The stage was quite elaborate and elegant for the 21st Party Congress of CPM at ‘‘Port Kalavani Auditorium’’ in Visakhapatnam, held from Tuesday, April 14 onwards till 19 April. The Vizag District and City Committees, under the supervision of the Andhra Pradesh State Committee, have made ostentatious arrangements for the conference. It is for the first time that the CPI(M) was organising it’s all India conference in Visakhapatnam.
The port city Visakhapatnam has been chosen as the venue, to target Party’s aspiration in Andhra Pradesh, plan to target Party’s aspiration in Andhra Pradesh, planning to go to the grassroots by focusing on the role of the working class in the economic slowdown , taking on the capitalist regime and the need of reviving the Party in the newly-created Telangana and bifurcated Andhra Pradesh.
Back in November last year, CPI (M) Politburo member B.V. Raghavulu announced that the Conference would be organised in Visakhapatnam, following the request from the Party’s District Committee and huge presence of working class in the biggest city of Andhra Pradesh.
The issue of land acquisition, particularly in the two states of AP and Telangana will also be reviewed, according to Raghavulu.
Party Secretary for Andhra Pradesh P Madhu elaborated that, the main items on the agenda were the role of the working class in the State as well as in the country.
The Sea of Red
The CPI(M) workers painted the town red Monday for the inaugural session. Massive rallied headed towards the Beach Road. The Vizag Port Kalavani Stadium had been decorated with Murals reflecting Indian Farmers and Workers and Communist Motifs. The roads were covered with streamers of red flags right from Gajuwaka to Hanumanthawaka junction.
Usually, during the six day Congress, the colour red dominated the Ramakrishna Beach Road as thousands of CPI(M) party workers gathered to see and hear their national leaders. The CPI(M) workers took out huge processions from the RTC Complex to the Ramakrishna Beach, raising banners and Hammer and Sickle marked Red Flags and sporting red Head Bands. In the usual fashion of a leftist Political Kumbh, many of the male Cadres were wearing red shirts and the women donned Red Saris.
The beach road which generally gets crowded on leisurely Sunday evenings was turned into a no-vehicle zone on the final day of the Congress, as the CPM workers along with general public turned up in enormous numbers. The otherwise peaceful surroundings at the Beach Road gave way to a lively festive atmosphere with the rhythmic beat of drums and constant sloganeering.
Despite all the hype about Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the city got swathed in red plastic flags, festoons and banners.Wall graffiti at places were also seen, despite the civic body’s ban on it. Thousands of red flags flattering from every nook and corner, announcing ongoing national jamboree of CPI(M).
The six-day congress started with the unfurling of the party flag at the venue. Senior Party member Muhammed Ameen from West Bengal hoisted the flag. General secretary Prakash Karat inaugurated the representatives meet. And to mark Ambedkar’s 125th birthday, outgoing GS Prakash Karat and other Politburo members paid floral tributes to the statue of Dr B R Ambedkar at Dabagarden in the morning.
Apart from the party members, the coalition partners and friendly party outfits were also present in Vizag. CPI General Secretary S. Sudhakar Reddy, RSP General Secretary Abani Roy, Forward Bloc General Secretary Debabrata Biswas, CPI(ML) leader Kavitha Krishnan, and SUCI leader Pravas Ghosh also attended the Congress. Andhra senior leaders including BV Raghavulu, P Madhu and other key leaders from across the State were also present at the 21st Congress.
Yechury In The Limelight
Earlier, in the run-up to the 21st Party Congress, an important conference was organised on “50 years of CPI(M)- Future of India”, on January 11 this year, in Visakhapatnam.Sitaram Yechury, on the occasion, had emphasised that Socialism was the only alternative for the future of the country. He hoped that , though the Left parties had lost in the 2014 elections, they alone could offer a credible alternative, in the country!
He appealed to the people of Visakhapatnam, to make the 21st Congress of the CPI(M) a resounding success.
Naturally the people broke into cheers when Yechury was invited to address the gathering at the 21st Party Congress.
But surprisingly enough, despite being a Telugu Bidda, Yechury took pains to speak fluently in his mother tongue! Almost 45 years outside the State and busy in the national scenario, might be the reason. But he was no Navin Patnaik, a polyglot of sorts, who speaks also Tamil. Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali …the crowd was however enthused with their applause and appreciation, rather seemed amused a bit and kept cheering for him.
