One of the best known faces of the Left Front in the country at present, Yechury started his political career in 1974 when he joined the SFI, the CPM’s student wing. The following year, he joined the CPM. The articulate leader, besides being a central committee and politburo member, is a Rajya Sabha MP and the leader of the party’s parliamentary group.
Fifteen years younger than Pillai, Yechury has age on his side and can potentially be looked upon to steer the party in a fresh direction. Party leaders say he is more flexible than several of his colleagues when it comes to adhering to the party’s strict discipline. Widely recognised, he is also known for his ability to reach out beyond the party to other political parties and leaders and is effectively the party’s voice in Parliament.
Flexibility, while being an advantage in a party looking at reinventing itself, can also be counted against Yechury if the CPM prefers a solid organisation man like S R Pillai.
The sense in the party is that the Bengal unit will throw its weight behind Yechury, while any Kerala leaders close to V S Achuthannadan may prefer not to go with Pillai, who is identified with the Pinarayi Vijayan against VS.
S Ramachandran Pillai
Outside party circles, he is the less well known of the two. Pillai has an unassuming air about him, quiet yet pleasant. He joined the Communist Party in 1956, became general secretary of the CPM’s then youth wing Kerala Socialist Youth Federation in 1968, and was councillor in Kayamkulam Municipal Town between 1968 and 1979. He was a Rajya Sabha member from 1991 to 2001.
Pillai’s greatest strength besides his decades of experience, party leaders say, is that he is an organisation man.
He has been taking care of the party’s organisational and financial matters. He is known to be a ground-level politician, having worked closely with peasants and headed the All India Kisan Sabha, the party farmers’ wing, since 1999.
Pillai is 15 years elder to Yechury and the new general secretary will be appointed at a time the party is looking to reinvent itself and attract the youth. He is not fluent in Hindi and is not considered a political heavyweight outside the party.
He is close to Prakash Karat and they together backed former Kerala state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan against V S Achuthanandan. New state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan is in the same camp.