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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 19 New Delhi May 2, 2015

Yechury and the Kerala Selfie

Saturday 2 May 2015

by Appukuttan Vallikunnu

The election of Sitaram Yechury as the CPM’s General Secretary without a contest is significant in one aspect. It is a small beginning of that party’s rectification process. First, a victory for those who waged an inner-party struggle against a personalised leadership in the 21st Congress of the CPI-M. A leadership based on personal whims and fancies.

The party is in for an organisational plenum to correct its big organisational mistakes within six months. One can predict of the future or even the very existence of the CPM and the Left only after the completion of this plenum. Many other things, like what did the Rightist media assume, what were the issues discussed, who spoke authoritatively in such discussions, etc. are factually immaterial. How were the inner- party discussions conducted in the Party Congress, what decisions were taken, how the Congress arrived at those decisions are what are more important and crucial. According to the party’s official mouthpiece in Kerala, the elevation of Sitaram Yechury to the Party’s General Secretary-ship was smooth and instant. ‘Prakash Karat suggested his name, S. Ramachandran Pillai seconded it, and Sitaram Yechury became the General Secretary.’ Anyway it is of immense relief that they did not claim: Karat proposed the name, Pillai supported it, and Yechury obeyed.

Sitaram Yechury himself had disclosed in an interview that there was a third candidate for the post of General Secretary apart from him and SRP. This is quite natural in a party which upholds inner-party democracy. Even election is not wrong since the Communist Party and its leadership acquires and arrives at unity only through bitter inner-party struggles. Those who are at the helm of affairs in the CPM and also its spokesmen should know this.

For a Party like the CPM this is not a new situation. The Party was born through raising policy-wise difference of opinion within the Party and outside. Later it thrived on differences. It was only after the Palghat Conference that the Kerala Party leadership identified voting on policy issues as well as voting in the conference as anti-party activities.

Yechury, as an active member of the CPM leadership, raised certain different policy-pers-pectives—while formulating the draft political tactical document. The General Secretary and majority in the PB dismissed these. But the majority in the Central Committee decided to consider them. Accordingly, a Draft Tactical Policy was reformulated incorporating the alternative views, and eventually the party units and Congress delegates approved it after discussions. Based on this, the Party will meet in Bengal in October for a Plenum for correction of organisational mistakes. The party’s independent growth, inner-party democracy, independent work and struggle of class and mass organi-sations, Left unity, lack of a strong base in the Hindi belt, deadly virus of parliamentarism affecting the party leadership, instead of basing itself on the working people, the tendency among the party cadres to closely align with the middle class, petty bourgeoisie and anti-communists— these issues were discussed by various Party Congresses. Remedies remained as remedies and the Party travelled from one sin to another. Instead of becoming a mass revolutionary party it became a non-entity, neither revolutionary nor even a mass party.

The present Party Congress came to the conclusion that this position needs urgent correction. And also the Congress came to the realisation that in reality there is no use in blaming the tactical policy. It was Yechury who gave concrete shape to this thinking and led the inner-party struggle—which influenced the majority in the Party Congress—and as its loyal spokesman he became the General Secretary. Many States outside Kerala like Bengal, Tripura units supported this viewpoint headed by Yechury. And a sizeable section even among the Kerala delegates also finally gave approval to this position. It was the task of the outgoing General Secretary to propose a suitable name as the new General Secretary. But he wanted the post to be given to S. Ramachandran Pillai. Pinarayi Vijayan, who led the Kerala Party for the last one-and-a-half decades, also thought accordingly. In that sense Yechury’s emergence is a severe blow to these leaders of the ‘Malayali Political Club’. Yechury is elected by the Party Congress with the added responsibility to convene a Salkia-Plenum-like organisational conference, which will help the Party in its growth and expansion with necessary corrections. Yechury is duty-bound to obey this mandate of the Party Congress.

The CPM which was formed in 1964 through a split in the CPI was constrained to face the three-pronged attack of Naxalite militants, CPI workers and the Congress Government without giving finishing touches to its tactical document and its revised Party Programme. The Party was forced to confront its enemies without properly assimilating the political essence of these documents among them and also in its rank and file. The imposition of the Emergency rule subsequently resulted in total disunity of the PB on policy issues as well as tactical line and the resignation of the General Secretary, P. Sundarayya.

