VISAKHAPATNAM: As an iron-curtained politburo meeting on the penultimate day at the CPM party Congress wound tortuously past midnight, an answer seemed finally at hand to the big question that had hung in the air all day— who will be the next general secretary of the party?
Officially, there was no word, as the meeting will continue into Sunday, and the new central committee that will formally elect the next general secretary will be in place only by morning.
The tension was palpable through the day with endless waves of speculation. But a tantalising glimpse of what the future may hold came earlier in the day. SRP — as S Ramachandran Pillai is called in CPI-M circles — wrestled down a barrage of probing questions at a mid-afternoon interaction with scribes. An “ability to lead the party, take up the challenge and build it around anti-feudal, anti-imperalist and anti-communal forces’’ is what the party will be looking for in the next general secretary, “not’’ necessarily “youth”.
This was said by way of a curt rebuttal to those who wanted to know if the newly-appointed state unit secretaries, mostly in their sixties and not septuagenarians like him, would prefer a younger, and more agile general secretary.
The obvious referenece being to the other contender to the post. While SRP is pushing 77, Sitaram Yechury, who now has a new nomenclature, SRY, matching Pillai’s, is nearly 15 years younger to him.
It did not help matters that on Saturday morning, VS Achuthanandan, the perpetual contrarian and 93-year-old rebel of the Kerala unit of the CPI-M, in full view of the media, tapped Yechury on the shoulder and “wished’’ him ‘’success’’. Usuallly never short of a quick repartee, a slightly embarassed SRY, mumbled, “I wish you success too and we should wish the party success.’’ But what followed was even more unusual. SRP was asked by the media whether VS has wished him too.
In fact, it is between these little camp fights that the unofficial contest for the CPI-M general secretary post is taking place. The tussle is no longer between Yechury and Prakash Karat, on the ‘political tactical line’ of the party, or who Karat will name as his successor.
It’s in reality a shadow bout between Yechury and the powerful Kerala unit leader Pinarayi Vijayan. The latter’s antagonistic equation with VS is too well-known to be written. The Kerala unit of the party, whose vote would be quite crucial in the Central Committtee meeting, would not dare go against the wishes of Pinarayi. And, SRP is close to Pinarayi and is in the race essentially because of his backing.
Complicating matters further, former West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his former cabinet colleague Nirupam Sen, who have absented themselves from the party congress, and are set to be dropped from the politburo, are said to have written to Karat that Yechury should be made the next general secretary.
The Bengal-Kerala divide in the CPI-M is so sharp now that one of the Kerala comrades on Friday ribbed the Bengal unit openly during a close-door discussion, saying “the Bengal tiger has gone off to sleep.’’ However, neither SRP nor SRY is really lobbying visibly for the post. Sources close to both claim they will not want to succeed Prakash Karat if they have to contest against each other.
Both have their plus points, SRP — though he appeared in an aggressive avatar on Saturday — has been a gentleman par excellence, and is an old hand in the party. Yechury’s gifts are of course more publicly known.
There is also an outside chance of a third candidate cropping up as a compromise formula. All kinds of names are being floated for this — BV Raghavulu and Brinda Karat among them. Beyond that, there’s even speculation that the party constitution, which now limits a general secretary’s tenure to two terms, can be amended to allow Karat another extension.