The Mamata factor

Powerful state units of the Bengal and Kerala CPM are preparing for a showdown

While Trinamool Congress might have unleashed a reign of terror in Bengal against CPM leaders, the April 9 Delhi incident where CPM cadres decided to heckle and insult chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her Finance Minister Amit Mitra, has brought the Left party’s influential West Bengal and Kerala units on a collision course.

Following the Delhi attack, Trinamool has already launched a violent retaliatory campaign but more than anything else, it was the action of CPM’s Delhi unit that has further vitiated relations between the central leadership, read general secretary Prakash Karat, and the West Bengal unit. Tempers are running so high that the state CPM has accused Karat with ignoring the state unit before embarking on adventurism of this kind.

Veteran Leftist leader Ashok Ghosh, secretary of the Forward Block, openly sought a clarification from the state CPM leadership, particularly from CPM secretary Biman Bose, asking “how long should we suffer for the blunders committed by your party?” Leader of another Left constituent RSP’s Khitij Goswami, too toed the same line and questioned the rationale of the Delhi action at a time when the Left was facing the Trinamool onslaught as well as trying to consolidate its position which was drastically eroded in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

The CPI(M) had traditionally thrown its weight around at its smaller partners and even the `historic’ defeat has not helped change this equation. While Left constituents are angry with big brother, within the CPM, leaders have questioned this so-called party programme of the Delhi unit directly under the control of Karat. The incident has revived the old battle lines between general secretary Prakash Karat and Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya, who is unhappy at Delhi’s unilateralism.  Bhattacharya’s anger is justified. For the first time since Mamata came to power, CPM had an opportunity to push the government into a corner and was brimming with the possibility of revival.

The Delhi episode has put paid to their plans. Biman Bose, sources say, had informed Karat of their displeasure. According to reports, people protesting in front of Planning Commission were all members of CPM’s local committee in West Delhi and not its affiliate Students Federation of India (SFI). The Delhi action was carried out by party full timers

Apparently to deflect peoples’ attention and to gain the confidence of state leaders, Karat wrote to President Pranab Mukherjee urging him to decide whether West Bengal Governor M K Narayanan’s ‘political intervention’ in seeking an apology from the party Politbureau for the Delhi incident was justified. To the utter dismay of Karat, this action has failed to mollify the state leadership with even front partners viewing it as a gimmick, a ploy to hide his own failures.

These leaders privately admit that Narayanan was right. After all the Chief Minister and Finance Minister were attacked. They do not feel it was highly improper for the governor of a state, who holds a constitutional post, to declare that a political party or its leaders have ‘forfeited their right to function within a democratic framework’. These leaders feel that Karat should have had the moral guts to confess his wrong instead of blaming the governor. The governor said that CPM was entitled to voice complaints, but could not resort to using rods against ministers. He even suggested that this “premeditated” attack was “serious enough to warrant a public apology from the CPM Politbureau.’’

The anti-Mamata demonstration was planned to protest against the attitude of the West Bengal government towards the custodial death of SFI leader Sudipta Gupta in Kolkata.

West Bengal CPM leaders and Karat have been at logger heads for quite some time and state leaders blame the general secretary for this miserable state of affairs in its once strong hold West Bengal. They say Karat forced his dictates against the will of the state unit and eventually the party had to suffer huge electoral losses.

While CPM leaders do not intend to intensify their agitation against the Trinamool government for the moment as it would send a wrong message to the people, Karat and his associates want the state to embark on a militant form of agitation. Even secretary of Delhi CPM, Puspendra Grewal, a Karat protegee has come out justifying the action.

This comes in the background of state leaders cautioning Karat not to interfere in affairs of the Bengal unit. The fight between the Bengal line and Kerala line is now out in the open and leaders are getting ready for a final showdown before the next party Congress.