Veto to Yechury in Rajya Sabha: CPI(M) Commits Another Hara-Kiri
When Opposition is lending support to Yechury for another term in Rajya Sabha, why is the Left dragging its feet?
As several Opposition parties contemplate a united front against the increasingly invincible BJP – including possibly fielding a joint candidate for the presidential election – a piquant situation has arisen in the Rajya Sabha where the CPI(M) has virtually decided to prevent its own party general secretary, Sitaram Yechury, from getting another term in the Upper House.
Old-timers are calling it another “historic blunder,” a reference to the CPI(M)’s refusal in 1996 to allow the then West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu from becoming prime minister at a time when the political waters in Delhi were muddy and chaotic.
But it’s also a reflection of the extent to which the party has fallen on the graph of national relevance, and how jaded and anthropomorphic its leadership has become, that a mere election has caused such serious convulsions in the party.
Congress Reaches Out to the Left
So here is the story so far: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and his mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, have agreed to give up the Congress party’s Rajya Sabha seat from West Bengal to the CPI(M) on the condition that Yechury will contest from that seat. No other CPI(M) candidate will do.
It is believed that Rahul has told Yechury that the Congress will support his renomination to the Upper House when his term comes to an end on 18 August.
Sonia Gandhi, meanwhile, is in talks with Yechury as well as other Opposition leaders on the possibility of fielding a joint candidate against the BJP when the election for President comes up.
What is interesting is that the Congress, once at loggerheads with the CPI(M) in Bengal, realises that Yechury is one of the strongest speakers in Parliament, especially when it comes to taking on the BJP. The Congress, is in fact, willing to sacrifice one of its own in favour of the Communist leader.
Opposition Unites in Favour of Yechury
Yechury’s strong secular credentials, his powerful articulation of the idea of a diverse India and his open and easy manner make him a popular and accessible politician. His ability to communicate in several Indian languages, including English, means that he speaks not only for his own party on several issues but for the larger anti-BJP Opposition in general.
Most interesting is the fact that Sonia and Rahul agree that Yechury has risen from the ranks to the top job of his party – unlike their own selves – and that he deserves to be given a leg-up so that he can continue to punch above his party’s weight.
In fact, National Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar is also in favour of Yechury being given another term and has spoken to senior Congress leaders about it.
Ironically, the CPI(M) so far seems to be standing firm. Convention is being cited – a party general secretary cannot hold more than one post at the same time, or that nobody in the party can get more than two terms.
Nobody, of course, dared say this to Stalin or Khruschev or any of the Soviet general secretaries of the Communist Party, with whom, once upon a time, the Indian communist party had strong links.
Political Hara-Kiri by CPI(M)?
On the other hand, the CPI(M) prides itself as being a Communist party with Indian characteristics. Meaning, just because the Soviets/Russian or the Chinese or the Cubans follow one particular school of thought, doesn’t mean their Indian counterparts will follow blindly.
For example, the CPI(M)’s refusal to allow Jyoti Basu to become prime minister – and thereby shape the country’s political direction in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid only four years before – could be described by other bourgeois political parties as the equivalent of committing hara-kiri. Who in their right mind turns down the offer of the top political job in the country?
Certainly, the CPI(M) is made of sterner stuff – even if the Trinamool Congress leader and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is making political mincemeat of the Left in the state. In the Assembly elections last year, the CPI(M) won only 26 seats – the Congress got 44 seats – and an abysmal vote share, amounting to 19.7 percent, as much as 10 percent less than the previous election in 2011.
One outcome of the bad performance is that CPM grassroots workers are abandoning the party in droves and joining the Trinamool Congress. Worse, several CPM members are even joining hands with their ideological enemy, the BJP. Last year in the wake of Bengal debacle, 60 leaders from the CPM and other Left parties in Tripura joined the saffron party.
Not that Yechury’s elevation as party general secretary two years ago arrested the party’s decline. Having won Assam last year, the BJP is now targeting Tripura, where the CPI(M) has been in power continuously since 1998. The BJP has recently even succeeded in breaking into the CPI(M) tribal stronghold in that state.
The only way Yechury can get another term is if the party Central Committee (CC) signs off on it. But in what seems an indication of the divide inside the party, the CC meeting in Delhi last week did not even discuss the matter.
Time to Think Out of the Box
Clearly, a significant section of the CC as well as the Politburo realises that in times of trouble, new solutions must be found – allowing Yechury to propagate the party’s view for a third term in Parliament being one of them.
But there are other leaders who would much rather stick by the book, even if its pages have become outdated and antiquated and hark back to another era.
Question is, if these CPI(M) leaders have learnt from the past, or whether they will commit another political blunder in 2017, like they did in 1996 and several other times before. Whatever the party’s final decision, the road ahead remains long and hard. If the CPI(M) wants to reinvent itself, it knows it has to learn to think out of the box. Otherwise, it is clear that it will be forced to stare at political oblivion.
(The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi and writes on the overlap between domestic politics and foreign affairs. She can be reached @jomalhotra. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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