Nicola Nasser: Leftists Defy Indian Politics of Liberal Economics

By Nicola Nasser
Special to

The accelerated pace of India’s liberal economics and pragmatic ties with the United States and Israel risks polarizing Indian domestic politics and invoking a deep-seated communist as well as Islamist anti – Americanism with a realistic potential for a foreign policy strategic shift leading unintentionally and indirectly to creating an internal political environment that could be receptive for the first time to the agitation of the extreme violent Islamists who have been waiting on the sidelines for such a “golden opportunity” in the turbulent Afghani and Pakistani neighborhood, as well as for the agitation of the violent Indian Maoists.
Indian diplomats proudly highlight the fact that their country’s democratic and secular tradition has so far spared India the atrocities of the U.S. – led global war on terrorism and similarly proudly note that so far al-Qaeda has failed to recruit or implicate anyone of the Indian world’s second largest Muslim community, after Indonesia, in their schemes or activities.
The communist – leftist factor has had a decisive role in attracting grassroots anti – globalization, anti – American and anti – Israeli grievances into the traditional democratic channels of the Indian secular system away from violent Maoist and Islamist extremism; however the politics of India’s internally liberal economics and external pragmatic U.S. and Israeli ties risk also polarizing the democratic communist – leftist front, the national third mainstream political movement, and might make their role more difficult as well as more critical in neutralizing the violent Maoist and Islamist threats.
While the Islamist threat is looming, the Maoist is already an Indian security headache. According to a Christian Science Monitor report on August 28 last year, the Maoist insurrection is spreading across India “like an oil stain across paper,” already affecting 14 of India ‘s 28 States (Chatisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Asma, Uttaranchal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Bihar ). In figures, that means the Maoists are in control in 165 districts out of the total of 602 into which the country is divided. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recognized the Maoist advance on August 23rd 2006 when he declared to Parliament that the Maoists “have become the biggest internal challenge to security that India has,” the Monitor reported. Undoubtedly Maoists and Islamists will find in the Indian foreign and internal politics of liberal economics precious ammunition for their anti-American propaganda as well as for their internal “struggle.”
Already India ’s foreign policy and globalization – oriented liberal economics are creating cracks in the so far united communist – leftist front. The Communist Party of India (CPI) has recently moved for a review of Left parties’ outside support to the ruling coalition of the Congress – led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), but The Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M), with 44 seats of the New Delhi Parliament’s total of 543, was wisely not for such a move, lest it would bring down the Government: “At this juncture, it [review] would be counterproductive,” said a political developments report, adopted by the central committee of the CPI-M at a June 24-26 meeting.
The Left has been critical of Singh government’s economic and foreign policies and is working for a “political alternative,” the head of the CPI-M, Prakash Karat, told Reuters in an interview recently, adding that the ruling coalition had failed internally to curb rising food prices and was not addressing poverty and lack of investment in the countryside while following unpopular economic policies.
Externally the leftists see that a nuclear deal with the U.S. would or at least could compromise the ruling coalition’s commitment to “independent foreign policy.” India’s National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan was expected with a high-ranking delegation in Washington for talks on July 16-18 to clinch a nuclear deal with the U.S. to coincide with the second anniversary of the landmark July 18 agreement,” the Indian Express reported; two major sticking points has been U.S. reluctance to allow India to reprocess spent atomic fuel, a crucial step in making weapons-grade nuclear material, and to continue nuclear tests. The Indian leftists criticize these U.S. conditions as constraints on India ’s sovereign decision making. They also protested a port call in Chennai in early July by the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz, a first by a U.S. aircraft carrier.
Moreover they view the deal as courting India away from a potential alliance with Russia and China to counterweight the U.S. global hegemony. They note also that the U.S. administration began the process of agreement with India on the nuclear issue in March 2006, putting an end to the 30-year embargo on nuclear material she imposed on India in 1974, at the same time she began her nuclear crisis with Iran , with whom India has strategic oil interests.
During the last 18 years, India has been gradually dismantling its centralized economy and privatizing its main sectors under the wing of a battery of laws to protect Direct Foreign Investments, especially those from the United States that have now increased from US$76m to US$4bn.
The accelerated pace of the growing ties with Israel was another foreign policy point of criticism by Indian leftists and communists. On July 18 The Times of India reported a “crucial milestone in growing Indo-Israeli military ties” to lift-off from the space centre at Sriharikota an Israeli spy satellite called TechSar, weighing about 260 kg, by a four-stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
Earlier there was the $2.5 billion project to develop a medium range SAM for use with India’s land forces and the Israeli Barak missile system $350 million deal, which the Indian Navy chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, strongly defended in a statement on May 15, saying there was “nothing comparable” to it anywhere in the world, which was objected to by none other than President APJ Abdul Kalam and claimed as its major victim former defense minister George Fernandes in a widely reported corruption scandal.
