but somewhere along the way, they aplit along various different lines and today they lie marginalised because they have by and large alientated the people and their needs and are holding the country hostage to empty rhetoric. In the end, as pointed out in the Arthashastra, it is action alone that will speak for you.

    Not words.

  6. jayaprasad said

    the lefts defend the workers.accepted.but why do they have dual face.the lefts are strong in kerala and west bengal.they say foreign investments may drain worker rights.in west bengal its c.m [now-a-days] welcomes investments in his state.lefts protest in every matter against upa but doesnt take real steps.

  7. Jayaprasad,

    Which is exactly the point being made – that the left might have some acceptable thoughts, but they are very much lacking in implementing those.
    And for their own consideration, whether for the better or for the worse (hint: the assembly elections) they are willing to even shed their (so-called) ideology for some votes.
    In the end, the point of it all I suppose is that development must happen, this, that or another way – it is just that they should aid in it while being a balance or a check, NOT an obstacle or hurdle. Thin line, big difference.

  8. […] Kraktik at Be The Change wants the youth of the country to take an active part in the country’s political scene in order to understand the “real deal” that television often masks. An ideal example as he cites, is that of Sitaram Yerchury on Headlines Today. […]

  9. MumbaiGirl said

    Nice to see this-the left does have a point quite often, but we tend to dismiss them out of hand.

  10. Red said

    That was a brilliant post. While I agree with the Left stance on most things, they have rarely implemented them in practice. Kerala and West Bengal are not particularly well governed and have low industrial growth.

  11. […] Amrit explains why communists and fundamentalist Mslims collude in times of need to protest inane and obviously wrong causes. I guess, they have their own axe to grind in the process. […]

  12. MumbaiGirl,

    Ever wondered why we tend to dismiss them so easily? Precisely because of the points that Red mentions after you – nowadays they are all ideology and no action – because the Left really will not implement any “people-friendly” policies and just uses them as fanfare to an ideology that it feels it is supposed to represent.

    In most countries, the Left is supposed to be the liberal, forward-thinking part of polity – in our country, sadly, that isn’t often the case.

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