India's Leftists, to whom every word of Marx is Holy Writ, have gone their master one better, undergoing the snakes-and-ladders dance of tragedy and comedy more than once.
How many times have the Communists supported the political masters in New Delhi? Once? Twice? Thrice? The correct answer is 'five times.'
The first tragedy came in June 1941. The Communists had backed the nationalists against the British, but turned their coats overnight when Hitler attacked Stalin, thus making the Soviet Union an ally of the British Empire. As of July, 11, 1941, even Lord Linlithgow was not as venomous about Mahatma Gandhi and his disciples.
The first comedy came when the CPI -- but not the CPI-M -- backed Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. Its more-loyal-than-thou attitude was best summed by a cartoon that appeared in The Illustrated Weekly of India, which showed a Communist hunting for enemies under the Congress bed.
The second tragedy came during the V P Singh years, after the man tapped a vein of idealism from 1987 to 1989, then stunned the nation with his cynicism as prime minister. The Left Front which propped up his government never tried to use its influence to rein him in. The true tragedy of the National Front era was that it convinced a generation of Indians that all politicians were self-serving.
The second comedy was the United Front era. It began with wild car chases across Delhi as V P Singh ran across the Yamuna to escape becoming prime minister, continued with a grumpy Jyoti Basu losing out on the prime ministership, and ended with drama over the Jain Commission Report. It was farcical, it was mercifully brief, and the CPI-M just stood by and watched.
Nothing loth, the Left Front tried its hands at backing a government a fifth time in 2004. The marriage was arranged by Harkishen Singh Surjeet, then in the twilight of his career as general-secretary of the CPI-M. The premise was simple, to keep 'communal forces,' meaning the BJP, out of power. The Congress chose to overlook that Leftist secularism' was hand in hand with working for the decline of the 'bourgeoise' (meaning the Congress).
It is rather fashionable today, especially on the Internet, to accuse the Left Front of being 'unprincipled.' Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The Marxists have always been clear when it comes to bedrock principles -- supremacy of party over government, state control of the economy, dislike of the BJP and the Congress alike, and an 'anti-imperialist' (meaning anti-American) foreign policy. Voters who cast their ballots for the Left Front know what they are opting for; there is certainly no excuse for the political managers in the Congress.
You can accuse the Marxists of a lot of things -- blind adherence to discredited economic policies, advocating Russian or Chinese interests above those of India, and so on -- but to say that the CPI-M is 'unprincipled' is stupid. The party is, if anything, far too rigid in holding to its principles.
May I also state for the record that the current crop of leaders in the CPI-M is probably younger than its counterparts in the Congress, is probably better educated, and can probably boast a cleaner image. Nor, let us be honest, has the CPI-M received the credit it deserves for its part in managing a political marriage for the past fifty months.
The tragedy of the CPI-M is that all that intellect and idealism and energy is yoked to outdated ideas. Or, if that is too strong, can we say 'ideas unacceptable to the chattering classes in Delhi and Mumbai set the agenda?'
With certain reservations, I personally believe the nuclear pact with the United States is a good deal for India. But then I also happen to believe that it is in line with the Vajpayee government's stated line about India and the United States being strategic partners in the long run. It is the Congress, not the Marxists, that is dishonest in refusing to accept the implications of the nuclear pact.
And yes, there will be a price to pay. Do you remember the years when Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi yoked India to the Soviet Union? After that, Pandit Nehru did not dare criticise Soviet tanks rolling into Hungary, nor did his daughter as much as murmur on the invasions of Czechoslovakia and later of Afghanistan. That was a mockery of our fabled non-alignment, if ever there was one.
The Left Front's 'anti-imperialist' foreign policy must be paid in the coin of a failed domestic political calculation. Its strongest ally, the Samajwadi Party, is now sleeping with the Congress, its hold on West Bengal (probably) and Kerala (certainly) has weakened.
Other allies like the DMK have been left it in the lurch. If red is the colour of Communism, then it is also the colour of deficits!
But if Marx's theory holds water, then there must be a comedy to complete this cycle of tragedy. I wonder if it might be provided by Mulayam Singh Yadav? After all, Rahul Gandhi, no less, has already sounded a warning about a tie-up in Uttar Pradesh.
After the next general election, I think the Left Front will emerge with its control intact over West Bengal, albeit much bruised and battered. It will perform dismally in Kerala. But the Left Front will still be a presence of sorts in Parliament. Can the Samajwadi Party retain all its 39 seats, or will the final joke be on Mulayam Singh Yadav?