The Communist Party of India (Marxist) appears to be dealing with serious internal issues that could put a question mark on its survival as a key player in Indian politics. Even as leading Opposition parties are strategising about a united front against the mighty BJP, including possibly putting up a common candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, the CPI(M) has stopped its general secretary, Sitaram Yechury, from seeking another term in the Upper House, which ends in August.
The party has a convention that no member gets more than two terms in the Rajya Sabha and also that no general secretary becomes an MP. Yechury was already an MP when he became general secretary.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi have agreed to surrender the Congress party’s Rajya Sabha seat from West Bengal to the CPI(M) but will support only Yechury and no one else.
Yechury is one of the most dynamic speakers in parliament and has shown that he can take on the current government. Earlier, he did the same role when the UPA was in power. In recent times, he has emerged as a sharp critic of the RSS, the BJP and their Hindutva policies. He can speak several Indian languages with ease and is comfortable in both Hindi and English – when he speaks, it is not just on behalf of his party or the Left but for the larger opposition within the country. He is an effective and lucid parliamentarian. As a party man, he is much more pragmatic as compared to his hardline comrades for whom ideological purity is often greater than a political goal.
Everyday politics is different from theology and Yechury understands this well. Within his party, he enjoys the support of the Kerala as well as Bengal cadres. He is media savvy, always ready to give a good quote, a major plus in today’s media-intensive era. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he is now the most visible face of the Left in India. The opposition would be glad to have him in their ranks.
But all this has not impressed the CPI(M).
In recent years, the party has has been losing strength in West Bengal and also in states where it had cadre and support, such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. Since its best electoral performance in parliament in 2004, the CPI(M) has steadily slid downwards.
The party has also not been fully able to refine its position vis a vis the Congress. The electoral alliance with the party in the West Bengal elections was a disastrous affair. The 2004 UPA was marked by the CPI(M) constantly taking on Manmohan Singh’s government over economic policies and the nuclear deal, which resulted in the Left pulling out. Things actually go back to 1964 when 32 members of the undivided Communist Party of India walked out of its National Council meeting in Delhi to protest against the “revisionist policies” of general secretary S.A. Dange and his followers, particularly the failure to have “class struggle” as its main policy. Yechury has nuanced this approach, not just building better relations with the Congress but also clearly making anti-communalism the main thrust of the party.
The rejection of the Congress offer would further reduce the Left’s strength in upper house. With 26 MLAs in the 294-seat West Bengal state assembly, the CPI(M) does not have the numbers to guarantee its candidate’s victory in the RS polls. The Trinamool Congress, with 211 MLAs, could end up winning an extra seat if the Congress (44) and the CPI(M) don’t put up a joint candidate.
The left party’s refusal to permit Jyoti Basu to become the prime minister was termed a ‘historic blunder’ by Basu himself and he had correctly forecast that such an opportunity was not going to return any time soon. The country’s political direction could have been very different if a secular Marxist was given the opportunity to steer the country just four years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. In these times when the opposition needs to stand united, it’s time the party showed some flexibility – by enabling Yechury to contest for a third term and thus avoid another ‘historic blunder.’