One of the amendments suggested to the political resolution presented by outgoing CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat in Visakhapatnam at the 21st Party Congress of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), typically a triennial national conclave, was to incorporate the right to work without fear of party honchos. Under the title ‘Tasks’ in the ‘Draft Political Resolution’, a delegate proposed the insertion of a paragraph to fight authoritarianism within the party, thus putting the spotlight on the tyrannical tactics employed by some Marxist bosses in the party stronghold of Kerala to quell dissent.
In the light of such a stiff party culture, Sitaram Yechury, the newly elected top official of the CPM, deserves praise for his determination to campaign democratically for a post for which he was a contender as early as 2005, the year his predecessor and rival Prakash Karat took over. When it came to picking a new leader at the conclave, colleagues from West Bengal threw their weight behind the 62-year-old, chain-smoking, affable leader who wore his knowledge of Bengali like a gold medallion. The Chennai-born Andhraite was ready to batten down the hatches and face a storm of protests against his elevation as general secretary from the CPM’s influential Kerala unit, which favoured the 77-year-old S Ramachandran Pillai.
Biman Bose, former CPM state secretary of West Bengal, where the once-dominant Left party has been shrinking rapidly since its resounding defeat of 2011 at the hands of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and thanks to the BJP’s emergence as an electoral force, would later recall that he had to fight tooth-and-nail opposition from the formidable Kerala unit to ensure that Yechury would be the CPM’s new general secretary. His logic: only a person who knew Bengali could help revive the dwindling fortunes of the Marxists who had ruled the state for 34 straight years after their 1977 win and had sent the party’s largest number of representatives to the Lok Sabha, until Banerjee wrecked the fortress. In the Politburo, the CPM’s 16- member top decision-making unit, Bose also argued that only a relatively young leader could attract the country’s youth and middle-class that see the party as an outdated political entity without any connect with their concerns and aspirations. The CPM rarely features in their consideration set as a party to entrust with power.