It was the exemplary and strenuous work of EMS, who was asked to take over the General Secretary-ship by the Party, that unified the Party again in a long process. The Jalandhar Party Congress of 1978 took the decision to convert the CPM into a Mass Revolutionary Party. EMS left the leading role only after the CPM’s total membership rose from 1,60,000 in Salkia to 5,79,000 in the Chennai Party Congress in 1992. This was at a time when Communist Parties all over the world were facing severe setback. Per annum membership growth was 32,000 and the growth rate was 5.55 per cent. In the last 23 years annual membership growth nosedived to 20,000 and the growth rate has fallen by 4.34 per cent.

The presence in Parliament and State Assem-blies and the growth of class and mass organi-sations also fell accordingly. Even in the election in 1960 after the ‘Vimochana Samaram’ the undivided Communist Party got 40 per cent votes in Kerala. But in 2014 the CPM-CPI together polled a mere 29.17 per cent and the total vote of the LDF is just 41.95 per cent. The Indian Communist Party in its inception from Tashkent onwards had emphasised the need to organise the workers and peasants to strengthen and advance the national movement. The Party also suggested the tactical line and slogan that showed the path of Indian independence. In the 21st Party Congress, however, the CPM decided the National Tactical Policy and abandoned the efforts to form the government at the Centre based on a programme. Instead it gave permission to State Party units to take appro-priate decisions at the State level.

Yechury after assuming the General Secretary-ship said in an interview: “The immediate task before me is to revive the Party. The Party is in total disarray both organisationally as well as in Parliament. Resurrection is possible only if you have abundance of inner strength. Even otherwise, humanism is an integral part of the Marxist.” Those who lead and work for the Party should assimilate this lesson.

It is not easy to correct those who earnestly believe that only those who submit themselves willingly should be there in the Party and in the class and mass organisations. It is not easy to correct those who firmly believe that justice, democracy and constitution are to be decided by the Party leadership.

Can Yechury unify all the PB Members not to mention Karat, SRP and Pinarayi? ‘First you unite, then mobilise the Central Committee and the rest of the Party behind you.’ This was the advice given by Stalin and the Soviet Party leadership to the four-member delegation of the Indian Communist Party in 1951. Is it possible for the new General Secretary to ensure the collective functioning of the Party leadership as evolved and practised by the then General Secretary EMS at the Vijayawada Congress after the Salkia Plenum?

The elevation of Yechury instead of SRP has dealt a severe blow to the Kerala Party leadership. The Party mouthpiece has reflected this quite truly. There is no edit page article this time introducing the new General Secretary, who is taking charge after a couple of years. The introductory piece on the new General Secretary is a three-column news item from Visakhapatnam. The news item is highly suggestive. Hours before the election of the Secretary, a Malayalam TV channel announced on Sunday (April 19) early morning that it is SRP who is the new General Secretary. The Consulting Editor of the Party daily, who joined the channel discussion giving up his sleep, could hardly conceal his glee. A more suitable candidate cannot be found—he declared.

The old model of upholding the values of collective functioning and united action is the only path before Yechury. So what the CPM needs now is immediate and purposeful political intervention taking into account the social situation of the globalised world of the 21st century. This is the task to be completed by the next Party Plenum.

The renowned Marxist historian, Bipan Chandra, has warned twice—the latest when the Left suffered the disastrous defeat in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll—that “the rank and file Marxists or even leaders become incapable of critically evaluating the programme and political practice based on it. The leaders change the programme pragmatically when it has ‘failed’ —that is, it no longer corresponds with life even as a shadow—and the ranks of members and sympathisers either leave the party in bewilder-ment since they have nothing to hold on to in the absence of faith in the programme, or they stick to it out of loyalty to the movement and the party hoping and praying that the new programme will not meet the fate of the old one. Theory is now brought in to explain why the old programme and policies failed—but after they have failed in practice.”

Yechury and the whole leadership of the CPI-M has to understand that this is the sorry plight of the Party when it adopts new tactical documents or goes for another organisational plenum.

The one million dollar question is: can Yechury unite his Party leadership, especially the biggest Kerala unit, waging a federal challenge?

The author is the former Associate Editor of the CPI-M’s Malayalam organ in Kerala, Deshabhimani.