Punjab Elections-2017-Saffron Everywhere-Where are White and Red Colours?
Looking just at newspaper or electronic media pictures, one finds candidates of all major parties coloured in saffron, by their turbans or by scarfs, to see the difference one has to carefully look at the logos or election symbols on their scarfs, whether these are ‘Hand’, ‘Kamal’ or ‘Jhadu’! One wonders where the white ‘Gandhi’ cap or ‘Nehru Jacket’, which were symbols of Congress party after or even before 1947 have disappeared? Though Mahatma Gandhi never wore cap, yet white cap and jacket worn by Jawahar Lal Nehru had become iconic ‘Gandhi Cap’ and ‘Nehru Jacket’! Then Anna Hazare worn Gandhi Cap, became the signia of Kejriwal led ‘Aam Admi Party’ in its debut in Delhi. Communist Party of India and its later variants-CPM, CPI-ML or other leftist groups did not wear ‘Red turban or cap’, yet their meetings and processions during elections since 1952 in PEPSU and in Punjab were marked by ‘Red Flags’! 2017 elections seems to have cleared off all colours, but saffron! Even in some earlier elections, the two major parties-Akalis and Congress party were identified by ‘White’ and ‘Blue’ turbans and white Khadi kurta-pyjamas, only Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJS) party, an earlier version of BJP, was marked by saffron and ‘Deepak’, their election symbol. It was Khalistan oriented radical movement in Punjab, which has forced Akalis to turn ‘Saffron’ or Yellow’ from Blue and Congress from white to yellow or saffron! Khalistan or radical movement is over but their fundamentalist religious impact has been appropriated by traditional parties, pitiably leaving their own proud secular tradition behind! In terms of iconic value of colours, it seems all parties, except left parties have surrendered to ‘Saffron’ colour! And this surrender is not limited to just adopting their iconic colour, this goes further, it has adopted their populist and dangerous slogans and narrow sectarian ethnic or identity outlook as well. The way activists of all three parties are changing colours by defecting to each other parties, confirms the fact that none of them are there for any party ideology, but for pure opportunism to play power games. Arvind Kejriwal led AAP’s popular slogans are-‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Inqlab Zindabad’, an impossible combination of RSS variety of ‘nationalism’ and Bhagat Singh variety of ‘Revolutionary Socialism’! Antics of AAP leader Bhagwant Mann in wearing saffron colour turban in Bhagat Singh style is total falsification of history as Bhagat Singh never ever wore a saffron or yellow colour turban in his life! They sang songs like ‘Rang de Basanti Chola…in courts and jail’, but never worn either yellow/saffron turban, cap of clothes! All saffron colour turbaned, paintings based photographs of Bhagat Singh are distortions of his personality and ideas! In his four real photographs, he wore only white coloured turban and Khadi kurta-pyjama, as was dress of all freedom fighters in those days, not just Congress men. (See-Four real photographs of Bhagat Singh)
Where the left stands in 2017 Punjab elections? From 1951-52 Pepsu (Patiala and East Punjab States Union) elections, they had strong presence in assemblies. In 1951-52 Pepsu assembly, they had six members elected in 60 member assembly, repeating same number in 1954 by elections again. Pepsu was merged with Punjab on 31st October 1956 before next elections. Apart from CPI, Lal Communist Party, Kisan Mazdoor Parja Party and Forward Bloc (Marxist) were other left parties in elections at that time. In 1951-52 Punjab elections out of 126 seats, left parties secured six seats, repeating same number in 1957 elections with total seats after merger of Pepsu increasing to 154. Socialist Party too has strong showing in first elections to Punjab assembly and in 1957 elections too. In 1962 elections CPI increased its tally to nine members and Socialists also winning 4 seats. With CPI split in 1964, they fought separately in 1967 elections and their joint strength reduced to eight only, with CPI winning five and CPM three. Harkishan Singh Surjeet won his only contested elections in 1967 Punjab Assembly, CPI stalwart Satya Pal Dang won from Amritsar and became minister in first non–Congress government in Punjab in 1967. CPM also split in 1967 with Naxal groups coming in existence with ‘Boycott elections’ call, hurting left in elections further. Their strength further reduced to six in 1969 by elections with CPi having won four and CPM just two. In 1972 elections, CPI made a big comeback with winning 10(ten) seats and one going to CPM. Satya Pal Dang made hat trick by winning Amritsar seat three times in row! In 1977, post emergency elections CPM overtook CPI for first time by winning eight seats, while CPI getting down to seven, yet their combined strength increased to all time high of fifteen. Satya Pal Dang retained his seat fourth time.
