Know Sitaram Yechury, the Man who Heads Indian Communism

A look at the life and career of Sitaram Yechury, India’s new Chief Communist.

Updated
Politics
3 min read
Sitaram Yechury elected General Secretary of the CPI(M). (Photo: PTI)

At 62, Sitaram Yechury has taken charge of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) at a time when the party in particular and socialism in general is going through a crisis.

Nearly decimated in the Lok Sabha and massively reduced in West Bengal (a state the CPI(M) ruled for nearly four decades) the Party needed a change. Sitaram now has the unenviable task of reviving a waning political movement and ideology at a time of free market triumphalism.

A Most Educated Man

A student activist from the Students Federation of India. (Photo: Reuters/Parth Sanyal)
A student activist from the Students Federation of India. (Photo: Reuters/Parth Sanyal)

Born in Chennai to an engineer father, Sitaram did most of his schooling in Andhra Pradesh before moving to Delhi for higher studies.

Academic brilliance was Sitaram’s hallmark in his early days as a student. An all India topper in his school leaving examinations in 1970, he got into St. Stephen’s college to study economics, doing well there too.

After a brief stint at the Delhi School of Economics, he left for Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to pursue a Masters in Economics.

At JNU, he joined the Communist Party’s student wing, the Students Federation of India (SFI) and, along with his senior Prakash Karat, was picked by the CPI(M) leadership as a student leader to be groomed for the future.

In 1975, still a student, Sitaram was arrested when Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency. The next six months were spent ‘underground’. This marked the beginning of his career as a full-time politician.

While at JNU, he was elected President of the Students’ Union thrice in one year. Despite all the action, Yechury found time to play tennis for the University.

Political Career

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury (left) and Prakash Karat (right) at the partys 21st National Congress in Visakhapatnam. (Photo: PTI)
CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury (left) and Prakash Karat (right) at the partys 21st National Congress in Visakhapatnam. (Photo: PTI)

Sitaram and Prakash Karat were singled out early on as student leaders with a future. They were both instrumental in establishing the SFI as a dominant force in JNU. To this day, the university remains a bastion of Left politics.

In 1978, he became the national joint secretary of SFI and went on to become the national president of the student’s body.

In 1985, at just 33-years-old, Sitaram was inducted into the Central Committee of the CPI(M).

And just seven years later, at the CPI(M)‘s 14th Party Congress in Chennai, Sitaram and Prakash were inducted into the Politburo, the Party’s highest decision making body.

While Prakash Karat became General Secretary and began to take an increasingly hard-line stance against the Congress, Sitaram became a member of the Rajya Sabha in 2005 and became the face of the Party for the outside world.

Despite only nine seats in the upper house, the Party has managed make its voice heard thanks to Sitaram.

Sitaram: Erudite, Affable, Accessible

(Left to Right) Senior communist leaders Debabrata Biswas, Sitaram Yechury, AB Bardhan, D Raja (standing) and Prakash Karat. (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)
(Left to Right) Senior communist leaders Debabrata Biswas, Sitaram Yechury, AB Bardhan, D Raja (standing) and Prakash Karat. (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

Prakash Karat maybe Sitaram’s senior by four years, but they are political contemporaries. While Prakash has often been seen as an ideological hardliner – a stern man committed to communist principles with an abhorrence for revisionism – Sitaram is much more dynamic, even pragmatic.

He has an unrivalled understanding of economics, history and communist doctrine. But he also has friends.

He is well liked by leaders in the Congress, the ‘socialist’ parties that now form the Janata Parivaar as well as by political formations in South India.

And most importantly, unlike his predecessor, Sitaram is seen as an accessible leader.

Party workers as well as allies see him as someone they can approach and build alliances with. It is with these qualities that the new leader of the CPI(M) can hope to revive his party ahead of crucial elections in West Bengal.

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