But it was CPI(M) Andhra Pradesh Party Secretary P Madhu who turned out to be the show-stealer as he broke into the local lingo, inviting a rousing applause from the Vizag crowd.
It was he, who built the tempo by attacking Telugu Desam Party Chief and the Andhra Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu for his anti-people policies! National and international politics remained at bay for sometimes. However, his Party Comrades from Telangana seemed rather embarrassed when Madhu lauded Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao for his initiatives! The CPI(M) had joined hands with Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu and Telugu Desam in Andhra against the will of its State units.
Yechury seemed confident and contended, despite the fact that Andhra is not a CPI(M) bastion. His selection as the Party General Secretary seemed almost like a foregone conclusion by then!
Suspense Before Yechury
At one time, Yechury’s chances seemed troubled when the powerful Kerala unit of the Party dissociated with him, as he repeatedly supported V.S. Achuthanandan in his fights against the State leadership.
Pinarayi Vijayan, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, M.A. Baby, K. Varadarajan, A.K. Padmanabhan a, B.V. Raghavulu and Vrinda Karat supported Pillai. Only Bengal and Tripura leaders Biman Bose, Surjya Kanta Mishra and Manik Sarkar spoke for Yechury. Though from Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Nirupam Sen did not come to Vishakhapatnam, due to”illness”!
Outgoing General Secretary Karat was tightlipped on his succession issue, even in the Politburo.
It was already known that, Yechury is not a favourite for Party hardliners . He seems play the gallery, too often. Karat always held a classic view on ideological positions. Thus Pillai was brought in as a conciliatory candidate. B.V. Raghavulu and Vrinda Karat’s name were also floating, but their relative inexperience was major hindrance.
Yechury’s supporters argued that at 62 – he was a full 15 years younger than his contender S Ramachandran Pillai He would hold appeal for sections beyond the party’s traditional base, especially the younger generation. Etc.
The other things in his favour included his familiarity, the all India image. Also, like his mentor, the late Party stalwart Harkishan Singh Surjeet, he also shares a good rapport with the parties from across the political spectrum. Also he speaks Hindi quite well.
S. Ramachandran Pillai, Yechury’s senior colleague, was backed by the Comrades from Kerala, a State where the party hopes to come back to power next year.
But the overwhelming mood and majority of the other delegates tilted the scales ultimately, towards Sitaram Yechury.
Yechury’s stint as General Secretary for the next three years was ultimately decided at the 21st party congress of the CPI(M) in Visakhapatnam.
It’s a contrast that a cadre based party like CPI(M) had to elect someone as the boss who is being seen as someone who is urbane and lacking any local support base. But at the same time at an all India level , he can effortlessly reach out beyond their traditional support base. A strategist at the higher level, at the best!
Kerala Comrades Were Pitching For Pillai
CPI(M)’s powerful Kerala unit was trying out different equations for the probable new General Secretary ahead of the Party Congress in Visakhapatnam. Though in the all India party circle Sitaram Yechury had a better chance, most of Kerala Comrades wished S. Ramachandran Pillai to be their new boss. It was speculated that while the Tripura Veteran Manik Sarkar and Andhra’s B.V. Raghavulu given importance in higher party level talks about the new GS, but Kerala party leaders have not been consulted for their choice.
Pillai’s greatest strength besides his decades of experience, Kerala party leaders say, is that he is a seasoned organisation man.He has successfully taken care of the party’s organisational and financial matters in Kerala. He is a ground-level politician, having worked closely with peasants and headed the All India Kisan Sabha, the party farmers’ wing, since 1999.
Actually S. Ramachandran Pillai, popularly known as SRP grew as a political leader standing closely by the farmers and their issues. His career began through the students organisations. That too, years before Karat took a membership in the party. Because of that, he far excels Karat in his overall experience in the party.
SRP joined the CPI(M) in 1956. Karat’s entry was in 1970. Sitaram Yechury joined the party in 1975. When Karat joined the party, SRP was already a member of the party’s Kerala State committee. Now, age has been quoted as a factor for his disqualification, for the top post!
It was no secret that a large section of CPI(M)’s Kerala unit had no sympathy for Yechury, who had reportedly tried to help out Party veteran V.S. Achuthanandan in a bitter tussle within the Party. It was Yechury, who was instrumental in giving weight to the opposition leader’s arguments in the politburo. Achuthanandan obviously liked to see his sympathiser get to the top post but that is reason enough for the major faction to take a different view.
