NEW DELHI: Either it is a case of a late realisation about casteism in India or of pragmatic politics of CPI(M)’s new general secretary Sitaram Yechury but the party’s candidate lists — in West Bengal and Kerala — will see an unprecedented number of OBC, ST and minority candidates this time.
Both states, once Left citadels, go to the polls in April-May. It is important for the party, which has had its back to the wall for some time now, to make a mark.
Sources said the party has decided to earmark nearly 70 per cent of seats for non-upper caste and minority candidates in these states. The two lists, which have been announced by the Left Front in West Bengal appear to be evidence of this. Of the 200 candidates announced, 153 tickets have been given to non-upper caste and minority candidates. This is unprecedented, considering the party had 59 Brahmin candidates alone in the 2011 elections.
“We have given more importance to fresh faces. It was a conscious decision. But if they are mostly non-upper caste candidates, it should be seen as a welcome change,” said a central committee member from Bengal. The leader said the list reflected the ground realities of the state.
“Looking at the Bengal party leaders, if someone surmises that it is a party of the Mukherjees and Chatterjees, he or she cannot be blamed. But the reality is that its cadre has always been the poor and the lower caste. It is only that the party is reflecting this reality now. Better late than never,” said a Bengal sympathiser, who is part of a party think-tank. While the party had 25 minority candidates in the 2011 polls, the number is expected to cross 30.
The profile of candidates in Kerala will be similar. Though the Kerala branch of the party has always been more balanced when it comes to caste representation, the presence of the BJP has forced it to become more democratic. There will be a significant number of Ezhava, SC and minority candidates this time, according to sources.
The party decision to field Pattika Jathi Kshema Samithi secretary K Somaprasad as its Rajya Sabha candidate is an indicator. The party has also decided to be more liberal towards the religious practices of its members and will engage with religious bodies in a more amicable way.
“From a party which had treated caste and religion as an anathema to politics, the CPI(M) has come a long way in realising that caste matters in the Indian context. Whether it is good or bad only time will tell,” said a former CC member, still active in a party feeder organisation. It is the “pragmatism of the current party leadership” that is reflected in these decisions, he added.