The 24th West Bengal state conference of the CPM, which ended in Kolkata on Friday, may well turn out to be among the most significant meetings of the party in the state. State Secretary Biman Bose handing the leadership baton to Surya Kanta Mishra is part of a larger story of change in the CPM. SUBRATA NAGCHOUDHURY explains.
What is the backdrop to the conference?
The CPM, India’s foremost left force which led the government in West Bengal for 34 years, is in crisis. It sank to a mere 40 seats in the 2011 assembly polls and faces an uphill task in the next elections a year from now. The state conference followed district-level conferences at which the party discussed its ideological plank, leadership and the way forward.
What have the three-day deliberations yielded?
There is a new state secretary, and major changes in the state secretariat. The attempt is to infuse fresh blood at the top. But there is no consensus on the way forward. Many delegates have said the political documents read the same as before, and fail to suggest the way forward. The problems that have been identified are already known — organisational failures, the lack of interest in mass agitations, etc. — so “where is the light at the end of the tunnel,” these delegates ask.
So was there no new finding at all?
The presentation of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee report — an assessment of over three decades of Left rule in West Bengal prepared by the former chief minister — was one exceptional feature. Bhattacharjee has touched upon issues like Nandigram and how the police firing impacted the CPM’s image adversely across India, and the exit of Tata from Singur and his government’s failure to stop them. The Tatas felt they were “unwanted guests” in the state, Bhattacharjee has said.
Why did Biman Bose step down?
Bose came in for sharp criticism after the CPM vote share fell to 30 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha election from 50 per cent in 2006 when he took charge as secretary. Cadres have been clamouring for new faces. Bose, 76, has already had three terms.
What does this indicate for the Bengal CPM?
Apparently an overhaul of the state party leadership, which has been blamed for the resounding political defeat to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. But many fear that the change will be only cosmetic. Despite his years, Bose is more energetic and dynamic than most others. Still, with Anil Biswas dead, Nirupam Sen ill and confined to a wheelchair, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee “disillusioned”, and now Bose gone, the CPM is looking very different.
What sort of leader is Mishra likely to be?
Mishra has been a gritty Leader of Opposition in the West Bengal assembly. His style is cool and composed, and his speeches in the House have been sharp and witty. In the party, he is known to lean towards the ‘Prakash Karat line’.
What will be his biggest challenge?
The municipal polls in mid-April are the first test, but the real challenge is undoubtedly the 2016 assembly polls. Mamata seems set to return for a second term, and Mishra might have to lead the CPM in the battle for the No. 2 slot with the BJP.