From A Bang To A Whisper
The Fate Of The Red Flag

Mahek Bhatia

Adi Raghavan

It was 1952. The diary of Anne Frank was published, there was a military coup d'etat in Egypt, Nelson Mandela was arrested, Stalin was leading Soviet Russia, and back home, India had announced the results of its first General Election- a grand display in the endless potential of democracy. The Indian National Congress achieved a sweeping victory with 75% of the Lok Sabha seats and 68.5% State Assembly seats. However, the second leading party was not a right-wing institution. It was, in fact, the Communist Party of India, winning 23 Lok Sabha and 147 Assembly Seats.

 

Evidently, India has had a rather rich history of communism and communist ideas. The red flag, now potentially a symbol of failure, used to be the ideology of major political players. Historians can trace the roots of communism in the nation to influential leaders like Tilak who showed their admiration for Lenin post the Russian Revolution, and to the Khilafat Movement, which saw individuals supporting the Caliphate and visiting Soviet Russia to practice their communist beliefs. The primary lifeblood for the Communist spirit at the time, however, was the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. His study of Marxism and the Communist experiment in Russia from a young age sharpened his interest in the possibilities of socialism for economic development, one that reflects in his governance and legacy.

 

When the Indian Constitution was drafted, the Preamble declared India to be a sovereign, secular and democratic republic. Nehru adopted a flexible policy towards socialism as far as India was concerned. He wanted to plant the idea in every mind and wanted it to germinate, as he attempted to legitimize socialist ideals and have it accepted within the political consensus. However, Nehru did not wish to completely force his political ideology on the constitution itself, considering it above personal politics. It was not until 1975, when Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi decided to add the word to the preamble, against a ruling in 1972 by the Supreme Court to not allow amendment.

While Nehru imbibed the socialist ideology, it was the Communist Party of India which led the country on communist lines. In the early 1950s young communist leadership was uniting textile workers, bank employees and unorganized sector workers to ensure mass support in north India. In 1952, the CPI was the first leading opposition party in Lok Sabha. One of the significant communist leaders in India is Sitaram Yechury, who joined the CPI in 1975. See Marxism is a creative science. It's not a formula or dogma. Creative science is based on one fundamental principle - that is concrete analysis of concrete conditions. If you take the concrete conditions and if you don't assess them properly, mistakes happen. If you analyze them wrongly, mistakes happen.- He replied in an interview asking him about the fate of communism in India. He implied that the communist model that he aspired to create would be flexible to the needs and wants of the Indian people- delivering the economic and social equity he always desired.

 

It hasn't all been sunshine, rainbows, progressive ideologies and grassroots movements. Perhaps the darkest history of communist history is the Naxalite movement in India. Naxals are considered far-left communists, supportive of Maoism. Mao Zedong provided the ideological leadership for the Naxalbari movement, advocating that Indian peasants and lower class tribals overthrow the government of the upper classes by force. From 1965-1966, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had a significant figure by the name of Charu Majumdar, and he was a major figure of the movement. Many urban elites were also attracted to the ideology, which spread through Charu Majumdar's writings, particularly the 'Historic Eight Documents' which formed the basis of Naxalite creed. These documents were essays developed from the opinions of communist leaders and theorists such as Mao Zedong, Karl Marx, and Vladimir Lenin. Using People's courts, similar to those established by Mao, Naxalites try opponents and execute with axes or knives, beat, or permanently exile them.

 

In 2006 India's intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing estimated that 20,000 armed-cadre Naxalites were operating in addition to 50,000 regular cadres. Their growing influence prompted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to declare them the most serious internal threat to India's national security. Even the BJP has condemned Naxalism. Rajnath Singh, the Defence Minister of India, vowed to work with the opposition parties to eliminate Naxalism by 2022. Narendra Modi even blamed the previous 'unstable' governments for the rise of extreme leftist ideologies.

