Communist Parties

Communist Parties

The Communist Party of India (CPI) was founded on December 26, 1925, at an all-India conference held at Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, in late December 1925 and early January 1926. Communists participated in the independence struggle and, as members of the Congress Socialist Party, became a formidable presence on the socialist wing of the Indian National Congress. They were expelled from the Congress Socialist Party in March 1940, after allegations that the communists had disrupted party activities and were intent on coopting party organizations. Indeed, by the time the communists were expelled, they had gained control over the entire Congress Socialist Party units in what were to become the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. Communists remained members of the Indian National Congress although their support of the British war effort after the German invasion of the Soviet Union and their nationalist policy supporting the right of religious minorities to secede from India were diametrically opposed to Congress policies. As a result, the communists became isolated within the Congress. After independence, communists organized a peasant uprising in the Telangana region in the northern part of what was to become Andhra Pradesh. The uprising was suppressed only after the central government sent in the army. Starting in 1951, the CPI shifted to a more moderate strategy of seeking to bring communism to India within the constraints of Indian democracy. In 1957 the CPI was elected to rule the state government of Kerala only to have the government dismissed and President's Rule declared in 1959.

In 1964, in conjunction with the widening rift between China and the Soviet Union, a large leftist faction of the CPI leadership, based predominantly in Kerala and West Bengal, split from the party to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M). The CPI (M)-led coalition victory in the 1967 West Bengal state elections spurred dissension within the party because a Maoist faction headed a peasant rebellion in the Naxalbari area of the state, just south of Darjiling (Darjeeling). The suppression of the Naxalbari uprising under the direction of the CPI (M)-controlled Home Ministry of the state government led to denunciations by Maoist revolutionary factions across the country. These groups--commonly referred to as Naxalites--sparked new uprisings in the Srikakulam region of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and other parts of West Bengal. In 1969 several Naxalite factions joined together to form a new party--the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)--CPI (M-L). However, pursuit of insurrectionary tactics in the face of harsh repression by the government along with an array of ideological disputes kept Naxalite factions isolated in their local bases.

In the 1990s, the CPI (M) enjoys the most political strength of any communist group. Nationally, its share of the vote has gradually increased from 4.2 percent in 1967 to 6.7 percent in 1991, but it has largely remained confined to Kerala, Tripura, and West Bengal. In Kerala the CPI (M) in coalition with other parties wrested control from the Congress and its allies (frequently including the CPI) in 1967, in 1980, and in 1987. Support for the CPI (M) in Kerala in general elections has ranged from 19 percent to 26 percent, but the party has never won more than nine of Kerala's twenty seats in Parliament. From 1977 to 1989, the CPI (M) dominated Tripura's state government. It won two parliamentary seats in 1971, 1980, and 1984, but it lost all of its seats in 1977, 1989, and 1991. In West Bengal, the CPI (M) has ruled the state government with a coalition of other leftist parties since 1977, and, since that time, the party has also dominated West Bengal's parliamentary delegation.

Support for the CPI is more evenly spread nationwide, but it is weak and in decline. The CPI share of the parliamentary vote has more than halved from 5.2 percent in 1967 to 2.5 percent in 1991.

In 1982 a CPI (M-L) faction entered the parliamentary arena by forming the Indian People's Front. In the 1989 general elections, the front won a parliamentary seat in western Bihar, and in 1990 it won seven seats in the Bihar legislative assembly. However, the Indian People's Front lost its parliamentary seat in the 1991 parliamentary elections when its vote in Bihar declined by some 20 percent.


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