Friday, February 1, 2008

Communist party conference: the Chinese parallel

Kerala views the State conference of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), due to be held at Kottayam in the next few days, as the last item of a long process. Actually an even more important event is to follow: the all-India party congress, to be held at Coimbatore.
That event is not receiving much attention for two reasons. One is that there is no power struggle at the national level, as there is in the State. The other is that the leaders and rank and file of the party in the State have developed the mentality of a regional party.

From its birth, the CPI (M) has followed the system of democratic centralism, evolved by the world communist movement. The Kerala conferences revealed both its strength and weakness. For the first time in the party’s history, the central leadership had provided guidelines for the conduct of conferences with a view to checking the sectarianism that has been raging in the State party for a few years. Yet there was sectarian trial of strength at all levels.

CPI (M) conferences are held once in three years. The ‘democratic centralist’ style is to accept by acclamation the official panel prepared by the outgoing office-bearers in consultation with the leadership of higher councils. But members have the freedom to contest against the official panel. Both factions used this freedom. Quite naturally it did more good to the official faction than to the other one. The centre could only look on helplessly as its guidelines were violated with impunity at the lowest levels. But when such violations were repeated at the district level, it could not pretend it had not seen them. When it sought to intervene, the State leadership showed its strength. It refused to part with the district committees it had captured from the rival faction. At the same time it offered the centre a consolation prize. It agreed to reconvene the Thiruvananthapuram district conference and approve by acclamation the State conference delegates belonging to the V. S. Achuthanandan faction who had been defeated in contested elections.

State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan’s demonstration of his hold in the party through contests and compromises can be seen as a triumph of inner-party democracy (of non-centralist variety). But then the question arises how he gained the upper hand. M.V. Raghavan has said that Pinarayi Vijayan used all the tactics normally employed in a general election except impersonation of voters. Raghavan is not an impartial observer where CPI (M) is concerned. But no one else is likely to be better informed than him on what is going on in the party.

The conferences at various levels give the members the opportunity to review the party’s working during the previous three years and chalk out programmes for the coming years. There is nothing in the media reports to indicate that this happened at the lower levels. They only speak of the Pinarayi faction attacking the VS faction and vice versa. All that now remains to be seen is whether participants in the Kottayam deliberations will be able to evaluate properly the performances of the party and its government and remedy the weaknesses evident in them, without being subjugated to sectarianism. To put it differently, the question is whether the central leaders present there will be able to facilitate this. In the democratic centralist set-up, the General Secretary ought to be able to do so. But there is a snag. As Pinarayi Vijayan recently said, he is not a leader who was dropped into A. K. G. Centre through the roof. The General Secretary is a leader who was so dropped.

The activities of the past three years have brought the party assets as well as allegations. The assets have come from vested interests like fake lottery operators and the land mafia. (Let us avoid the old term bourgeoisie.) So great is their enthusiasm that when the party asks for one million they are ready to give six. Allegations have come from an assortment of people like Vinitha Kottayi of Kannur against whom the local party leader has imposed sanctions, Chithralekha of Payyannur who insists on driving autos to earn a living even after smart CITU men burnt her auto, and Jayasree of Erayamkudi, Thrissur, who will not let a brick maker whom the party favours carry on his business peaceably. Maybe the delegates must consider how the CPI (M) has become a party that commits atrocities against women. Also how the party which had taken the lead in land reforms has been reduced to a state where its ministers act as intermediaries who are obliged to remove any obstacles encountered by land grabbers.

The Communist Party of China holds its conferences once in five years. While visiting the country at conference time, I saw a lot of reports about corruption in the newspapers. All of them emanated from the official news agency. It is an organization with two Central Committee members at the top. When I had the opportunity to meet one of them I expressed appreciation of the agency’s frank coverage of corruption. “You haven’t seen everything,” he told me. “Only the Politburo sees everything that we report.”

At that time Deng’s reforms were only ten years old. According to tales that were doing the rounds, all doors will open before the entrepreneur if he deposits enough money for the local party leader’s son or daughter to study in the US for five years and hands it over the passbook to him. But the party had already started moving against corruption.

According to a report presented to China’s parliament by the president of the Supreme People’s Court in 2000, in the previous year 15,700 persons were punished for corruption-related offences. Two of them were working at the ministerial level. The deputy governor of a province was hanged for taking bribes. The Chinese National Conditions Research Centre, a unit of the Academy of Sciences, the country’s highest academic body, and Tsinghua University jointly undertook a study of corruption cases involving persons of the level of vice-minister and upwards, which were reported between 1978, the year in which the Deng reforms began, and 2002. Their report said that during 1978-1992, there were investigations against 110 persons who were working at provincial and ministerial levels. The party took severe action against some of them. Cases against 31 persons were referred to courts. All of them were punished.

Self-building of ant-corruption personnel is one of the important items on the programme for the next five years adopted by the Chinese party congress held last year. How lucky we are! Do we have any such problem?
Based on "Nerkkazhcha" column which appeared in Kerala Kaumudi dated January 31, 2008

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