CPI again overtook CPM in 1980 post Indira Gandhi return elections by winning nine seats and CPM getting reduced to five only. But the combined strength remained little harmed down to 14 from 15. Satya Pal Dang the most popular Communist leader could not retain his seat this time. 1985 elections fought under the shadow of Rajiv-Longowal accord on Punjab, was to give walk over to Akali Dal tacitly by Congress party and it hit the Communists most hard. Only CPI could win just one seat in this election, even Satya Pal Dang loosing again to Congress candidate. 1992 elections held under shadow of Khalistani guns, were boycotted by Akali Dal, giving a walk over to Congress party. Left parties suffering heavily at the hands of Khalistani terrorists made small comeback in this election, with CPI winning four seats and CPM one. Even CPIML, contesting under Indian Peoples Front (IPF) platform, secured a seat in this election, though their elected MLA defected to Congress party later. One seat was won by UCPI also, which was close to Congress party. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) made the best show in this election by winning all time high nine seats, which it could not sustain again. Vimla Dang, wife of Satya Pal Dang and leader in her own right won back Amritsar-west seat from Congress party. 1997 elections showed the down fall of left forces in election arena, as CPI got only two seats and CPM none. 1997 was a clean sweep for Akali-BJP allowance with BJP winning 18 seats alone with Akalis@75. 2002 was return of Congress party and CPI could won two only. By this time CPM had also split into CPM and CPM (Punjab), which affected its electoral fortunes rather badly.
2007 and 2012 elections saw the nemesis of left presence in Punjab assembly as none of the party made even a symbolic presence. 2007 saw the phenomenal rise of BJP, winning 19 out of 23 contested seats, perhaps highest percentage of winning ratio of candidates!
2017 situation is politically much different from 2012 or earlier. It should have been a matter of concern to left forces, the way they are being marginalised in most of the states, where they had respectable presence earlier like in Bihar, UP, Punjab, Rajasthan and Maharashtra etc., that they are not able to make their presence felt in state assemblies, despite having some support from few mass organisations on the ground, particularly after they lost West Bengal in 2011 after 34 years rule! With the coming to power of RSS controlled Modi government in centre in 2014 and subsequent events have accentuated that crisis. Rise of Aam Aadmi Party on political horizons had raised hope of another liberal force coming to fore to compensate loss of Congress party, but its too early splits and loss of its moral core in persons of Prashant Bhushan and Dr. Dharamvir Gandhi MP like people has dazed that hope too fast, in fact faster than 1977 Janta Party debacle in just three years. Whether in 1977 Janta experiment or now in AAP experiment, it is rightist RSS controlled BJP, which is expanding its socio-political base at the cost of liberal and left forces. Half term of Modi Government and its autocratic fascist like decisions have already given shivers to the spines of liberal forces and left was expected to give lead in such situation to build a strong resistance movement, which includes resistance in electoral arena also, but it seems left in India in general and in Punjab particular is failing in its duty.
