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Why Prakash Karat climbed down

The recent CPI(M) conclave in Vijayawada will be remembered as one in which the central leadership conceded major ground to the regional satraps.

india Updated: Aug 11, 2010 00:12 IST
Tanmay Chatterjee
Tanmay Chatterjee
Hindustan Times

Finally, political logic prevailed over personal egos.

And political expediency triumphed over a party’s dogma.

The four-day extended meeting of the CPI(M) central committee at Vijayawada will go down in the history of the party for more reasons than one.

But most of all, it will be remembered for the manner in which the party’s central leadership, led by General Secretary Prakash Karat, climbed down from its high horse to “accommodate” the views of delegates from West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab.

It was, of course, disguised as “a show of unity” and “a coming together on the same page of the entire leadership”, but no one was left in any doubt: the general secretary’s writ – thus far absolute in the Stalinist mould – would run subject to the concurrence of the party’s powerful regional satraps.

For Karat, who still carries the cross for blocking Jyoti Basu’s path to the prime minister’s chair in 1996, Vijayawada was supposed to be an acid test.

But anticipating that his leadership might be questioned, if not challenged, Karat did his homework with care.

And sure enough, behind closed doors, a few delegates from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Punjab did raise uncomfortable questions on the quality of leadership and governance in the CPI(M).

They blamed the party’s (read: Karat’s) decision to withdraw support from the first UPA government over the Indo-US nuclear deal, an issue that never touched the common man, for the string of recent electoral losses.

“Of course, withdrawal of support is a reason,” politburo member Sitaram Yechury admitted on the sidelines of the meeting.

The delegation from Alimuddin Street (headquarters of the West Bengal CPM), headed by Bhattacharjee and state secretary Biman Bose, comprised several leaders who strongly believe that “bureaucratic tendencies” (party-speak for dogmas perpetrated by central leaders who have never led the masses or won popular elections), are responsible for their worst crisis.

Bhattacharjee, in particular, made his unhappiness known by skipping the inauguration and Prakash Karat’s opening speech. Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan had gone a step further and stayed back home for ayurvedic treatment.

But things took a different turn.

Extending an olive branch to the powerful West Bengal unit – which contributes the maximum funds and gives the party its heft at the Centre – the general secretary tried to sell Singur to the media as the “model for other states”.

This was a huge comedown for a leader who had in the past obliquely blamed Bhattacharjee’s handling of the Singur agitation – against acquisition of agricultural land for the Tata Nano project – for the party’s poor showing in West Bengal.

Bhattacharjee, who had been under fire for his industrialisation policy, was ecstatic at this unexpected turn of events.

He cancelled his plans of leaving Viyawada after the second day of the meeting and state secretary Bose instructed delegates from West Bengal not to raise any controversial issues even behind closed doors.

West Bengal Land & Land Reforms Minister Abdur Razzak Molla, a bitter critic of land acquisition, parroted the official line. “Today I belong to the CPI(M),” he sarcastically told reporters after delivering a speech in which he called the Opposition “sterile” and his own party the “saviour of farmers”.

Standing at the doorstep of uncertainty, the country’s largest communist party tried hard to portray an image of unity and infallibility.

“We have a close association with Vijaywada. The party managed to carve out the correct strategy at congresses held here in 1961 and 1982. We are confident that this time also, we have succeeded. The message will spread across the country,” said Y. Venkateswar Rao, CPI(M) state secretariat member from Andhra Pradesh.

“A vilification campaign has been going on against us for more than a decade. We have countered that. We will do it again. If we could stop NDA’s Mamata Banerjee we can do the same with UPA’s Mamata Banerjee”, said Bengal state secretariat member Dipak Sarkar.

“We will turn around again,” claimed central committee member Md Salim.

After four days of brainstorming, the CPI(M) seems to be talking in one voice – like members of a squabbling family who hurriedly sweep all fears, follies and shortcomings under an invisible carpet when facing an external enemy.

Karat passed his test. Bhattacharjee returned home a happy man. And the regional satraps tasted power for the first time.

Now, for the real battles.

First Published: Aug 11, 2010 00:11 IST