Communist – led Left on the Move
Reversing an historical trend worldwide, the Indian communists and leftists have been gaining more ground and making progress in a very hostile political and economic environment where globalization – oriented liberals are ruling and responding to the strategic overtures of the United States, the leader of globalization, irrespective of the their affiliation to the Congress or the Janata parties.
At least economically the dividing lines between the mainstream parties of the Congress and Janata have become blurred since 1991 when the leading member of the Congress, Manmohan Singh, became the finance minister of the Janata – led government of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, long before securing his party’s nomination for premiership in 2004, a position he still occupies ever since.
An economist by profession and a veteran of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as his country’s central bank, Singh, the first ever Sikh prime minister of India, is considered the most educated and one of the most qualified and influential prime ministers in India’s history, mainly because of the liberal economic reforms he initiated in 1991 and the Indian economic liberalization, which have become established under his premiership since May 22, 2004; he got rid of several socialist policies and opened the nation to foreign direct investments, thus paving the way for stronger relations with the U.S. and Israel, the biggest and the most controversial achievement of his legacy.
Most likely because of the context of this hostile environment, the Indian communists and leftists, who have been closely involved in the presidential and vice presidency elections on July 19 and in August respectively, are gaining ground and making progress while at the same time opposing both the political and economic strategic opening to the U.S. and Israel as well as standing up to the victimization of millions of Indians by the official opening to globalization by the government’s liberal economics.
Ironically the Indian cornerstone of liberal economics and U.S. and Israeli –oriented politics, that is the government of Dr. Singh, is uplifted to survive only by the 61 legislative votes, representing more than 120 million voters, of the Left Front in the federal lower House of parliament. Today, for the first time in India ’s history, the federal government in New Delhi remains in power thanks to the Left Front, who decided to support the coalition government led by the Congress from the outside.
This anti – “Red Scare” realpolitic fact of Indian politics is a credit to the world’s largest democracy, which compares positively with the second largest democracy of the United States, where communists and leftists are still screened to deny them employment in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the administration, in line with the 1950s McCarthyism that is supposed to be a defunct “security” practice a long time ago.
Lost in the lively turbulent diversity of the Indian pluralistic society — where monotheistic and non-monotheistic religions and sects sometimes violently clash and other times indulge in dialogue within or outside the limits of secular jurisdiction, national languages in the hundreds coexisting with that of the British colonialist who was “non-violently” forced out leaving behind his English tongue, the unjust four – sect social system that is ironically a national trade mark of the world’s largest democracy, the economic widening gap between the rich and the poor, the continental contradictory landscape between the heights crowned with snow around the year and the arid land of deserts in a country sliced here and there by “sacred” rivers overlooking the Indian Ocean that took its name from her — the outsider often misses the important fact of life of a political system whose democratic credibility allows communist endeavors to prosper in the sea of a national capitalist liberalism swimming in an ocean of globalization after the collapse of the international communist system.
In West Bengal, the communist – led Left Front last June celebrated the 30th anniversary of being successively elected to govern more than 80 million Indians since June 21, 1977, a record electoral success not only in India but also in any parliamentary democracy worldwide. “Consolidate This Alternative,” the People’s Democracy urged on June 24 in an editorial, which MP Sitaram Yechury, the leader of the parliamentary group of The Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M) and member of the party’s Politbureau, told this writer that he had written. The Left Front also governs in the states of Kerala and Minipur.
The communists are partners also in the ruling left fronts in Tripura and Tamil Nadu but have no cabinet ministers of their own. On grassroots level they lead mass organizations like the All India Trade Union Congress, All India Youth Federation, All India Students Federation, National Federation of Indian Women, All India Peasants Organization and the All India Agricultural Workers.
