|CURRENT ISSUE SEPTEMBER 05, 2005|
|From The Editor-In-Chief|
For the first time in the history of independent India, the Left has found itself with a handle on power in Delhi. Before the last general election, with ageing men in charge, India's leftists were considered a caricature rather than a political force of consequence. All that has changed and today four left parties bring 61 seats that prop up the UPA coalition. The largest among them, the CPI(M), has been revitalised, both by its support to the UPA Government and its very inspired choice of the relatively young 57-year-old Prakash Karat as its top gun.
In the age of the accessible, telegenic politician eager to produce the soundbite that will put them on the nine o' clock news, Karat is a throwback to the prototype communist apparatchik, the hardliner with no apparent weakness for whom ideology is his strength. This is what makes him a formidable adversary. Reticent, almost anonymous, Karat is both the new face of the Left and also an old-style custodian of an ideology that is at odds with most of the Congress-led Government's policies. What makes Karat and the Left so critical in Indian politics today is the fact that after the Congress, the CPI(M) is the most important party in governance. By offering support to the Government from outside, the Left may not be in power but, led by Karat's unwavering adherence to the communist manifesto, the leftists certainly know how to wield it. They are in an enviable position not often available in politics where they can have their cake and eat it too.
The Government has paid a high price for this partnership. When it comes to the UPA's economic roadmap, Karat and the Left have made it clear that they read from another page. They have criticised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for pursuing a pro-US policy, opposed the larger agenda of economic liberalisation and have blocked disinvestment in the insurance and retail sectors. It seems when the Left sneezes, the UPA Government catches a cold. As the charismatic head of what is virtually an opposition within the ruling coalition, Karat has become the figure that regional socialist parties now rally around. With him in charge, the Left hopes it will consolidate its gains and take it closer towards becoming a viable third alternative in Indian politics.
Our cover story this week on India's most inscrutable but influential politician was put together by Principal Correspondent Satarupa Bhattacharjya, who spoke to the rank and file of the left parties, including veteran leaders and longtime workers and to Karat himself. She says, "Karat is a mixture of utterly inflexible politics and great personal charm." Even though he stays faithful to the left line of party over personality, as far as Indian politics goes, Prakash Karat has become the personality to watch.