New Delhi: Even as the Left remains engaged in forging alliances with various regional parties for the next Lok Sabha elections, its main constituent—the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM—is gearing up for its three-day central committee meet from 8 January in Kerala, which is expected to focus on what could badly damage its poll prospects: internal squabbles.
The 87-member high-level central committee of the CPM usually meets once every three months.
“In the central committee, there will be a discussion on this (infighting). The CPM will have to deal with its internal friction in Kerala and West Bengal because this is where it has its main seats,” said political columnist Kamal M. Chenoy, who is also a professor at the School of International Studies of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “There will definitely be a discussion on improving the party functioning and avoiding open dissidence.”
Factionalism, especially in its stronghold of Kerala, is an issue a major concern, said V. Krishna Ananth, a Chennai-based political analyst. “In West Bengal, fissures within the CPM used to be there earlier as well, but they have become more important in the context of a post-Nandigram scenario...which has weakened the party,” he said.
Testing times: Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury in Agartala. At its central committee meet to be held in Kerala, the CPM will discuss state-wise strategy and the alliances it is forging. PTI
In 2007, there were violent protests in Nandigram after the Left Front government in West Bengal announced it would set up a chemical hub in the area. The protests led to 14 deaths.
“The larger issue, however, is Kerala. The infighting (mainly between party state chief Pinarayi Vijayan and chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan) there is crucial and can be damaging to the party,” Ananth said. “Some people expelled from the CPM have even gone on to win bypolls to some local bodies. It is not as if rebels would win Lok Sabha or assembly seats, but they would definitely lead to an erosion of the party’s traditional vote bank. And the party is concerned about this.”
“Since the central committee of the party consists mostly of people from West Bengal and Kerala, the internal problems of these states would obviously be discussed when it meets. And since it is being held in Kerala, local issues of that state would definitely be at the forefront of discussions,” Ananth said.
The CPM, however, dismisses such concerns.
“All those issues have already been settled in state committee meetings and no more issues are pending (in Kerala). Even in West Bengal, there is no serious issue at present and all is well in the Left Front... Internal friction is not a serious matter at all,” said S. Ramachandran Pillai, CPM politburo member.
“The main issue for discussion in the meet is going to be the Lok Sabha elections and our electoral strategy. We will also decide our state-wise strategy and the alliances we are forging,” said Pillai.
A CPM member, who didn’t want to be identified, said the party would “practically start its campaign” for the national polls due in April-May immediately after the meet.
He agreed with Pillai, adding, “The divisions within the CPM in Kerala are not new and have been there for a long time. However, this is not going to be electorally damaging to the party. It is despite these squabbles that we won such a high number of seats in the state in the last general elections and swept the assembly elections after that. These won’t be discussed in the central committee.”
But analysts and even party members say that the CPM is unlikely to retain its tally of 44 Lok Sabha seats it won in the 2004 general elections.
“In Kerala, 12 (out of 20 Lok Sabha seats) would be an optimistic prediction. We won an abnormally high number of seats last time. In West Bengal, too, we are going to lose seats (it had won 26 of 42 seats; the Left Front had won 35),” the party member said.
“Again, the most optimistic prediction would be that we will lose around five seats,” he said, adding that Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress would make substantial gains in the state. The other opposition party in the state, the Congress party, has been in talks with the Trinamool Congress for forging an alliance.
But Pillai disagrees. “Despite difficulties in West Bengal, we might just improve our tally there. In Kerala, we (CPM-led Left Democratic Front) had won 18 seats, which is disproportionate to our strength there. However, it is too early to come to any conclusion that we will not be able to retain our seats there. There is heavy infighting within our opposition camp which may benefit us,” he said.
“In West Bengal, though there have been talks between the Congress and Banerjee, we do not see any possibility of a patch-up. It is very difficult for them to come together given her mercurial attitude. However, if they do manage to stand together, it might pose some problem for us,” added Pillai.
The Left, which comprises the CPM, the Communist Party of India, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc, has been busy entering into alliances as part of its preparation for the national polls. So far, it has formed alliances with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh. It has also come to an understanding with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular).