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Churning in Bengal CPM: 300 young leaders take charge as party hopes for revival

The CPI(M) has inducted more than 300 young leaders across all 23 districts of West Bengal, replacing more than 60% of the leaders between 60 and 80 years of age

india Updated: Mar 02, 2018 08:25 IST
Tanmay Chatterjee
Tanmay Chatterjee
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
CPIM in Bengal,Communist Party of India (Marxist),West Bengal CPI-M
A tailor stitches CPI(M) party flags at a workshop, ahead of the Tripura assembly election, in Agartala on February 19. The new faces — many of whom are in their 30s and 20s — have been brought in through organisational elections over the past two months.(PTI file)

With just months to go for the crucial rural polls in West Bengal and the 2019 general elections looming large, the battered Communist Party of India (Marxist) has purged its ranks of aging leaders and replaced them with young faces. The youth drive, the left party hopes, will boost its fortunes in a state it ruled for 34 straight years but where it has struggled to win even local elections recently.

The CPI(M) has inducted more than 300 young leaders across all 23 districts of the state, replacing more than 60% of the leaders between 60 and 80 years of age, according to internal party documents seen by Hindustan Times. The new leaders are all under 50 years of age but most of them are lightweights in state politics. As many as seven district committees, including that of the state capital Kolkata, now have new secretaries.

The new faces — many of whom are in their 30s and 20s — have been brought in through organisational elections over the past two months, and the party hopes the changes will bring back its golden years when it was led by former chief minister Jyoti Basu, who was just 39 when he took over as the state secretary in 1953. At that time, the party leadership were mostly around 40 years of age while the foot soldiers were all college students.

But over the years, the party came to be dominated by older leaders — Basu himself stepped aside as CM when he was 86. For example, the party’s highest-decision-making body, the 16-member politburo, has an average age of 69 with the oldest member at 80.

With more young people coming in, the CPI(M) in Bengal is gung-ho about its prospects, which have dipped since the party lost power in 2011. Since then, the CPI(M) and its other Left Front allies have been humiliated in a string of elections as the Trinamool Congress has steadily expanded in rural areas and among farmers, once considered Left bastions. The CPI(M) is now no longer even the biggest opposition party in the state.

“This dynamism is necessary. People have taken note and the turnout at recent rallies in the districts was encouraging. Many of our old workers are returning to the fold,” said CPI(M) politburo member and Lok Sabha MP, Mohammad Salim.

But other parties aren’t impressed.

“The CPI(M) should have thought of this years ago. It’s useless to inject life supporting medicine when a patient is already dead,” said BJP national general secretary Rahul Sinha.

Partha Chatterjee, state education minister and secretary general of the Trinamool Congress, said, “This is an internal matter of the CPI(M) and I don’t wish to comment. However, one must keep in mind that all election results show that the masses are with us.”

Experts say the rejig might help the party in the long run, though it might not win back lost support.

“It’s a good move to let younger people take charge. Though one can never be sure, I think there is a possibility that this may help the CPI(M) revive its structure,” said Amal Mukherjee, political scientist and former principal of Presidency College.

The process began in December 2015, when an internal organisation report, which HT has accessed, admitted that the party lacked young leaders more than ever before. The report was presented before the CPI(M)’s national leadership at an organisational plenum. One portion of the report said in Bengal only 13.5 per cent members were less than 31 years old.

“Seventy per cent Indians are aged below 40. Without youth nobody has a future. CPI(M) also doesn’t have a future,” party general secretary Sitaram Yechury had said then.

The party is hoping the change helps its sinking fortunes in the districts and among the countryside, where the Trinamool has hived off a majority of its erstwhile supporters.

“We have seen rays of hope but the task is Himalayan. At least 20,000 people attended our rally at Uttarpara in January. Finding a way to utilise this energy is the real challenge,” said Debabrata Ghosh, 49, the new secretary of the Hooghly district committee.

A new district carved out of the once Marxist infested Jangalmahal region, Jhargram now poses a challenge for the CPI(M). “Carrying out organisational work is extremely difficult. Many of our party offices, such as the ones at Jambani and Binpur, are occupied either by Trinamool workers or paramilitary forces. The one at Dakshinsole was blown away by Maoists,” said Pulin Behari Baske, 50, the new secretary of the district committee. He hopes more young people in the party will inject fresh energy into the otherwise moribund party organisation.

First Published: Mar 01, 2018 22:42 IST