India is passing through very difficult times in terms of economic and livelihood crisis, threats to plurality and ‘unity in diversity’, as well as erosion of democratic rights and norms. Tens of millions of working class people are deeply worried about threats to their livelihood and loss of income. Even millions in the more secure middle class are worried about their jobs and economic security. While the minorities are worried about increasing insecurity and less than equal opportunities, many others may not themselves suffer from such insecurity but nevertheless feel very sad about the decline of plurality and secular ethos.
In the middle of all these worrying problems and difficulties, there is quite naturally a search among people regarding who among them can help to check the rising threats and who can be trusted to stand up to the dangers of facing authoritarian onslaught, instead of reaching an unprincipled compromise when faced with growing pressures? People need someone who is committed to social and communal harmony, as judged by past record, as well as to secularism. When people search all around for some organized force which meets all these requirements, the presence of left forces is a source of reassurance and hope for them, of a feeling that we will overcome.
It has been widely said in recent times that the left has weakened in India. Going by the presence in the Parliament this is certainly true . There have been other setbacks also, and the left must learn from them. Despite this the left has kept steady a significant level of core support, based on worker and farmer unions and organizations, as well as committed student and women organizations. Counting only the left organizations committed broadly to constitutional path of change, they together have a national presence, reaching almost all parts of the country.
What is more, the left has often been able to punch above its weight by taking on highly relevant issues which other political forces ignore. This includes issues concerning onslaught of imperialism and crony capitalism. Many people, and not just affected workers, are worried about the scandalous erosion and impending sale of several important public sector units. Many are worried about the future of nationalized banks, and even more about the Life Insurance Corporation of India, truly a national institution with many-sided contributions, and they feel that the left has been raising important questions regarding these trends and resisting the onslaught, even though in a limited way. In this context one often sees ordinary people, not a part of left forces, praising the stand taken by left forces.
The left has stood consistently for many important livelihood rights and issues, pushing for good changes, resisting wrong policies. The left forces have been in the forefront of consistently opposing recent legislations widely seen to be harmful to the interests of farmers and workers, even before the events of the last six weeks or so. It has consistently and strongly opposed the drift towards communalism, and the resulting increasing insecurity of minorities seen in recent years.
Hence when people look for a secular force to strengthen inter-faith unity and harmony, a force which can at the same time protect livelihood concerns while guarding also critical national interests regarding public sector and foreign trade, banking and insurance, they invariably think of the left forces whose presence all over the country is reassuring and a sign of hope. This is a great strength , this trust of people on some issues of critical importance is a very important asset of the overall left movement, a strength on which it should build further, carefully and with commitment, very thoughtfully and with dedication, keeping in view also the needs of these exceptionally difficult times.
While building on its strengths the left should also seek to strengthen its weak points; for example the left has been relatively weak on environmental issues and in integrating environmental issues with justice issues. Strengthening the unity not just of left forces but of all forces committed to the steady pursuit of justice and equality through constitutional, broadly non-violent path of struggle is a huge challenge. An advantage for left forces is that they have a base among workers as well as farmers, in villages as well as towns and cities.
Although in many places this base may only be a limited one, the broader unity of left forces can help to expand this. Then linking up with other secular political parties and forces, who may not entirely share the economic program of the left, is yet another big challenge requiring care and caution but also some flexibility so that certain adjustments can be made without sacrificing any core principles. In addition there is of course the need for self-introspection, an honest willingness to acknowledge mistakes and to learn from them, without which real progress is not really possible.
Several tasks ahead relating to protection of livelihoods to saving national institutions, including financial institutions, protecting communal harmony as well as democratic norms involve the cooperation of many forces in the country with the left forces having a special position of strength due to their better organization and experience. The left should use this position of strength not to dominate these efforts but to create a feeling of equal importance even when dealing with small players, and to facilitate the emergence of many new participants, particularly the youth, who will bring their own creativity, energy and ideas.
Cooperation with several Gandhian organizations on these issues can open even more creative avenues of benefiting from the strengths of each other and learning from each other. Then there are aspects of environmental protection, bio-diversity, sustainability, compassion for other life-forms and social reform on which left forces have been weaker and have much to learn from other creative forces in society. So the overall approach in these difficult times is certainly for the left forces to play a leading role of resistance and to prepare and strengthen for this, but at the same time avoid having a narrow view of just increasing their own role and instead adopt a broader approach in which all forces of communal harmony, secularism, economic justice and equality, democracy, protection of national institutions , protection of natural resources and environment, are strengthened, contributing to creating a better society all the time while also resisting the onslaught of authoritarian forces.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.