In Kannur, the CPI(M)’s 23rd Party Congress is about to end. Its one central lesson is: the party no longer exists — not in terms of its conventional structure.
Therefore, when general secretary of the party Sitaram Yechury speaks, you will not be in the wrong to interpret them as the last gasps of the dying animal.
Kannur is the strongest bastion of the Marxist party in all of India. But, for the Marxist Party, all of India is, in effect, Kerala.
Last year, the party came back to power in Kerala for the second time in succession, under the leadership of Pinarayi Vijayan, which explains his continued deification, and why the Bhakts in Red attach to his sphinx-like persona an oracular aura: everything he says is of historic importance and virtually infallible. It is neither, of course. The Politburo tried to correct him in Kannur and failed.
The secular godhood attained by Vijayan in Kerala is perhaps understandable. The rest of India is being swept away by the tidal wave of Hindutwa. Except for freak and erratic leaders like Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee, across India, there is a very dangerous political vacuum in the making in terms of an Opposition. The Congress Party, associated with the National Opposition since 2014, has already become the familiar compound ghost haunting a few old bungalows of Central Delhi.
How do you fill that vacuum? This has been a major theme of debate at the Kannur Congress. Yechury, who in the first couple of days of the convention tried to assert himself, has turned turtle. And with the same grace.
K-rail, Vijayan’s high-speed railway project in Kerala connecting Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kasargod in the north, has been under attack from environmentalists; not to mention from those affected by the project’s passage through their properties. Political parties like the Congress, too, have found a vantage point in the issue to stem the advance of the Reds.
At Kannur, Yechury ventured to assert that the Buro will wait for the environmental and other related studies before taking a position on the K-rail project. Vijayan was emphatic that he will continue with it. K-rail was just the beginning of the end of the Politburo, and the Party as an institutional organization.
Again, Yechuri and a few other Politburo leaders toe the line that the Congress is still a potent Opposition forum and that the other parties should form an alliance with it to defeat the BJP.
Given Kerala’s local politics, this would have stymied the Marxists in the state, because just like what the Marxist Party is to the rest of India, so the Congress, too, is relevant only in Kerala. Fifteen of the 53 Congress Lok Sabha MPs are from Kerala. The CPM has 3. One cannot miss the Bovarian irony of the situation. Effectively, two provincial parties and ideologies are deluding themselves that they are still nationally relevant, though their real and only fight really is for hegemony in a small state.
The Congress has begun to realize that they are just the stuff of nostalgia, a Nehruvian dream thinning as the Good People wake up to the realities of a saffron dawn.
With the Marxists, it is worse because their nostalgia is for the Revolution. Except that dream is largely funded by Sheikhs, drunks (one of the three main revenues for Kerala being the government-managed liquor industry which charges per bottle over 300 per cent in taxes compared to other Indian states), and professional voyeurs — tourists.
It is hard to define the revolutionaries of Kerala, besides saying that they occupy a rather well-intentioned mental space. Indeed, there is no real proletariat or a working class in the state, because there are no factories.
Kerala is perhaps the most bourgeois state in India. Just about every second family has a house, some kind of property. A vehicle. A man or a woman working abroad. But somehow the idea of the revolution still persists. Elections are fought and won on the plank of a Red Future. Lives are lost and mutilated in the process. Social and intellectual intolerance is virulent. Party celebrations are frequent and violent. Kerala is fiction.
In Kannur, Yechury lost on the political front, too. That is another way of saying the Politburo lost. Vijayan’s faction argued that instead of forming an Opposition around the Congress, they should be looking at forming alliances with other regional parties.
The regional party cooperation is a pipe dream. There is not a single regional leader who can unite all of India against the BJP. Leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Arwind Kejriwal are such keen aspirants for prime ministership that all potential alliances are likely to be exercises in self-promotion and, so, doomed. M K Stalin, as his recent visit to Sonia Gandhi illustrated, still looks up to the family for leadership. As for Vijayan, he can neither speak Hindi nor English and outside Kerala, he has no leadership traction. The only dim hope is if the Congress party goes in for inner-party elections and a charismatic and competent leader is thrown up by the process.
All of which is a little beside the point. The fact is Yechuri or the Politburo he represents lost out both on K-rail and political strategy, and for a reason: exactly like the Congress, they are no longer an institutional party, but a cult. And that is the real lesson to be learned from the 23rd Kannur Party Congress: The Buro is Zero. And Vijayan is the hero. The Revolution is speeding away from Kerala faster than a K-rail train.
(CP Surendran is an author and senior journalist. Views are personal.)