Not allowing Yechury a 3rd term in RS will be 'historic blunder' for CPM

CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury. Photo: PTI
After not allowing Jyoti Basu to be the prime minister of India in 1996 and withdrawing their outside support to the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre in 2008, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is on the cusp of committing yet another ‘historic blunder’.

At stake this time is a Rajya Sabha seat. The CPI (M)’s Kerala and West Bengal units are split over whether the party should allow a third Rajya Sabha term to party chief Sitaram Yechury.

The Bengal unit believes that not allowing Yechury a third term would be nothing short of yet another ‘historic blunder’. Basu had famously termed CPI (M)’s refusal to allow him to head the United Front government in 1996 as a ‘historic blunder’.

The Kerala unit, considered more close to former general secretary Prakash Karat, points to party norms that bar a member from being elected to the Upper House for the third time.

The CPI (M) politburo, dominated by those who do not favour a third term for their party chief, has already rejected the possibility.

But the Bengal unit has insisted that in the current political scenario when the party has its back to the wall, Yechury’s presence in Parliament would help CPI (M) to continue punching above its weight and might even spur its revival.

Yechury has said he does not want to flout party norms but the Bengal unit and some others are likely to demand a vote on the issue when the party Central Committee meets in New Delhi on Tuesday.

The Bengal unit points to the recent instance when, primarily on Yechury’s initiative, the combined Opposition accepted Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi as their candidate for the post of the country’s Vice-President.

Six Rajya Sabha members from Bengal retire by the end of the Monsoon session. Of these, Trinamool Congress, given its numbers in the Bengal Assembly, is on course to win five seats.

For the sixth seat, both CPI (M) and Congress lack the numbers to get a member of their respective parties elected to Rajya Sabha. But they can come together to get a common candidate elected.

The Congress top leadership has made it known that its legislators in Bengal would help CPI (M) get Yechury elected. It is willing to make an exception only for Yechury. The Congress and much of the Opposition considers Yechury a strong voice against the Sangh Parivar and the Narendra Modi government. He is also considered a catalyst for Opposition unity in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, somebody whose advice is sought and respected by all hues of Opposition leaders.

Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress is equally keen that CPI (M) and Congress drift apart. Trinamool is willing to support a Congress candidate. It could mean that P Bhattacharya of Congress, one of the six set to retire, is re-elected with Trinamool support. Congress spokesperson Sharmishtha Mukherjee, daughter of outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee, is another name being speculated about as a possible Congress candidate. Congress and CPI (M)-led Left parties had fought the 2016 Bengal Assembly polls in an alliance.

In the midst of the intra-CPI (M) tug of war, veteran party leader and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee told Bengali daily Aajkal in an interview on Sunday that if not for Prakash Karat it was he, and not Pranab Mukherjee, who might have had the honour of becoming the first Bengali to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Chatterjee told the newspaper that Karat, who was then the party chief, scuttled the move in 2007. Chatterjee said several of the parties, including those part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, had wanted him to be the presidential candidate.

"But Karat turned down the proposal. If it was not for his objection, I would have become the first President from Bengal then as BJP decided not to put up any candidate," Chatterjee said, according to an English translation of the interview provided by the newspaper.

At the time, Congress leadership was unwilling to spare Pranab Mukherjee. In the event, Congress proposed Pratibha Patil’s name, which was accepted by the Left parties when Communist Party of India (CPI) leader AB Bardhan approved.

Yechury celebrates his 66th birthday on August 12, a day after his current Rajya Sabha term ends. Tuesday would tell us whether Yechury would continue to remain a strong voice in Parliament, or when at a time Opposition politics needs somebody of his stature who has no personal axe to grind, his party reduces him to be confined to his second-floor room at the party headquarters at AKG Bhavan in New Delhi.

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