In his National Interest column, Shekhar Gupta makes a valid point; national agenda has been hijacked by the Left because of the peculiar mathematics of electoral politics. The U.P.A government cannot survive without the support of the Communists who have used it to advance their own reactionary agenda and thwart reforms. Gupta goes on to argue that Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, with his reformist zeal, offers an unique opportunity for the Communists to transform themselves into a left to center party. Gupta’s contention is that without this transformation, Communists will lose the key to power–an open-ended access to the Prime Minister’s office.
While Gupta’s analysis is correct, he vastly overstates the importance of brand Buddha. In the past, Communists have showed a marked disinclination for charge; undoubtedly, the most famous example would be the denial of the post of Prime Minister to Jyoti Basu. The Communist parties continue to be ruled by a clique of un-electable politicians concerned more with ideological consistency than relevancy of the Communist message. That this ideological stridency has virtually wiped out the Communists electorally is of no concern to them as long as they can win Kerala and West Bengal as 55 of the 62 Left M.Ps come from these two states.
This is where brand Buddha becomes important. While Buddha may truly be driven by a missionary zeal to transform Bengal’s landscape, the acceptance of his policies is not. As Greatbong, as astute an observe of Bengal’s politics as any, notes; Jyoti Basu in his uninterrupted 23 year old rule virtually destroyed the industrial base of Bengal. As the rest of the country pushed the reform agenda, the gap between Bengal and other states only widened. Buddha was left with the onerous task of rebuilding Bengal’s industrial base by attracting investments. The massive victory in the 2006 election only reaffirmed the relevance of Buddha’s message and finally allowed him to emerge from the shadow of Jyoti Basu.
But Bengal is where the reformist zeal stops and that is the limitation of brand Buddha. Reforms are essential in Bengal because the Communists need Bengal to remain relevant on the national stage. Their transformation is not idealogical but only driven by concerns of real-politic. Since, they have no stake outside Bengal, (and Kerela) they will oppose reforms tooth and nail. In fact, more successful is brand Buddha (and more assured are the Communists of Bengal) the stronger would be the anti-reform zeal. This would not only keep the faithful happy but also is a useful political differentiator. While Gupta thinks that the Communists can transform themselves into a left of center party, that ideological space is already occupied by the Congress. If the Communists want to retain their distinct identity, the only recourse left to them is to maintain a far left ideological position.
Communists are the most dangerous for India’s future because they are a regional party with national and even international agenda. While the DMK’s of the world are happy if they can snatch a maritime university or two, Communists want to influence and direct national policies. As long as they are in sufficient numbers to dictate government formation, to expect change would be foolish.
That is why I believe that while a vote for Communists may be a vote for Bengal, it’s certainly not a vote for India. Brand Buddha or not, this would continue to remain so.