Picking up the pieces after Prakash

Who will be the new CPI(M) general secretary when Prakash Karat steps down on completing his term? Will his successor be elected unanimously? Or will there be a contest? These are the questions exercising the minds of CPI(M) cadres and leaders alike.

While the CPI(M) sources admit that the effort will be to evolve a consensus on the issue, a contest cannot be ruled out, given the barely-concealed ambitions of the aspirants. As of now, sources say, senior Politburo member S Ramachandran Pillai is likely to emerge as the consensus candidate. They say Pillai’s credentials for the job are impeccable. He is the number 2 in the party right now. A quintessential organisational man and an uncompromising ideologue, SRP also enjoys the confidence of the present leadership, including that of Party General Secretary Prakash Karat.

An additional plus point, they claim,  is that Pillai also enjoys the  support’ of the powerful  Kerala unit of the party led by the powerful CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, who continues to have a firm grip on the organisational machinery in the state, and enjoys a brute majority both in the state secretariat and the state committee. This being the ground reality, the election or selection of Pillai for the top party job is only a formality, say pro-Vijayan sources.   

Another section within the party, however, contests this claim. According to them, Sitaram Yechury is the Number two in the party hierarchy. And, should Yechury throws his hat in the ring, the going will be anything but smooth for Ramachandran Pillai. They point out that Yechury’s credentials for the job are equally impressive. The most presentable and visible face in the party, Yechury is endowed with all the qualities that go into the making of the CPI(M) boss, they point out. A brilliant theoretician and an able parliamentarian, Yechury is blessed with great oratorical skill, too. He is also known for his organisational prowess. And last but not the least, the affable Yechury has excellent relations with other parties and their leaders. This will be an added asset in the days to come when the party may abandon the policy of treating both the BJP and the Congress as equal enemies. That he has an eye on the job is clear from the repeated expression of his wish to resign from the PB accepting responsibility for the poor show of the CPI(M) in the Lok Sabha elections from West Bengal, where he was in charge of the election campaign. The million dollar question, then, is: will Yechury enjoy the support of the Kerala lobby if he offers his candidature for the CPI(M) general secretary’s post? The answer to this question is in the affirmative in view of Yechury’s warm relationship with the tallest and the most popular CPI(M) leader in the state, V S Achuthanandan.

Even pro-Vijayan elements concede that in the event of a contest between Pillai and Yechury,
V S will extend his full support to the latter. After all, Yechury has been V S’s staunchest supporter in the Politburo. There have been innumerable occasions when V S escaped the disciplinary axe simply because that Yechury stood by him. It is also an open secret that Yechury’s vigorous espousal of Achutanandan’s cause has not been to the liking of Vijayan and his loyalists. Not only V S, even some of his loyalists will, in all probability, throw their weight behind Yechury, it is conceded.      
There is another reason why Ramachandran Pillai may not enjoy the full support of the Kerala lobby. While Pinarayi continues to call the shots in the state party, there are unmistakable signs of equations within the state unit changing. The below-par performance of the Kerala CPI(M) in the Lok Sabha elections has undoubtedly weakened Vijayan’s position in the party. More leaders are mustering the courage to criticise the state leadership’s failure to exploit the anti-Congress sentiment sweeping the country and ensure a better show in the parliamentary elections.  The chorus of criticism has gathered greater force, especially in the wake of the defeat of Politburo member M A Baby from Kollam constituency.

Until now, V S alone has been critical of the state party leadership. It is no longer so. Post-Kollam defeat, Baby himself made no secret of his unhappiness over the way in which his poll campaign was handled.  Baby, who lost to RSP’s N K Premachandran, had to endure the humiliation of trailing behind the RSP candidate even in his own assembly constituency, Kundara, by more than 6,900 votes. The Kundara MLA, who is a known Vijayan loyalist, wanted to quit the MLA’s post on moral grounds. But the party refused his request. The state committee meeting also saw severe criticism of Baby for initially insisting on resigning despite the party directive not to do so. He has agreed, albeit reluctantly, to abide by the party fiat. But the entire episode has left a trail of bitterness which will take some time to evaporate and which will have a crucial bearing on the existing equations in the party.
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