Amid Brinda Karat’s Translator Woes, Rift Within CPI(M) Exposed?

A video about a bad translation actually reveals the factionalism within the CPI(M).

3 min read
CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and party leader Brinda Karat. (Photo: Rahul Gupta/<b>The Quint</b>)
Sometimes it feels like the more Communist one is, the less Marxist one becomes.
CPI(M) Member

A video of Brinda Karat’s speech in poll-bound Kerala has gone viral. In the speech, Ms Karat makes fun of, some would say humiliates, the ‘comrade’ who had trouble following her English. So far, reports of the incident have focused on the gaffes that resulted from the translator KM Thomas’ mistakes.

The speech, though, was about more than just the lack of camaraderie and understanding between a party leader and a worker. It contained a personal attack on Sonia Gandhi that hinted at a rift between sections of the Central leadership and the Bengal unit.


An Alliance in Bengal, a Personal Attack on Sonia in Kerala

While the six-phase voting in West Bengal is over, Kerala will go to the polls on 16 May. Understandably, striking a balance between winning Kerala back and staying relevant in Bengal is a difficult one for the leadership. In Kerala, the CPI(M) and the Congress are bitter rivals. In Bengal, the CPI(M)-Congress combine is hoping to unseat Mamata Banerjee.

 Rahul Gandhi and former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya during a Congress-CPI(M) rally in Kolkata (Photo: Kuntal Chakrabarty/IANS)
Rahul Gandhi and former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya during a Congress-CPI(M) rally in Kolkata (Photo: Kuntal Chakrabarty/IANS)

It is surprising then, that Brinda Karat makes no attempt to balance her criticism of the Congress. In the speech, her open attack on Sonia Gandhi, with a jibe referencing Italy, has a harshness that is unusual and almost reminiscent of the BJP.

From 2G to 3G to what G to this G - they are all corrupt. Now another SG [Sonia Gandhi] has come in the Italian courts.
Brinda Karat, Politburo Member, CPI(M)

Beneath its garbled exterior, the statement tells us quite a bit about the internal conflicts in the CPI(M).

The attack isn’t against Kerala CM Oommen Chandy or a criticism of the Congress as a bourgeoise or corrupt party. It is a personal attack on Sonia Gandhi. It will, of course, create bad blood between two parties trying to fight an election together. More importantly, it puts the factionalism in the CPI(M) out in the open, placing the workers from the Bengal party and the General Secretary on one side and the Karats and their supporters on the other.

It is an open secret that many people in the national leadership including former General Secretary Prakash Karat and his wife Brinda were not in favour of the alliance with the Congress in Bengal. They also have sizeable support in the Politburo, the CPI(M)’s highest decision-making body.

Even now, the alliance with the Congress is not a formal one, largely because sections of the CPI(M)’s leadership, led by Prakash and Brinda Karat, were against it. It emerged from the ground up, with CPI(M)’s Bengal leadership and party workers insisting that it was necessary if they were to have any chance of beating Mamata Banerjee and the TMC. General Secretary Sitaram Yechury is close to the Bengal unit and is known not to be averse to the alliance.

Is the Central Leadership Out of Touch?

For the CPI(M), the alliance in West Bengal is about more than just winning an election. Party workers in the state, almost in defiance of the writ from the leadership, decided to forge an alliance with the Congress. Speaking to The Quint in Kolkata, Sitaram Yechury said that the party still has “irreconcilable differences” with the Congress.

The real question is why is the leadership of the party so at odds with its ordinary workers? Even Brinda Karat’s impatience with her translator, not a native English speaker, smacks of elitism. Advocate KM Thomas, who was translating for Ms Karat says he had trouble understanding her accent.

Firstly, the script was not given in advance. Normally a script is given earlier. This time, I had to translate as she spoke. Secondly, due to the echo from the speakers, I couldn’t hear . I had to start translating as soon as she paused. If I got late by a bit, she would move on to the next topic. It was difficult to keep up with her. Thirdly, Brinda has an Oxford University English accent. You won’t understand certain pronunciations immediately.  
KM Thomas, CPI(M) Member to Malayalam Manorama

The distance between party workers and the leadership and also between factions in the leadership will certainly have long-term political consequences.

(With inputs from Glenn George)

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