Mishra and AKP get seats at CPM high table,late nod for M A Baby

Buddhadeb will now on focus more on policy and strategy,CPM leaders in Kolkata said

Published: April 10, 2012 12:53 am

Dr Surya Kanta Mishra
Suave and steel
Streetfighter with a working class addiction

Subrata Nagchoudhury
Kolkata

Urbane and suave,a man of cutting wit and sophisticated argument,and addicted to smoking bidis — this is the new national face of the CPM in West Bengal. Dr Surya Kanta Mishra,leader of the opposition in the Bengal house,was inducted into the CPM politburo on the concluding day of the party’s 20th congress today.

Former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will now on focus more on policy and strategy,while Mishra will get bigger play on the ground,CPM leaders in Kolkata said. He will be the CPM’s face in the coming panchayat polls,in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections and,most importantly,the next state assembly elections in 2016.

Bhattacharjee has retained his position in the politburo,belying apprehensions that his reluctance to be present at party meetings might cost him his membership.

“(CPM general secretary) Prakash Karat’s announcement (naming Mishra to the politburo) is an indication of the party’s desperate urge for revival and regaining of ground in West Bengal. Karat underlined the fact that the CPM wants to bounce back through movements,mass agitations,meetings and rallies,” said the leader.

Mishra’s elevation to the politburo comes on the back of a splendid performance in the assembly,during which he has succeeded in coming across as a tough but responsible opposition which is “constructive” in its criticism — a major shift in position from the virulent Left oppositions of the sixties and seventies.

In leading the CPM charge in the assembly,Mishra has demonstrated oratorical prowess not commonly seen during his role as minister in the Left Front government.

He has spoken in measured language laced with satire,a cutting wit and carefully regulated aggression. On important policy matters,he often responded positively to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s request for joint media meetings — this was unthinkable when Banerjee was in the opposition; she invariably turned down all requests for party meetings with the government.

An example of Mishra’s satire was on show during the Dinesh Trivedi-Mamata Banerjee standoff — reacting to Trivedi’s railway budget,he said,“While the railway minister is trying to get the railways out of the ICU,our chief minister,using remote control,is trying to send it back to the ICU.”

When the Congress and the Trinaool Congress traded barbs over Indira Bhavan in Salt Lake being converted into a Nazrul museum with each accusing the other of being the ‘B’ team of the CPM,Mishra quipped: “What an achievement for us! With 30-odd seats in the house of 294,we are still considered the ‘A’ team,while the Congress and Trinamool vie to be the ‘B’ team.”

Mishra,the son of a landowner from Belda,Midnapore,began his political career during his student days in Cuttack. After obtaining an MBBS degree,Mishra returned to Bengal and plunged headlong into politics.

He was elected zilla sabhadhapati of West Midnapore in 1978 — at the behest,say party sources,of Biman Bose. Thirty four years later,it was Bose again — along with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — who pushed for Mishra’s candidature for the politburo ahead of CITU secretary and central committee member Shyamal Chakraborty,sources said.

Mishra joined Jyoti Basu’s ministry in 1991 as land and land reforms minister,and was later given charge of panchayat and rural development — considered the most important portfolios under the LF. In 2006,he was given charge of health,where he took flak,often from colleagues,on account of the poor state of health infrastructure in Bengal.

As leader of the opposition,he has not been unnecessarily stubborn or confrontationist,but has not allowed his party to be pushed around by the brute majority of the ruling dispensation. He has objected firmly to the government’s move on signing the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration agreement,and lashed out at Mamata Banerjee when she told the Left to “remain silent for the next 10 years”,describing the chief minister’s statement as being “akin to autocracy prevalent during the Emergency”.

Mishra’s wife Usha is a state committee member of the CPM women’s front. One of his two daughters,Roshnara,is a doctor who teaches physiology at Calcutta University.