 

Communism, however, has soon started fading away in India's political discourse. As the comrades continue to have internal struggles, the ground keeps slipping under their feet. Estimates suggest that the CPI(M) managed to attract 6.28 per cent of the popular vote in West Bengal, a former bastion of over 30 years, in the recent Lok Sabha elections. Its national vote share fell to a little under 2 per cent in these polls. The CPI, ever the feeble sibling, fared worse: it got less than 1 per cent of the vote in these parliamentary elections. There can be no greater proof of the disenchantment between the Left and its core constituencies industrial labour and the peasantry, especially marginal farmers. Among other factors, years of oppression, entrenched corruption, especially in the lower tiers of power, and an ageing leadership have eroded the Left's political base in India.  There is a case to argue that the political impoverishment of the Left has contributed to the rise of polarization in New India, with the rise of a sound right-wing government. The constant splits in the Communist Party, along with bold and extreme ideas as well as skewed leadership has resulted in the parties fading from power. Perhaps Instead of gazing at the past, the CPI(M) and the CPI should explore ways of remaining relevant in the current happenings of the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my opinion, Communist and Socialist principles are nothing but a colossal failure for India. Our socialist policies or the 'licence raj' led us to be reduced to poverty and large debts. In 1991, our economy was staggering, and the effects of socialist policies were seen in the high inflation and widespread unemployment crisis of India. 

 

It is difficult for us today to understand that until 1990, India was hamstrung by a million controls, imposed in the holy name of socialist ideologies and "economic independence" to buttress political independence, which took the form of aiming for economic sufficiency, along with a variation on disastrous soviet-style five-year plans. The public sector was supposed to gain the commanding heights of the economy. Nothing could be manufactured without an industrial license or imported without an import license, and those licenses were scarce and difficult to get. Any producers who exceeded their licensed capacity faced possible imprisonment for the sin of violating the government's sacred plan targets. This era was famously called the 'Licence Raj'. The underlying socialist theory was that the market could not be trusted to produce good social outcomes, so the government in its wisdom must determine where the country's scarce resources should be deployed and what exactly should be produced, in what location, and by whom. In other words, the people would be best served when they had no right to decide what to produce and no right to decide what to consume: that was all to be left to a powerful government. 

 

Congress took the collapsing Soviet Union as the warning sign it was. Dr Manmohan Singh, the then Finance Minister of India introduced the LPG- Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization policy that saved India from an economic crisis. Capital and coverage ratios were reduced, government intervention in commercial decisions was reduced, branch licensing was abolished, and interest rates were determined not by politicians but by market forces. India has been a firsthand witness of how socialist policies have completely crippled its economy. It is, therefore, redundant to preach that it could ever be a successful ideology, as free markets and an open economy saved us from the lowest of lows. Socialist ideas are popular amongst the ignorant youth because it sounds like the most elaborate plan- tax the rich so the poor can be benefited. Practically, however, it resulted in nothing but a colossal failure, lack of FDI combined with an incompetent government. My values of fighting for what you want and not being under the false notion that the world owes you things, values that my parents inculcated in me, are values represented in a capitalist society.

 

That being said, several folks on the other side of the political spectrum might disagree with my beliefs. Like any average sixteen-year-old interested in politics, I am on Twitter. In my opinion, and several political memes, Twitter is ready to start a communist revolution at any moment. Several accounts of young Indians on Twitter identify as communists, preaching Karl Marx's ideas and fighting for equity and revolution in the political sphere. To understand the causes behind the rise of Marxist ideas, especially in the youth, I interacted with Ram Gupta, a fervent believer of a revolution for India, who said, 

 

'The youth today doesn't "believe" in communist ideas, what the youth believes in is equity, solidarity, and revolution. There's a movement towards the Left because we are growing up in worsening conditions. We are frustrated beyond limits— we're running out of jobs, running out of livelihood, running out homes, and well we're running out of a planet. Mao claimed the youth to be a shock force in the struggle for revolution, and that holds true till date.'

 

Perhaps there is hope for a sound left-wing movement in India. The main ingredient lacking for the same is proper leadership. Social media-driven communist fervour in India is full of strong ideas but not strong leadership. While America has far-left leaders like Bernie Sanders and AOC, India lacks effective direction and authority to reach the true aims of the communist revolution. 

 

However, not all hope for the red flag is lost because as India sees widespread right-wing policies, a silent but strong left-wing movement awaits...