What are the present left forces in Punjab? They are of two kinds-Parliamentary groups/parties, who are participating in elections and some radical mass organisations, campaigning for ‘Raj Badlo Samaj Badlo’(Change the system, Change the Society). In their campaign they urge people to use ‘NOTA’ button! Those participating in elections are three party left alliance of CPI, CPM and RMPI (CPM-Punjab earlier), fourth partner of this alliance CPIML(Liberation) has come out and declared its own eight candidates. There are two more left oriented forces in electoral fray-AAP rebel MP Dr. Dharamvir Gandhi led Punjab front inclusive of among others-Democratic Swaraj Party led by Prof. Manjit Singh, an activist of CPM earlier, now with Yogender Yadav’s Swaraj India, broken from AAP. All these groups have put up candidates on many seats against each other. Three group left front has declared support for 69 seats to AAP or Congress candidates, while contesting on 48 seats themselves-CPI-23, CPM-12, RMPI-13. Dr. Gandhi front is contesting upon 15 seats with few more candidates from Democratic Swaraj Party being supported by Dr. Gandhi. Few more left candidates might be contesting as independent candidates as part of other groups of CPIML, ten candidates being sponsored by CPIML-New Democracy group.
The groups campaigning for NOTA are like few mass peasant organisations like-Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan), Bharti Kisan Union(Ekta), Naujwan Bharat Sabha etc. Few of these peasant organisations do hold strong base among Malwa peasants and are able to get compensation and other reliefs for suicide committing peasant families by radical agitations. Though they don’t trust parliamentary system, yet by campaigning for NOTA, provided by the election commission only, they are legitimising that very system, which they claim to fight. While launching radical mass agitations, they have no compunction in negotiating with Chief Minister or other officials of the government, yet they continue to have no faith in ‘system’! These radical ML parties and groups are so insecure about participating in electoral system that they think the system is so ‘corrupt’ that their own elected revolutionary cadres will get corrupted, it has happened in case of many CPIML MLA’s joining ruling parties in Bihar or Punjab. But this is ironic that training and appropriation of Marxist ideology is by cadres of revolutionary groups is so weak that they can’t not be trusted to be sent to Assemblies/Parliament! Despite the fact that left parties MPs and MLAs like A K Gopalan, Jyotiromoy Basu, Bhupesh Gupt, Inderjit Gupt, A K Roy, Satya Pal Dang and many more have played such historic role in raising issues of workers and peasants concern and have been able to get some reliefs for them through parliamentary forums. Even Bhagat Singh and his Naujwan Bharat Sabha used to intervene even during British colonial established Central assembly or local elections by supporting socialists/progressives among Congress candidates like Diwan Chaman Lal, and face the ire of rightist Congress men like Lala Lajpat Rai, who used to say that ‘these young men want me to become ‘Lenin of India’, which I don’t want to be! Comrades of Bhagat Singh during his life time and after remained always in close touch with socialists among Congress party like Jawahar Lal Nehru and Subhash Chander Bose at all India level or in Punjab with Dr. Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew like leaders! Radical groups have not gained so big mass base in India, that they could fight the battles like in China, Russia or Cuba to siege power through insurrection. In absence of that, not availing the opportunity to participate in bourgeoisie led parliamentary system to focus upon most burning issues of oppressed sections of society is self-defeating.
CPIML(Liberation) built iconic Dalit singer Bant Singh Jhabbar in Mansa district, whose daughter was raped by feudal lords and his two arms slashed, has now joined AAP and campaigning for them. Irony is that when Jhabbar joined AAP, on same time and stage his assailants also joined AAP and they were made even to share the stage. It was later that AAP got rid of his assailants!
Punjab has gone through the terror of Khalistani movement period from both Khalistanis and the state and is now facing worst crisis of peasant suicides every day with high unemployment among youth, leading them towards suicidal path of drug consumption. Corruption by ruling parties earlier by Congress or presently by Akali-BJP combine is also pinching issue for common people, so are ‘Notebandi’ or police atrocities, institutionalised even worse than colonial period. Just recently a court in Patiala ordered seven high ranking police officers to pay 49 lakh rupees compensation to Kirpal Singh, who was assisting human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra in collecting data on extra-judicial killings named as ‘encounters’, he was also pursuing the case of Khalra’s killing by the police, so stop him from doing so, Patiala police trapped him a false rape case, of which he was acquitted. He filed perjury case and was awarded the monetary compensation! What Kalluri is doing in Chhatisgarh was common in Punjab during Naxalite rebellion in seventies and Khalistani rebellion in eighties!