M A BABY
The Intellectual
First Christian in Politburo,south Kerala gets a voice

Shaju Philip
Kozhikode

With his much delayed entry into the politburo,M A Baby has finally come out of the shadow of his contemporaries in the Kerala CPM. Baby,who was in the Rajya Sabha from 1986 to 1998,has completed 20 years in the central committee. Pinarayi Vijayan and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan came to the central committee several years later than Baby,but both beat him to the politburo.

Baby started his political life in the Kerala Students’ Federation,the predecessor to the Students’ Federation of India (SFI). He went on to become the all-India president of SFI and the party’s youth wing,DYFI.

Baby,the first Christian to become a PB member,had faced a setback after he was demoted from the central secretariat to the central committee on charges of factionalism subsequent to the state party conference in Palakkad in 1996.

After CPM state secretary Chadayan Govindan died in 1998,Baby’s name emerged as a contender for the post. However,he did not get the support of his then mentor V S Achuthanandan,and the secretaryship went to Pinarayi Vijayan,then a staunch VS loyalist. In the factional fight of later years,Baby became a Pinarayi loyalist,and led the charge against VS in southern Kerala.

Baby,who entered the Rajya Sabha at the age of 32,had been seen as the party’s intellectual face following the death of E M S Namboodiripad. In 1994,Baby even questioned the EMS line on communal politics in party discourse.

Unlike his generation of party leaders in Kerala,Baby had been functioning from Delhi before moving to electoral politics in the state in 2006. That year,he won the assembly election from Kundara in his home district of Kollam. In the last LDF government,Baby was minister for education and cultural affairs,where his performance invited significant criticism.

Baby has kept a low profile since the exit of the LDF ministry in May 2011,despite having won himself. His entry into the politburo gives south Kerala a voice in the party. The other two PB members,Vijayan and Balakrishnan,hail from the north Kerala district of Kannur. With octogenarian VS almost certainly due to exit from electoral politics at the end of the current assembly’s term,it would be interesting to watch who among Baby,Vijayan and Balakrishnan steps into his shoes.

A K Padmanabhan
Man from Chennai
Trade union background,important role ahead

Manoj C G
New Delhi

A K Padmanabhan’s elevation to the CPM politburo had been expected ever since he succeeded M K Pandhe as the president of the party’s trade union arm,CITU,two years ago. And there could not have been a better venue for this than Kozhikode,a city with which he has an emotional attachment as his father started his Communist activities here.

For AKP — as he is affectionately called by his comrades — a plunge into trade union activities and communist politics was inevitable. His father Kunhiraman Nambiar was an active party activist. AKP grew up seeing him going underground and distributing “Prabhatham” — the first Communist weekly newspaper — in and around Kozhikode during pre-Independent days when the party was banned in the country.

The daily was then edited by the likes of E M S Namboodiripad and K Damodaran. The first books he laid his hands on were the ones on Communist movements and ideology that his father brought home. But the active plunge into politics came much later,when,as a teenager,he moved from his native village in Kannur district — which produced many of the Communist stalwarts in Kerala — to neighbouring Tamil Nadu for studies.

He joined Ashok Leyland. Inevitable as it was,soon he raised his voice against ‘exploitation’ of ordinary workers at the factory,quit his job and took up the task of organising them. He settled down in Chennai and never went back to Kerala. AKP organised and led many trade union movements in Tamil Nadu.

He rose up in ranks in CITU and the CPM over the years,becoming the union’s all-India secretary way back in 1990. Ideologically sound and well-read,AKP has been over the years one of the prominent voices of the party in Tamil Nadu,arguing that the party should chart out its independent path and concentrate on its expansion and building of base.

He held various posts in the Tamil Nadu CPM over the years,becoming a member of its state committee and the secretariat. He entered the central leadership of the party in 2005,and became a member of the CPM central committee at the 18th Party Congress held in Delhi. His rise since then has been meteoric.

Initially shuttling between Delhi and Chennai,AKP moved to the Capital after succeeding Pandhe as the CITU president in 2010. He has been elected to the politburo at a time when the party is gearing up to launch agitations and struggling to reclaim its political space and ground for which CITU will have to play the lead role.

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