Soul-searching to be the theme at CPM apex body meet

Soul-searching to be the theme at CPM apex body meet

New Delhi: In its first meeting after the debacle in the general election, the central committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, is expected to seek ways to reclaim its position as the party of the poor. The party’s apex decision-making body will meet on 19 and 20 June in the national capital and is likely to shun short-term fixes in favour of ideological soul-searching.

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The post-mortem, stemming from the concern that without an overhaul the party would end up ceding more political ground to its rivals, will be based on inputs received from various state units, particularly Kerala and West Bengal, where the party lost 25 Lok Sabha seats. Its overall tally has come down from a record high of 43 seats in the 14th Lok Sabha to 16 now.

According to at least three senior party leaders, the central committee meeting is unlikely to take decisions on the demand for removal of Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan or any change of guard in the West Bengal unit. “The meeting will only discuss the party’s debacle in the recent general election and the changes we have to incorporate in our style of functioning," a politburo member, who did not want to be named, said. The party has 15 politburo members and 91 central committee members, including special invitees.

Some other senior leaders, who have been attending the state committee meetings that assessed the party’s performance in the elections, and who did not want to be identified, said there should be a “correction of the line that has been followed by the party".

Though he refused to divulge the details of the state reports, senior politburo member S. Ramachandran Pillai said: “We cannot make any comments unless the politburo and the central committee discuss the issues. But there is a serious introspection on why we got alienated from the people, and we will do all (that is) possible to strengthen our relations with the people."

Separately, senior CPM leader and central committee member Nilotpal Basu added: “The party has to work hard to change the perception that the CPM has moved away from the poor. That impression needs to be corrected through our work."

Other party leaders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said most of the state units have recommended crucial changes in the party approach to governance in Left-ruled states, the functioning of the state governments and party organization.

“Broad conclusions are there and they will be finalized at the meetings. We have to identify areas of urgent attention and corrective steps," Basu admitted.

The state units also vehemently criticized the party leadership’s decision to withdraw support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government on the issue of the India-US civil nuclear deal in July, and the subsequent attempts to cobble together a Third Front.

“The party members are of the view that the CPM should not have initiated attempts to bring down a secular government and also cut and paste (an) electoral alternative during the election," said a senior leader. “The party could not stop the deal, and the government continued. The follow-up to the decision (to withdraw support) also was not satisfactory," the leader added.

Though a detailed assessment of the West Bengal results has proved that there has not been a “great fall in the Muslim vote share of the party in West Bengal, the leadership has been asked to take steps to keep the Muslim support base strong. Within the ambit of class struggle, we have to address some legitimate and democratic aspirations of Muslims also", another party leader said.

While the average fall in the party’s vote share is estimated at 7% in West Bengal, where the CPM-led government has been in power for at least three decades, the contraction has been lower in Muslim-dominated districts such as Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur.

The party leader admitted that the West Bengal state unit has sought changes in the party-led government’s industrial policy.

While the state unit of West Bengal—where the CPM has assessed it may lose ground in around 180 assembly constituencies if the Lok Sabha election voting pattern endures— favours a change of guard at non-performing ministries, in Kerala, the faction led by state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan has demanded the removal of the chief minister.

However, party insiders said the central committee meeting is unlikely to concur. “No heads will roll in this meeting. It is to assess our electoral performance and future strategy," said another politburo member, who did not want to be identified.

Kerala’s CPM unit is facing severe infighting after state governor R.S. Gavai granted permission to the Central Bureau of Investigation, or CBI, to prosecute Vijayan in the Rs300 crore SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. corruption case, despite the state cabinet’s advisory against it. Although the CPM officially criticized the move as “politically motivated" and opposed it through rallies, chief minister Achuthanandan, Vijayan’s arch-rival in the party, virtually gave a clean chit to the governor. The CBI has filed charges in the corruption scam naming Vijayan as one of the nine accused.

Pointing out that the chief minister has been frequently challenging the party line, the faction of leaders supporting Vijayan insisted that Achuthanandan should step down. But some national-level leaders have questioned this stand. “How can we ask the chief minister who took steps to bring a corrupt person to book to step down? If we are taking action against him because of the internal feud, which is seen as a factor that led to the downfall of the Left from 18 seats to four, Vijayan is equally responsible," said a CPM leader.

With the central leadership indicating that disciplinary action could be taken against both leaders, the Vijayan faction seems to be revisiting its stance. “If this central committee does not want to discuss this, there should be a special central committee to discuss Kerala issues. The chief minister has to be changed or has to change his style of functioning. If the situation continues like this, the CPM would not exist in Kerala," said a minister in the state cabinet. Both Vijayan and Achuthanandan are politburo members.