The Communist Party of India – Maoist is outlawed, but the CPI-M and the CPI are recognized by the Election Commission of India as “national parties,” and to date, they are the only national political parties that have contested the mainstream Congress and Janata in “all the general elections using the same electoral symbol.” They lead what is known in Indian media as the Left Front, which supports the Indian National Congress – led UPA coalition government in New Delhi , but without taking part in it; their support is conditional on committing to the Common Minimum Programme that pledges to discontinue disinvestment, massive social outlays and an independent foreign policy. (Wikipedia)
Communists are old hands in India . They set up their party early the 1920s, but were outlawed by the British colonial power until Britain allied herself with the former Soviet Union during the WWII and lifted the ban on Indian communists. After the independence in 1947 they resorted to “armed struggle” against local kings and sultans and their people’s army and militia briefly ruled the Hyderabad kingdom before they were brutally crushed out to drop violence ever since. They were the first opposition party to win state elections and rule in Kerala in 1957, an achievement that was criticized by their Chinese and other international comrades. The Indian Chinese war in 1962 split them between “internationalists” and “nationalists.” The split was institutionalized in 1964 with two party congresses.
Foreign Policy is another area where the Indian and American “democracies” diverge, noted Teresita Schaffer, director for the South Asia Program with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the former US deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia and former ambassador to Sri Lanka: “Both nations have different views about how their common democratic heritage should affect foreign policy. For Americans, it is natural to want to advance democracy. For India , however, democracy is not necessarily a product suitable for export. Democratic institutions are a source of great pride, deeply ingrained in how Indian government, politics and society work, yet one aspect of India’s anti-colonial history that remains strong is its passionate commitment to maintaining and respecting national sovereignty. India not only resists external interference, but is reluctant to make a public issue of other countries’ systems of government.”
Non-Alignment on Balance
The divergence on foreign policy between the world’s two largest democracies emanates from India ’s anti-colonial legacy, which led New Delhi since independence to strictly tiptoe delicate “non-alignment” policies during the “cold war” era of the bipolar Soviet – U.S. world politics. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union India embarked early in the 1990s on her liberal economics and pragmatic foreign policy, but nonetheless remained honest to her anti-colonial policies to carefully avoid being dragged into the U.S. – led global war on terrorism in a way that could embroil her in the American overseas military adventures and in what many Indian diplomats still condemn as “imperialist” endeavors. Indian foreign policy accordingly is still committed to her traditional solidarity with the world’s national liberation movements.
However the Indian independence advocates of all political spectrum, with the communist and leftist third mainstream political movement in the forefront, are now pondering for how long New Delhi could resist the realistic outcome of the interaction between her globalization – oriented liberal economics and her pragmatic foreign policy. India ’s traditional non-alignment is on the balance with potential strategic implications: “A flourishing Indo-Israeli relationship has the potential to make a significant impact on global politics by altering the balance of power, not only in South Asia and the Middle East , but also in the larger Asian region,” Harsh V. Pant wrote as early as December 2004 in volume No. 8 of the Israeli MERIA.
India’s traditional solidarity with the Palestinian people is the best example of a wider solidarity with the world’s national liberation movements, but, “With India-Israel bilateral engagement deepening, New Delhi ‘s status as a friend of the Arabs is being steadily eroded. Although India continues to maintain a ‘studied neutrality’ between Israel and the Palestinians, it is doing a balancing act. And even a balancing act is a significant shift, given India ‘s unambiguous support to the Palestinian cause for many decades,” Sudha Ramachandran wrote in Asia Times on June 26, 2002.
Indian communists are very well aware of their historical responsibility to preempt the potential alignment of their country’s non-aligned foreign policy; they are careful to maintain their ideological and international solidarity relations with their comrades worldwide as well as with the national liberation movements, in particular the Palestinian national struggle.
On the 40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories in Israel’s 1967 “war of aggression,” Sitaram Yechury, member of the CPI-M’s Polit Bureau and leader of his party’s parliamentary group accepted the joint invitation of the Communist Party of Israel and the Palestinian (formerly communist) People’s Party for a three – day programme in Jerusalem on June 4, named “the Jerusalem Initiative,” which was also attended by 27 international delegations from 12 countries including 7 women organizations and representatives of the communist parties of the U.S.A., Britain, Italy, Portugal, Greece and France, the Socialist Left Party of Norway, Red-Green Alliance of Denmark, The Left Party of Germany, AKEL of Cyprus and RJD of India.
Yechury returned to India to educate tens of millions of communists and leftists on the Palestinian national struggle for self-determination in lectures, conferences and three articles published by the party’s “People’s Democracy” and republished or reported by a network of communist and leftist media. He told this writer, who met with Yechury in the Palestinian West Bank town of Ramallah and in New Delhi, that his party and friends collected hundreds of thousands of dollars as a donation to the Palestinian people to help them survive the suffocating two-year old economic siege imposed on them by the Israeli occupying power and her strategic U.S. ally.
-Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait , Jordan , UAE and Palestine ; he is based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli – occupied territories.

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