Successive electoral defeats in its strongholds, dwindling membership, failure to attract the youth, the unprecedented and grave set of challenges faced by the party, and the way to reinvent and revive will occupy the mindspace of the top leadership of the CPM when they meet in Visakhapatnam next week for its six-day triennial annual conclave. But more than the deliberations, all eyes will be on who will succeed Prakash Karat as the next general secretary of the party.
Karat has completed three terms at the helm, the maximum one can have. Senior politburo member Sitaram Yechury is the front-runner to succeed Karat, but much will depend on the Kerala brigade. Because, the other senior politburo member who is in the reckoning is from Kerala and more importantly has the backing of Karat himself. But age and inability to speak Hindi weigh against S Ramachandran Pillai, the 77-year-old ideologue. Yechury will turn 63 this year.
The other probable names doing the rounds include that of politburo member B V Raghavulu and Tripura CM Manik Sarkar.
The next general secretary will be picked by the new central committee, elected by 749 delegates through a secret ballot on the last day of the session, away from media glare behind closed doors. Out of the 749 delegates, 350 are from Kerala and West Bengal – 175 each from the two key states.
The perception in the party is that the Bengal unit would back Yechury, while the Kerala unit seems divided. There are reports that Yechury has some well-wishers in the Kerala unit, which will make the succession battle interesting.
The 399 delegates from rest of India would want to gauge the mood of the two dominant units.
The biggest debate within the party essentially is what it needs right now, sources say. “The choice of general secretary will boil down to what the party feels it needs more – an organisation man or someone who can reach out beyond the party. While Pillai is more of the former, Yechury fits the latter profile,” a party leader said. The contest this time largely boils down to Pillai and Yechury because both has “national experience” and are based out of Delhi.
Party leaders, however, say Yechury has an edge over Pillai with respect to age, being nearly 15 years younger. “Significant sections of the party believe the disconnect with the youth is a serious problem and hence, the party needs a younger leadership,” another leader said.
At a time when the CPM has been reduced to single digits in the Lok Sabha, having lost even West Bengal, the future course of the party will be determined by the new general secretary. The party congress, from April 14-19, is the first since the party adopted its amended constitution that caps the number of terms for all secretaries to a maximum of three terms.