The rebellion of Jagmati Sangwan, a CPM leader from Haryana and general secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association, and her subsequent expulsion from the party, reflect the confusion within the CPM over the tactics it needs to adopt to stay relevant in national politics. The three-day meeting of the party’s central committee over the last weekend laid bare the sharp differences in the party over its election tactics and approach towards the Congress. It has also exposed the limits of the principle of democratic centralism.
Two lines of political thinking exist within the CPM, with the division beginning at the politburo, the party’s top decision-making body. The powerful Kerala unit sides with former general secretary Prakash Karat, who holds that the party’s political tactical line adopted at the Visakhapatnam conference earlier this year disallows any electoral alliance with the Congress. However, the West Bengal unit, with the tacit support of general secretary Sitaram Yechury, opted for a tactical understanding with the Congress for the state assembly election. Karat’s ideological puritanism had the upper hand in the central forums mainly because of support from Kerala leaders, but the central committee had to hold back its censure fearing revolt from the Bengal unit. To Yechury’s credit, he seems to have wrung out a middle ground: The party communique salutes two crore fifteen lakh people who supported the CPM in Bengal elections — Yechury later clarified that 67 lakh out of them are Congress voters — but admits that the tango with the party was “not in consonance with the central committee decision not to have an alliance or understanding with the Congress”. Any insistence on disciplining the deviant Bengal cadres could have had drastic consequences for the party.
The Bengal predicament is unlikely to be a one-off affair given the increasing federalisation of Indian politics. A pan-national electoral strategy is impossible in a fragmented polity. The CPM’s central leadership will have to give more freedom to state units to devise their ways and means. The insistence on the ideological straitjacket has been a major factor in the CPM’s decline.