The story we heard as young students back in the early 1950s was that even as CPI’s student volunteers were marching in a procession against the British regime following the Quit India call by Mahatma Gandhi, Arun Bose, head of the party’s youth brigade went running after them asking them to stop and turn back, shouting: ‘The party line has changed, comrades’! The party itself and its subsequent fragments, including the bigger one — the CPM — have never quite accepted it as a blunder, or even as a minor mistake. Indeed they invariably offer a very laboured explanation of the World War having turned into a ‘people’s war’ with the Soviet Union having intervened on the Allies’ side. Others, however, never let go of an opportunity to remind them of their ‘betrayal’ of the nation at that critical hour. Comrades usually fall silent whenever this reminder is thrown at their face. Come independence in 1947, and before the celebrations had subsided, the party, then led by B T Ranadive, a 1940s version of Prakash Karat, very learned in Marxist theory, completely unfamiliar with the notion of moderation as well as of practical politics, voiced the slogan: “Yeh azadi jhoothi hai; janata abhi bhi bhookhi hai”. He launched an armed uprising from Telengana to overthrow the bourgeois regime which, according to the party, had been placed in power by the colonial regime in a conspiracy against the rising tide of communist revolution. The uprising was suppressed brutally, as the state always does when faced with a threatening challenge. The price paid by faithful believers in the call of revolution was massive. But they were ordinary workers, always dispensable for a worthy cause. The leaders were put in jail and released. Even this was never formally acknowledged as a blunder, although the replacement of Ranadive with Ajoy Ghosh and the resolution to participate in parliamentary politics “to help complete the bourgeois democratic revolution” as a step towards achieving “a people’s democratic revolution” was an implicit admission enough. Things worked smoothly for a while. So long as workers went on strikes and held gheraos and dharnas and simultaneously party candidates contested elections, the state was not really threatened. Indeed, the state welcomed the absorption of the challenging agency into its fold through election of governments in the states. So complete was the absorption that in the next bout of a serious challenge from the outside, i.e., the Naxalite movement, the CPI and CPM became its chief targets. Nor need we forget that the only party other than the Congress which wholeheartedly welcomed the imposition of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi was the CPI. But by now a radical metamorphosis of the communist movement in India had occurred: its role would henceforth remain strictly confined to the four walls of parliamentary politics. With coalition politics becoming the new norm, a great opportunity came its way in 1998 when there was the possibility of Jyoti Basu heading a coalition government. Karat is known to be the one dead set against this happening and succeeded in enacting what Basu later called a “historic blunder”. Basu was not lamenting the denial of the PM’s chair to him; he saw the results of that denial in BJP’s subsequent rise to power for six long years. It was as a corrective to that blunder that he and another ‘practical’ politician in the CPM leadership, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, helped forge a Left-UPA coalition following the 2004 elections. That coalition is in a shambles now, because Karat, who has learnt his Marxism in a British University and JNU, is obviously unmindful of minor headaches like paving the way for the BJP’s return. Ranadive was fortunate in that he did not have to choose from among many enemies: there was no BJP or its predecessor. The Congress was his single enemy. Karat has made his choice. The Congress still remains his single enemy and if he has to traverse the path in the company of the BJP, so be it. He finds the very communal reason given by Mayawati for denunciation of the nuclear deal as anti-Muslim laudable, even as several highly respected Muslim bodies have refused to link Islam with the nuclear deal. Nor has he any problem with all the crores Mayawati has made in the past few years. Mayawati’s declared intention — and the practice of it — to capture power and hold on to it regardless of whoever is willing to support her, including the BJP, is of no concern to Karat either. These small details must be ignored for the higher cause of bringing to heel a government, which spent four years accommodating some reasonable and some grossly unreasonable demands placed before it with a “Do it or else” command. One can imagine the BJP leaders chuckling under their breath about the help the Left is rendering them. If the Left under the leadership of Karat does go all the way and the BJP does stage a return to power at the Centre, there is no doubt that one more senior CPI or CPM leader will call it one more historic blunder, and wait for the next one to happen. The writer was a professor of history at JNU.