TRIVANDRUM, India – The Communist Party of India (CPI), founded in 1925, held its 18th Congress here March 26-31. Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) is the capital of the Indian state of Kerala, which was the first state to elect communists to power in 1957.

In his welcome address, P.K. Vasudevan Nair, chairman of the CPI’s reception committee, told the Congress about the heroic people’s and workers’ history of struggle in Kerala “against princely tyranny, British imperialism, feudal exploitation and social injustice,” including against the caste system.

Nair outlined the achievements of the communist governments over the years. “The communist ministry had initiated many radical reforms in various fields.” The most important was the land reforms law, which abolished landlordism. After a bitter battle, the law was finally implemented by the Achutha Menon Ministry on Jan. 1, 1970.

“Kerala has achieved a 100 percent literacy rate with educational facilities, including higher education, available to all. There is a network of hospitals which caters to the needs of people in the rural areas. Child mortality is the lowest in India. Life expectancy is high,” Nair said.

However, the communists and the left lost the last state election, so many of the economic and social gains are threatened. The Kerala state workers and teachers were forced out on strike for over one month after the new government unilaterally cut workers’ benefits.

The CPI and All India Student Federation volunteers covered in red the whole of Trivandrum and surrounding towns stretching into neighboring Tamil Nadu, along with brilliant paintings, sculptures, posters and signs in three languages: English, Hindi and Malayalam.

Colorful portraits of Indian communists and revolutionaries, along with non-communist freedom fighters and social reformers, like Ghandi, adorned the city. This artwork was a public education service, keeping alive the memory and spirit of sacrifice that individual men and women made while contributing to the revolutionary and democratic people’s history and struggles of India.

India is going through difficult times as a result of imperialist-dominated globalization, led by the Bush administration and backed by U.S. monopoly corporations and the Pentagon. India also faces its own far-right government led by the BJP, which assists corporations and finance capital to further exploitation, inequality, war and poverty, undermining India’s independence, democracy and its own path of development.

The biggest threat to India’s national unity today, CPI General Secretary A.B. Bardhan said, is the communal violence pushed by an alliance of right-wing extremist groups and the ruling BJP party. “Communal forces are on the rampage, with the connivance and collusion of the BJP government at the center and in some states,” Bardhan said. “India’s secularism, its cultural heritage and diversity, the fraternal ties that bind its people together, its democratic institutions – all are under attack.”

The CPI condemned all forms of terrorism, “both indigenous and cross-border,” which have taken a heavy toll of lives, but opposed the government’s anti-terrorist initiative, as draconian and repressive.

The CPI Congress took place a few days after the conclusion of the Communist Party of India – Marxist 17th Congress in Hyderabad. (CPI-(M)) General Secretary Harkishan Singh Surjit spoke at the CPI’s opening session. Bardhan spoke at the CPI(M)’s Congress, as well. CPI and CPI(M) are actively working to promote communist and left unity in action. Another left party leader, K. Pankajakshan from the RSP, also spoke to the Congress. Both CPI and CPI(M) Congresses adopted a left alternative electoral approach as the basis to build a broad secular and democratic alternative to the BJP.

The CPI Congress made history by inviting two prominent non-communist leaders to address the delegates. Anti-globalization and Narmada Bachao Andolan leader, Medha Patkar, who was attending a women’s conference connected to the CPI Congress, inspired the CPI delegates with her call for greater unity and action between parties like the CPI and the anti-globalization movements.

A series of dams have been proposed for Narmada. If built, they would displace 400,000 people in Gujurat. Writer Arundhati Roy has also been one of the forceful voices against this project.

Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh also addressed the Congress delegates. Introduced as a long-time friend of the left, Singh focused on left, democratic and secular unity to counter the communal forces. Singh got a rousing ovation when he said both to the delegates and at a seminar on Indian economy and globalization which was connected to the CPI Congress, “Nothing is more secular than hunger. It recognizes neither caste nor religion. By going to Ayodhya, have the farmers in Uttar Pradesh got electricity? We have had enough of religion. I pray to God that we may be relieved of it.”

The CPI hosted 49 fraternal communist and workers parties’ delegates and press representing 26 countries. At the Congress’ conclusion a mass rally of over 150,000 people was held.

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org

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