West Bengal political circles were discussing it in hush tones. When the three-day Central Committee meeting in Calcutta concluded on the evening of Sunday January 21, some called it a “clear defeat of Sitaram Yechury”. The CPI(M) general secretary was in favor of continuing with a former policy, which has come to be known as the Bengal line because with a few exceptions, most of the Bengal Communists advocated it, and that was to keep close ties with the Congress Party in order to keep political rivals of both parties from gaining political ground. Strong supporters of this argument within the Bengal CPI(M) included expelled party leader and former Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, CPI(M) Member of Legislative Assembly Sujan Chakraborty and Gautab Deb among others. But as per the party diktat, none of them, other than Chatterjee because he is no longer a part of the CPI(M), will corroborate that there is a division within the party on the question of reviving alliances with the Congress.
“We may have differences of opinion within the party but these are thrashed out during the course of the meetings, whether Central Committee, Polit Bureau or party Congress proving that we are democratic party. But eventually when our policy decisions are made public it is based on a common consensus and not the views of any one particular member,” Mohammad Selim, CPI(M) Member of Parliament and Central Committee Member told Outlook. He said that the Central Committee meeting that was held in Calcutta from January 19 to 21 did focus on strategies on how to combat communal forces in the country and decided on holding hundreds of localized meetings and rallies to reconnect with the masses but denied that there was “any one view that was defeated.” He said, “There is no question of any one line being either advocated by any one individual and subsequently the defeat of such a line. Ideas were discussed and debated and then each member registered his support of particular decisions.”
Other insiders reveal however that former CPIM general secretary Prakash Karat’s decision to not go along with the Congress won the Central Committee members’ votes by an overwhelming majority. “Only Tripura and Bengal supported Yechury and that too not unanimously,” said a source.
It must be remembered that in 2008, during the first UPA government, Karat, when he was general secretary, took the decision to withdraw support on disagreements with the Congress over the signing of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. CPI(M)’s stalwart leader Somnath Chatterjee, who was the Speaker of Parliament at that time, however refused to step down. After a closed-door meeting between Karat, Yechury and others, the decision was taken to expel Chatterjee from the party. It is an open secret that Yechury was against the expulsion. The Bengal Communists have held Karat responsible for the debacle it faced in subsequent elections in West Bengal beginning with the Parliamentary elections of 2009 when it went down from 35 seats to a mere 15 and culminating in it being routed from the throne after 34 years in the state elections of 2011. “The CPI(M)’s break with the Congress made it possible for Trinamool, CPIM’s main rival in West Bengal, to hold Congress’ hand and jointly contest the elections,” said a Bengal Communist. “If that didn’t happen the CPIM would not have faced the debacle that it did.”
Speaking to Outlook after the conclusion the Central Committee meeting in Calcutta, Somnath Chatterjee said, “Though I am no longer a member of the party, it makes my heart bleed to see how the party is dealing with important issues such as combatting the communal forces. Today’s Central Committee meeting results indicate that the CPI(M) has once again made a grievous error, a mistake that will cost it dear. Hasn’t it already suffered enough because of its wrong decisions? A party which once commanded most of the 42 seats from West Bengal – (he is referring to when it was 35 in strength) – has now only two MPs from here. And only three MPs from Kerala. Chatterjee, known to be close to Yechury, said if the CPI(M) truly wants to pursue its declared agenda of fighting the BJP at the Center, it has to unite with other secular, democratic forces.
However sources speaking to Outlook said that those who supported the Karat line of going it alone pointed out that the Congress and CPI(M) alliance was put to the test in the last Assembly elections of West Bengal in 2016 and failed miserably. “The election results showed that the tie-up and seat-sharing helped Congress and hurt the CPI(M) because the Congress gained more seats while the CPI(M) lost because of the alliance.”
There have been unconfirmed reports that Yechury has expressed the desire to resign from the post of general secretary but Outlook’s calls to him went unanswered and there was no confirmation at the time of going to press.