New Delhi: The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, is taking a leaf out of the Congress playbook and ensuring that it removes any misapprehensions about its pro-poor orientation, after attempts to boost industry in its West Bengal bastion backfired.
The party, which has also been buffeted by infighting in its Kerala stronghold, is expected to formally endorse an image makeover at a meeting of its central committee in October that will seek to reclaim the party’s position as a champion of the poor.
As part of the objective, the CPM is expected to set out specific guidelines that will make it compulsory for party leaders to declare their assets and insist that they follow austere lifestyles.
The party, smarting from reverses it suffered in the April-May general election, will also seek to correct policies that may have eroded its peasant support base in West Bengal, where state assembly elections are due in 2011.
The Kerala unit has been roiled by the tug-of-war between chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan and state party chief Pinarayi Vijayan over the latter’s involvement in a corruption case. The two have called a truce after the party leadership intervened.
The so-called rectification document being prepared by the CPM politburo, which should be approved by the central committee, the party’s apex decision-making body, will focus on the course correction required in the political, ideological and organizational aspects, said S. Ramachandran Pillai, a politburo member.
The rectification document details guidelines for the functioning of the party and is issued when a course correction is necessary.
The politburo is meeting on 11 October to give final touches to the document before it is presented before the central committee when it meets on 23-25 October.
At the 2008 party congress in Coimbatore, the CPM had pointed out that a “bourgeois lifestyle” and “alien class values” had penetrated the party. In its political-organizational report endorsed by the party congress, the CPM said: “There are also complaints that the assets of certain party members are disproportionate to their known source of income.”
Some party members had cited wealth accumulation by certain leaders as one of the main reasons for the growing distance between the party and its mass base. In the general election, the CPM’s tally of seats declined from 43 to 16 in the Lok Sabha. From West Bengal, its stronghold for over three decades, the party’s strength came down to nine from 26.
“Asset declaration of leaders will be made compulsory with this rectification document. There would also be guidelines to party members for following austere lifestyle in tune with the party ideology,” said a senior politburo member, who did not want to be identified.
Experts, however, believe that while affluent lifestyles might have contributed to the party’s electoral downfall, a rectification is unlikely to yield results in the near future.
“It (wealthy lifestyles) has clearly been one of the factors that alienated CPM from its grass-roots support base,” said Bidyut Chakrabarty, professor in the department of political science at Delhi University.
“They definitely need to address this, but it is unlikely to help them regain their support base very soon,” he said.
The politburo member added that the 20-25 page document will also take into account the changing global scenario, including changes in the economic and foreign policy arenas. Mint had earlier reported, quoting CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, that the party was revisiting its ideological stance, including its approach to capitalism and democracy.
The party has admitted that one of the reasons for the erosion of its support base was the apprehension among the peasant community over the land acquisition policy implemented by the West Bengal government, especially after the 2007 protest in Nandigram that led to at least 14 deaths in police firing. Ironically, the CPM and its Left allies had come to power in 1977 promising land reforms that would empower the small farmers of West Bengal, where rural masses make up 72% of the population.
“We have to regain the support of the farmers in the state,” the politburo member said.
The party faces an acid test in the 2011 assembly elections in West Bengal, where Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress has been making inroads into traditional CPM bastions.
“The party’s land acquisition policy backfired... They took the peasant community for granted. However, even if they address all these issues, I doubt they would be able to get back their support so easily before the 2011 elections. Their opponents will definitely cash in on this,” said Chakrabarty.