What will left get in this crucial elections, which they themselves think that stopping ongoing ‘Communal fascism ‘and worst still, danger of its continuation beyond 2019 elections is their primary task, if they are not able to impress upon people to send even a few of them to state assembly?
Ironically none of the party including even left parties are presenting an alternative socio-economic-political vision of Punjab or India in general, based on their iconic heroes-Bhagat Singh and Ghadar party-the ideal of revolutionary socialism. So much so, none of the parties, who were vocal at the time of Bhagat Singh was insulted by Haryana RSS Chief minister ML Khattar by favouring unknown RSS leader Mangal Sen for naming Chandigarh airport in his name, rejecting earlier decision of Punjab and Haryana governments to name it on Bhagat Singh’s name, are raising this issue in this election. Though airport was not named on Mangal Sen’s name due to fierce protests, it has not been named on Bhagat Singh’s name either, putting the salt on wound by insulting Bhagat Singh’s popular icon further! Denial of Jallikattu could take shape of Tamil pride, but Bhagat Singh’s insult does not hurt Punjabi pride!
Whole tactic of contesting elections in large number of seats by left parties is a flawed one. What they get is just few hundred of votes in each constituency, forfeiting the security deposits and becoming target of ridicule among electorate. If they are able to come at even number three or four with at least few thousands of votes, then also it could be considered respectable, but securing few hundred votes in each constituency brings not only ridicule, in some cases charge of political opportunism as well, as where the difference of elected MLA with number two is just of few hundreds or less, left candidates are charged with helping the winning candidate! If left is serious about making its presence felt, then they should focus upon about 10-12 constituencies only, where they think they have real strong base and should put all their cadres energies on those seats with the target of winning and reaching assembly to make their presence felt by raising real issues of people like peasant suicides, youth unemployment or institutionalised police atrocities, students-employees issues, atrocities on women etc., and it does make difference if mass organisations supporting them come out on roads, while elected MLAs fight on these issues inside assembly! Issues of the people need to be fought both inside and outside parliamentary forums, only then some relief within the system can be secured, as it used to be earlier.
In present elections, left forces are trying their luck at seventy plus seats out of 117 and it is doubtful even to win a single seat. So like 2007 and 2012, 2017 Punjab assembly may again be without any left representative getting elected. It is still time to join the heads together of all left groups-four left parties, Dr. Dharamvir Gandhi, rebel AAP MP and Democratic Swaraj party and identify not more than 15 seats all over Punjab and make a powerful joint campaign, by even convincing the NOTA campaign groups among left to join the united effort to send at least five members to state assembly to forcefully focus upon peasant and youth issues! Rather than frittering away their energy in 70+ odd seats, they should try to regain the lost ground on fewer selected seats. No body stops them from holding public meetings where they have no candidate for giving their party programme and vision of future Punjab! They had fifteen MLAs inside assembly at one time, let them start to regain that lost ground and strength by breaking the jinx of zero for the last one decade! Programme and demands of the various left groups/parties are not different, they are mostly common, they just have to fine tune these and fight unitedly by shedding their egos and one-upmanship and plan realistically.
On other seats they should make realistic analysis and advise their cadres accordingly, undoubtedly Akali-BJP alliance should be their main target to defeat convincingly. But among two possible alternatives-AAP and Congress, they should make dispassionate critical analysis of both. The tendency to hit Aam Aadmi Party viciously, because of Arvind Kejriwal’s certain wayward manoeuvres is not the best political move under present circumstances, if people wish to try a new untested party, let them try and learn from their experience and also learn always to be on guard with all political parties and keep mass pressure always on to focus on public issues.
#Left of the Punjab, unitedly fight the elections realistically, you have nothing to lose but zero!
*Chaman Lal is retired Professor from JNU, New Delhi and author of books on Bhagat Singh and other revolutionary heroes.
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