The most part of party leadership ‘in Kerala was inclined towards Ramachandran Pillai, who was actively involved in Party’s political and organisational affairs in Kerala, for a long time.
Moreover, Pillai had always sided with the official leadership in a prolonged struggle within the party in Kerala.
After Prakash Karat, Kerala Comrades were earnestly thinking of a Malayali to lead the Party again.
But, it’s also known that, the Kerala unit of the Party , despite its larger cadre base and bigger financial contribution , couldn’t be decisive in selecting the General Secretary at the national level. The State leadership expected the Party to assess Achuthanandan’s boycott of the State conference in Alappuzha and take suitable action against the dissident veteran leader. Ramachandran Pillai at the helm would have helped their cause.
Sitaram Yechury has been putting up an image of fair play recently. He had also taken the State leadership into confidence while the Politburo evaluated the affairs in Kerala. Also, Yechury is in workable terms with Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, CPI(M)’s new Kerala State Secretary. Balakrishnan is a staunch ally of party strongman Pinarayi Vijayan. Obviously the decision related to Achuthanandan could not be taken at the Party Congress Its for policy related matter only. But Yechury has a tough time ahead, as far as Kerala is concerned.
Bengal’s Support Key ToYechury’s Elevation
Sitaram Yechury must thank the Bengal unit of CPI(M) for its reliable support, which ultimately helped him fight off the challenge from S Ramachandran Pillai and elected as the new General secretary.
It was long known within CPI(M)circles that the Party’s Bengal and Tripura units wanted Yechury to replace Karat.
It’s also a fact that Yechury is a Rajya Sabha Member from West Bengal.
“Yechury knows Bengal well. He can also speak Bengali. Naturally, Bengal will gain following Yechury’s election as the new party General Secretary,” Nirupam Sen, the ailing CPI(M )Politburo member, who was dropped from the Party’s apex body, commented after Yechury’s election.
Sen and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee have been dropped from the Politburo this time. Both leaders had urged the central leadership to do so, citing “indisposition” as reason.
Both of them were absent from Vishakhapatnam! And it ultimately helped Yechury.
Bengal veteran Biman Bose even heard saying to party colleagues in Vishakhapatnam: “I had to fight to get him elected.”
The tension stemmed from last minute, late-night politburo meeting, called to pick the new General Secretary but deadlocked amid what party insiders dubbed a “heated” debate.
Sources said that Prakash Karat, backed by the powerful Kerala State unit, had proposed Pillai’s name but the Bengal members, led by Bose, opposed this.
Bose is learnt to have argued for a younger face to pep up the cadres morale in strategic States. He told the meeting that Bengal’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Nirupam Sen, members of the outgoing politburo, favoured Yechury, but prevented by poor health from travelling to Visakhapatnam.
Party sources said that despite the two leaders’ absence, their views could not be ignored by the members of Politburo although Pillai had majority support. The heated exchanges dragged the meeting past midnight.
When a tense Karat arrived for the morning meeting, he told the reporters the election would be “not only with consensus but unanimous. In our party we don’t have a vote”.
At the morning’s meeting, sources said, Karat tried his best to have Pillai elected unanimously but Yechury and the Bengal unit stood firm in demanding a vote, which would have had to be conducted by secret ballot.
An embarrassed Karat prevailed on Pillai to withdraw and proposed Yechury’s name.
After the “unanimous” election, the CPI(M) pretended a show of unity. All the 16 members of the new Politburo lined up on stage, with Yechury flanked by Karat and Pillai!
How much Yechury’s election as General Secretary can help his party’s insignificant presence and performance in the national level, to recover, only the time will say. But it’s sure that , he is going to be in more compromising political stance than Karat’s idealistic mooring.
With Yechury as the new Party Chief, the CPI(M) may gradually abandon Prakash Karat’s line of the past 10 years and inch closer to the Congress. Such a shift would be significant at a time when BJP-led Governments are in power at the Centre and in many States.
The party is already marginalised at the national level. In 1991, it had representatives in the Lok Sabha from nine states, and now it is restricted to West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. Worse, its vote share in West Bengal—where it has the best record ever having ruled the state for 34 years on a trot—has shrunk from a little over 50% in 2006 to less than 30% in the 16th general election. Worse, it contested 93 seats nationally and managed only a 3.2% vote share, the lowest ever.
It’s not expected that Yechury can do miracles for his party, but like his mentor Harkishan Singh Surjeet, he can gradually get closer to Congress , a party that is also in limbo, in the recent times.
By: Deep Basu