The upheaval the CPI(M) is going through in West Bengal can be attributed to a split in the central and state party lines. Unless resolved, this could lead to further outbursts from party members.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal has been making headlines for the wrong reasons once again – this time over the outbursts of Rajya Sabha MP Ritabrata Bandopadhyay against the party leadership in TV interviews, which has led to his expulsion from the party.
A CPI(M) statement issued by its West Bengal state secretary on September 17, 2017, said that the concerned MP has faced an internal party enquiry following allegations of:
(i) continuous leakage of internal party matters and discussions to the media,
(ii) moral degeneration in relation to women,
(iii) serious inconsistencies between his income and expenditure,
(iv) lavish life-style incompatible with the (sic) member of the Party.
“In its report the enquiry commission found him outright guilty,” the statement continues.
The party statement also mentions that while the state committee had initially recommended a milder punishment for Bandopadhyay, his attacks against the party in a TV interview “in tune with the tirade of the enemies” has precipitated the summary expulsion.
The nature of Bandopadhyay’s outbursts against the party leadership in the interview to ABP Ananda on September 11 made it clear that he wanted to part ways with the CPI(M). His personal attacks against the chairperson of the enquiry committee that probed the charges against him had communal overtones and were in very poor taste. His allegations regarding the harassment of Bengali leaders at the hands of the central leadership also appear unconvincing, since it was the party’s state committee that received allegations against him and instituted an inquiry, later suspending him from the state committee for three months. Most importantly, his simultaneous overtures towards the party ruling at the Centre point towards a possible ideological-political defection to the right-wing camp.
The CPI(M), however, has not handled matters involving the MP in a fair and transparent manner. Complaints against Bandopadhyay have accumulated over the last few years, from disrupting the student movement in the aftermath of SFI activist Sudipto Gupta’s death in police custody in April 2013, to his vindictive efforts to get a party member dismissed from his job at a Bengaluru-based firm for making sarcastic posts about his Apple watch and Mont Blanc pen on social media in February 2017. But the most serious of these charges appears to be those made against him by women.
Curiously, the CPI(M) did not include any woman member in the internal enquiry committee that probed charges against Bandopadhyay made by women – going against the standard norm in such cases following the Vishakha judgment of the Supreme Court. The nature of these charges have remained a mystery, with the party choosing to term them as “moral degeneration in relation to women”. Does this ensure justice for the women who complained against him? On the contrary, it appears as though those cases have been buried in the cacophony surrounding the MP’s expulsion. For a party which says it is committed to fight for gender equality and women’s rights, this is a very bad example to set.
CPI(M)’s handling of the affair is marked by the same factional trends which have dogged the party for a while now. The personal attacks that Bandopadhyay launched against the former general secretary of the CPI(M) were on lines similar to those recently made by another central committee and state secretariat member from Bengal, Gautam Deb.
Deb, in an interview to ABP Ananda on July 28, accused some party leaders of being jealous of Sitaram Yechury’s popularity and alleged that this was the reason behind the central committee’s decision not to nominate him as a Rajya Sabha candidate from West Bengal. This amounts to a serious breach of party discipline, but no action was taken against the central committee member. This inaction must have encouraged a junior functionary like Bandopadhyay to shoot his mouth off.
The charge against Bandopadhyay of “leakage” of internal party matters to the media may be true, but it is inconceivable that the torrent of such media leaks in recent years – regarding the meetings of the polit bureau, central committee and state secretariat – were his handiwork, since Bandopadhyay was only a West Bengal state committee member. There are obviously other senior functionaries of the CPI(M), both at the Centre and in West Bengal, who regularly “leak” inner-party information to the media to pursue their own factional interests. Bandopadhyay would have learnt such practises from them and thought it was fair game. Would punishing Bandopadhyay cure other party leaders of this disease?
The short point is that the central and state leadership of the CPI(M) cannot wash their hands when a Rajya Sabha MP from the party, who also held the important position of the general secretary of its student front, goes rogue. Given the fact that Bandopadhyay’s elevation to a Rajya Sabha MP from the party was contentious from the very beginning, with many party members opposing it (often publicly), those in the leadership who backed him till date must claim some responsibility.
It is well known by now that the West Bengal state unit of the CPI(M) does not agree with or follow the political line adopted by the party congress of the CPI(M), which a majority of the CPI(M) central committee pursues. This was evident when the CPI(M) in West Bengal opted for an open electoral alliance with the Congress party against the Trinamool Congress in the 2016 state assembly elections, even as the party was fighting the elections against the Congress-led United Democratic Front in Kerala.
After the CPI(M)’s humiliating defeat in Bengal, the central committee of the CPI(M) found the electoral tactics pursued by the West Bengal state committee to be “not congruent” with the political line of the party and directed it to “rectify” its error. The state committee however, has continued to ally with the Congress, as was seen in the latest round of civic polls held in August 2017. It is also worth noting that the CPI(M)-Congress alliance in Bengal has been unable to check the erosion of the Left’s electoral base, significant sections of which have continued to shift to the BJP.
The CPI(M)’s position as an all-India party has already become untenable in Bengal because no party can run with two different political lines. If the West Bengal state committee continues to defy the central line of the party, it could ultimately lead to a split – and the convulsions that the CPI(M) is undergoing in Bengal right now can be attributed to this tussle. Unless this debate over the political direction of the party is resolved, occasional public outbursts by individual functionaries and their expulsions will recur. They are mere symptoms of the disarray at the very top.
Subhanil Chowdhury is an economist who was formerly associated with the CPI(M).