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Answers to Karat’s belligerence lie in Bhooporatam

The CPI-M’s central committee started its 2 day meeting in New Delhi to discuss the various likely outcomes of the deadlock on the Indo-US Nuclear deal, including the withdrawal of support and the situation arising out of it. The Central Committee is expected to endorse the stand of the Politburo in a shriller tone. At the beginning of the two-day meet, party General Secretary Prakash Karat presented a report, detailing the Politburo resolution and the meeting between UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Politburo member and MP Sitaram Yechury and him.

Before he made the presentation Karat was busy elsewhere far south from New Delhi.

In the middle of the crisis at the Center where exactly did Karat head off to and why ?

Karat had left for Mudigonda, the scene of police firing on July 28 that left seven persons dead during a bandh called by the Left parties as part of their agitation in the state for distribution of land where he was to unveil a memorial for those killed in the firing incident and also address a public meeting, as a prelude to the second phase of ‘Bhooporatam’ (agitation for land distribution) launched by the Left parties on Wednesday.

Today’s Telegraph carries an interesting op-ed column calling upon the West Bengal faction of the CPI-M to call Karat’s bluff and put an end to his belligerence in the interest of Bengal’s economic progress. The column argues that Karat’s leverage on the UPA is primarily on account of its base in Bengal and hence he should not be allowed to pursue an agenda that goes against Bengal’s interests.

The reality of Karat’s belligerence however has little do with Bengal’s economic progress but more to do with expanding the communist base beyond the pocket boroughs of Bengal and Kerala. That is exactly where Andhra comes in  to the picture.

Some months back Offstumped had carried a piece on the Patil who gave the communists sleepless nights. That was circa 1955 when Andhra was lost to the Communists. Since then the Communists and their outlaw cousins the Naxalites have been a fringe force in Andhra with some pockets of influence but not much of a factor in swinging the outcome decisively one way or the other. The one party politics of Andhra took a decisive turn with the emergence of NTR on the scene in the 1980s who created a record of sorts in storming to power within a year or so of launching his political outfit the Telugu Desam. The 1990s saw NTR’s star decline with the eventual revolt by his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu and NTR’s subsequent demise. The 1990s also witnessed a unique phenomenon in a state fatigued from voting Congress and dismayed at the family brawl in the TDP. The BJP made unexpected gains in not just the in its traditional strongholds of the twin cities and Telangana but also in coastal andhra.

Call it an aberration of sorts or a brief glimmer of hope for the BJP of breaking through the 2 way stranglehold in Andhra. But the Vajpayee Government’s reliance on outside support from Naidu’s TDP ensured that the BJP as never really built on its gains in coastal andhra and the 2004 backlash against Naidu cost the BJP dearly. Its abandoning of the Telangana cause to please Naidu saw it cede its strongholds to the TRS, while it suffered a complete wipe out in the rest of Andhra. The debacle saw Naidu gravitate back to Left of center causes and courting the Communists.

The rest is not exactly history but what we are witnessing today. The Communists sensed an opportunity to regain their foothold in Andhra and the political climate was as conducive as it could get with a friendly TDP, a Congress on the backfoot on land issues, and the BJP practically having given up the game. The YSR debacle of ceasefire with the Naxalites emboldened the communists and their outlaw maoist cousins to take up causes dear to their ideological with a never before seen fervour. The Congress out to settle political scores with the TDP friendly Ramoji Rao gave a helping hand to the Communists by championing land re-distribution with a fervour that put even the communists to shame.

So what started as a political brawl between Naidu and YSR has been completely hijacked by the Communists into a mass struggle for land distribution with Andhra now looking very much within the reach of the Communists as a potential pocket borough in addition to Kerala and Bengal. To fully appreciate the extent to which the Communists are succesful examine this

The Siasat Daily reports on the 16th August that the BJP and the TRS bowled over by the success of the CPI-M’s bhooporatam have launched their own versions besides finding common cause with the Communists on pinning the Congress down on the Mudigonda incident. The extent to which the CPI-M has successfuly occupied the space of the principal opposition and is literally setting the agenda for the BJP can be appreciated from this remark by party’s State secretary, B.V. Raghavulu where he acknowledged the solidarity expressed by the BJP.

When the incidents in Mudigonda, Khammam saw 8 CPI-M workers killed Offstumped had then speculated if it would create a wedge between the CPI-M and the Congress.

Well evidently there is more to Mudigonda than meets the eye. The CPI-M tactfully did not take matters to a head while allowing the issue to fester and stretch out into what is now being called the second phase of Bhooporatam. The timing of Karat’s belligerence at the Center on the Nuclear Issue and the expansion of his party’s agitation in Andhra against the Congress provide insights into Project Karat.

It is now becoming increasingly clear that Project Karat is about expanding the CPI-M’s base beyond Kerala and Bengal even if it means at the cost of a few tolerable losses in the interim. Project Karat is  aiming to achieve this by not just occuppying the space of the principal opposition in National Affairs but by pretty much setting the agenda and framing the debate for the next election.

It is this second aspect of Project Karat that should have alarm bells ringing for the BJP. For if the Congress will choose the timing of the next elections, the CPI-M will set the agenda and frame the debate. Which pretty much means like what is happening in Andhra and in New Delhi today the BJP will be drawn into an election that is inconveniently timed and one which will be fought on issues defined by the CPI-M where it the BJP is forced to take a me-too position similar to the Communists.

That is the most profound implication of Project Karat.

Unless the BJP makes the next election about the BJP versus the rest its prospects of aspiring for power appear rather dim.

Offstumped Bottomline: The wedge has outlived its usefulness. Its time for the BJP break away from the Communists on the National Debate as well as in Andhra if it wants to have a serious shot at power.


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