A day ahead of the election of the CPI(M)’s general secretary on the last day of its ongoing party congress, the contest for the post became sharper with both frontrunners not ruling out that they were in the race, even as they refused to directly acknowledge their candidature.
Since its inception in 1964, the party has never had an election for the post, with the general secretary always being picked through consensus. The party constitution, however, does provide for a secret ballot in case of a contest.
On Saturday, politburo member S Ramachandran Pillai was cautious to not rule himself out in any way, while refusing to be drawn into taking any names. This came a day after a similar stand adopted by politburo member and the other frontrunner, Sitaram Yechury, who even went on to say the party’s face should appeal to the youth and it was important for the party to grow in the Hindi-speaking belt.
Party leaders say Pillai’s age — he is 15 years older than Yechury — and his lack of fluency in Hindi are his main drawbacks. Yechury’s statements on Friday, thus, led to speculations about whether he was indirectly projecting himself as the more suitable face.
Pillai, meanwhile, evaded all questions about whether he was a contender but did not outright rule out the possibility. “We haven’t started discussing about our general secretary. That will happen tomorrow morning… A lot of wild speculation is going on about it but it is all the media’s creation. I can’t reply to hypothesis,” he said.
Asked if it was important for the party to have a younger face to draw support from the youth, Pillai remained cryptic. “We will consider all aspects before electing the new general secretary and decide what is best for the party and for the country,” he said, while admitting that one of the important challenges before the party was to expand its base in the Hindi-speaking belt.
Meanwhile, the divisions in the party also became sharper on Saturday as one of its founding leaders — V S Achuthanandan — publicly wished Yechury “all the success”, in what seemed like an open endorsement. While the sense in the party is that the West Bengal unit is behind Yechury, the Kerala unit remains divided. Both Pillai and Karat backed former state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan in his running fued against Achuthanandan. New state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan is close to Vijayan and thus, the scales of the Kerala unit may tilt towards Pillai, who also has Karat’s backing.
Party leaders, however, say both Pillai and Yechury want to be consensus candidates and do not favour an election, since the desire for positions within or outside the party is perceived negatively as “parliamentarism”.
Interestingly, Pillai’s name is missing from the party’s posters of its big public rally on Sunday after the election of the new central committee, politburo and general secretary. Pillai, however, dismissed the issue and said, “We (the leadership) decided who will speak at the rally, that’s all.”
Sources say the names of the new central committee members to be proposed in front of the delegates of the party congress will be decided Saturday night, after which there could be greater clarity on the new general secretary.
Meanwhile, the party on Saturday adopted its political resolution, accepting 55 of the proposed 473 amendments.