The CPI(M) Central Committee (CC) Sunday approved the ‘no alliance, no understanding with the Congress’ line advocated by Prakash Karat, rejecting a slightly different formulation put forward by party general secretary Sitaram Yechury by a 55-31 vote.
Yechury offered to resign, but was asked to continue by the Politburo (PB) and the CC, the highest policymaking body of the party.
The defeat of the general secretary’s line, not seen in nearly four decades in the CPM, marked a new crisis in the tussle between the Karat and Yechury factions. The last time the CPM faced a similar situation was in 1975 — when the political line proposed by then general secretary P Sundarayya was rejected by the CC. Sundarayya, the party’s founder general secretary, resigned.
Sources close to Yechury said he was down, but not out. They said the “real battle” would be waged in the Party Congress, the triennial national conclave, which will be held in Hyderabad in April. Yechury, with the backing of the party’s Bengal unit, was gearing up for that “battlefield”, the sources said.
At a press conference at the West Bengal CPM’s Alimuddin Street headquarters, Yechury, asked if he had offered to resign after the defeat of his line, said: “I am here as the general secretary because the party said that I should continue as the general secretary… I am here as the general secretary of the CPI(M) because the party PB and the Central Committee said I should be the general secretary of the CPI(M).”
The “final authority will be the Party Congress”, Yechury said. “Let’s go to the Party Congress, the Party Congress will take the final call.” He betrayed no emotions.
The CC currently has 91 members, apart from 10 special and permanent invitees. Yechury could manage to get the support of only about a third of those who voted. These numbers could also be a significant early pointer to the outcome of his re-election bid in April, when his first term ends. According to the constitution of the CPM, a general secretary can get up to three terms.
The CC, which met in Kolkata for three days, considered two drafts of the political resolution to be placed before the Party Congress: the Karat draft, backed by the majority in the PB, and the minority draft that Yechury moved. The drafts agreed on their assessment of the international situation, but differed in their approach towards the Congress party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
While the two senior leaders agreed that the primary objective was to defeat the BJP, the difference was on how to achieve that goal. The Yechury formulation was that the party should realise its objective “without entering into an electoral alliance or front with the ruling class parties”. The Karat draft said the party should maximise the anti-BJP vote “without entering into any understanding or alliance with the Congress party”.
The word ‘understanding’ in the Karat draft was intended to close all possibilities of an informal or tacit association with the Congress in the future. The CPM had entered into a tacit understanding with the Congress during the 2016 West Bengal Assembly elections, and performed disastrously.
During the three days of debate, the West Bengal comrades backed Yechury, while the Kerala side rallied behind Karat. The only exceptions were V S Achuthanandan (who did not travel to Kolkata), and perhaps, Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Issac, who left Kolkata in the morning without participating in the vote.
At the end of the debate, those backing the Yechury line moved amendments, all more or less seeking deletion of the word “understanding” from the majority draft. Three of the amendments were put to vote. All were defeated.
Sources said the PB had met Saturday night in a last ditch effort to avert voting. Yechury, they said, told the PB then, and the CC Sunday morning that he could not continue, and would like to resign. The unanimous view in both bodies, however, was that he should continue. Leaders from Bengal, led by Biman Bose and Suryakanta Mishra, took the lead to persuade Yechury to stay on, it is learnt.
Sources said Yechury got votes of members from 10 states including Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Tripura and Delhi, apart from West Bengal. Significantly, the CC, while adopting the PB draft after incorporating some amendments, said the issues raised at the meeting can be raised in the Party Congress as well. Sources in the Yechury camp said they would certainly raise these issues. “If they think that they have clinched the issue, they are mistaken. The real battle will be in Hyderabad,” said a senior leader of the Yechury camp.
At the press conference, Yechury said that “as per the adopted resolution… there is no understanding or electoral alliance with the Congress”. He added, however, “At the time of the elections, the concrete tactics to be employed to ensure that the achievement of our objective of defeating the BJP… to achieve that objective, the maximum pooling of the anti-BJP vote… how that will be done at the time of the elections depending on the concrete situations in states… we will decide.
“This was not a vote to decide on who won or who lost. At the time of the elections we will concretise our tactics,” Yechury said.
Meanwhile, he said, “We will give a call to all the people to defeat the BJP. It will be our primary objective in the Tripura polls. Tripura polls will be the BJP’s Waterloo.”
Deliberations over the draft resolution started nearly four months ago, and continued over three PB meetings and two CC meetings. During the Kolkata deliberations, while Achuthanandan supported Yechury’s line, other leaders from Kerala, and comrades from Andhra Pradesh and the party’s labour wing, CITU, backed Karat.