VISAKHAPATNAM: After a tense race, the suave and politically savvy Telugu bidda, Sitaram Yechury, — the second youngest politburo member at 62 — was unanimously elected as the CPI-M’s new general secretary on the last day of the party congress here Sunday.
It was indeed a nail-biting finish. Yechury was declared elected amid a thunderous applause that could be heard even from outside the Port Kalavani Stadium, the venue of the party congress, after a morning where his main opponent, 77-year-old S Ramachandra Pillai or SRP from Kerala, was still in with a chance. Yechury is the fifth general secretary of the CPI-M, succeeding contemporary Prakash Karat who served three terms in the post.
Karat, who was seen to have had differences on the party’s tactical line with Yechury, proposed his name and the party’s new central committee approved it after SRP seconded it. It was the prospect of a contest — and a secret ballot at that — which finally clinched it for Yechury. Neither the contenders nor Karat was keen on a bitter divide within the party played out in a vote.
The Bengal lobby’s adamant support for Yechury, by far the more popular contender nationally, tilted the scales on Sunday, after a politburo meeting stretched past midnight on Saturday without reaching any consensus. SRP, informally backed by Karat, had the support of the powerful Kerala lobby, led by state strongman Pinarayi Vijayan. Maybe, that was the reason SRP, otherwise a very well-liked and gentlemanly party veteran and low-profile organisation man, stuck on till the last, a fact that surprised many. Party leaders say SRP, besides being 15 years older, also suffers from the disadvantage of not being fluent in Hindi — a handicap at a time when the party would like to renew its old bases in the north and expand. Yechury’s supporters argued he holds appeal for sections beyond the party’s traditional base, particularly the youth.
Even a leader from the Northeast, K Shanta of Manipur, said: “Sitaram is not only popular with party workers, he’s also a good speaker who can go to most states and speak in their language. Everyone outside the party also knows him. Besides, he’s equally comfortable with intellectuals and ordinary workers.”
But uncertainty lingered till the very end, with both Yechury and Pillai refusing to rule themselves out overtly. Finally, according to sources, it took Karat’s persuasion for SRP to withdraw.
Yechury is simply seen as a more viable prospect, with the chance of providing agile and imaginative leadership at a time of deep crisis that has seen the Left come down to single digits in the Lok Sabha and practically, facing a wipeout in Bengal. The coming 2016 Assembly election in Bengal, the old “Red fortress” where the CPI(M) is now facing an existential battle, would therefore have been a factor in their preference.
Yechury represents West Bengal in the Rajya Sabha, and after an inconclusive debate in the politburo, the Bengal lobby insisted on a vote in the 91-member central committee after the Kerala supporters pitched in for Pillai. At this stage, Karat reportedly intervened and persuaded all to ensure a unanimous transfer of the baton, as was the tradition.
Addressing the gathering afterwards, the new general secretary described the 21st CPI-M meet as a “congress for the future” of the party, of India and of Left unity. “We must strengthen ourselves internally and externally, to meet challenges before the country and the party,” he stressed and said the strength of the CPI-M lies in collective functioning.
Attacking the Modi government, Yechury said it is headed by communal forces pursuing an aggressive neo-liberal agenda. “The Modi government has unleashed a new Trimurti — communalism, neo-liberal economic policies and erosion of democratic practices. We must ensure this Trimurti does not convert itself into a Trishul that will pierce the heart of India,” he said.
The Rise and rise of telugu bidda
Yechury joined the SFI in 1974 and the CPM in 1975. Born on August 12, 1952, Yechury, whose father was an RTC employee, did his schooling in Andhra Pradesh, and graduated in Economics from St Stephen’s College, Delhi. He did his PG at the JNU where he was elected president of the students’ union. Arrested during the Emergency, he subsequently went on to head the SFI and later was invited to the CPM central panel in 1984. He was elected to it the next year.
The New PB and CC
The CPI-M elected 91 members for the new central committee, the party’s highest executive body, besides naming five special invitees and five permanent invitees. Veteran leaders VS Achuthanandan, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Nirupam Sen were dropped from the central committee. But, Achuthanandan, a founding-member of the party, was named as one of the permanent invitees. The party also elected a new 16-member politburo comprising four new members, Hanan Mollah, Mohammed Salim, Subhashini Ali and G Ramakrishnan.