The latest rift closely mirrors one of the questions on which the then (undivided) Communist Party of India split in 1964.

The central committee (CC) of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on Sunday, January 21, approved the alternative draft political resolution prepared by Prakash Karat and rejected the draft put forward by general secretary Sitaram Yechury. The Politburo (PB) that met on Saturday evening had already vetoed Yechury’s last-ditch attempt to send both the drafts to the 22nd party congress to be held in Hyderabad this April after PB member BV Raghavulu raised objections.

While Yechury’s line was expected to lose if the resolutions were to be put to vote, the result raises questions over Yechury’s continuation as the general secretary and his future beyond the party congress. Yechury is only the second CPM general secretary to face the ignominy of having his draft resolution rejected by the CC and the only previous instance took place in 1975 when P Sundarayya chose to resign (as GS and from the PB) upon losing majority support for his political line.

The draft resolutions of Yechury and Karat were almost identical except for the question of having an “understanding with secular forces” (read Indian National Congress) which was unacceptable to the hardliners backing Karat and the Kerala clique. Unlike Sundarayya, Yechury will battle it out at the party congress in April and his camp still exudes confidence of forcing amendments in the final resolution that will be adopted as the political-tactical line of the party for the next three years.

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The matter was being debated for more than four months through multiple CC and PB meetings till a decision was finally taken yesterday. It is suspected that what is essentially a political question has evolved into a personality clash; further complicated by the interests of one state unit (Kerala).

In 2016, Karat made headlines dubbing the Modi regime as authoritarian but not fascist and had to deal with scathing repartees from a host of leaders, including JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar. It seems even though the next general election is just a year away, Karat and his camp are still grappling with the question.

The Kerala unit of the party has also emerged as a key player; which also reflects the factionalism at play. Yechury has traditionally backed the (now defunct) VS Achuthananthan faction in the state while Karat has been aligned to the Pinarayi Vijayan camp. Even as Vijayan and state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan have been hollowing out the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala by attracting their allies to the Left Front, Congress remains the main opponent for the Marxists in Kerala.

The latest rift closely mirrors one of the questions on which the then (undivided) Communist Party of India (CPI) split in 1964 that necessitated the formation of the CPI(M). It also has interesting parallels with the events leading up to P Sundarayya’s resignation in October 1975.

The factionalism post general secretary Ajoy Ghosh’s death in 1962 culminated in the splitting up of CPI couple of years later with “class collaboration” emerging as the biggest issue of divergence. One faction (CPI) was for collaborating with “bourgeois parties” like the Congress while the faction that eventually became the CPI(M) saw that as “revisionism”. In the peculiar circumstances prevailing back then, following the Sino-Soviet split and trade unionism in full swing, it might have been reasonable but does it make any sense for the current leadership to settle that question more than 50 years later?

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In a U-turn of sorts in 1975, it was general secretary P Sundarayya who was now levelling allegations of revisionism against the majority faction in the party. In the wake of the declaration of internal emergency in June 1975, the majority in the party’s higher bodies were convinced that nothing short of political collaboration with all the Opposition parties could restore civil liberties. While Sundarayya’s stand was more nuanced (He was strictly against aligning with any front involving the Jan Sangh “and paramilitary RSS”), his formulation didn’t find favour.

Even then, the Kerala unit under EMS Namboodiripad took the lead to implement the majority view. In an essay titled “On Bourgeoisie and Bourgeois Democracy” written by EMS in party mouthpiece Deshabhimani, he advocated an anti-Indira front involving all the Opposition parties and justified it with analogies of Soviets and the Allied forces fighting the Italian Fascists and Nazis in the Second World War.

In the 1977 election, current Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is now championing the combat against BJP/RSS in Kerala stood shoulder to shoulder in an alliance with Jan Sangh candidates like KG Marar and contested elections together under the leadership of EMS. (It is another matter that none of the Jan Sangh candidates won even then.)

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With the country going through yet another phase of civil liberties coming under increasing threats, can the present day leadership of the CPI(M) at least settle the question of how they view the present regime? Even in Karat’s resolution that has now been adopted by the CC, the primary objective is identified as ousting BJP. By ruling out even an understanding with the weakened Congress, who will the CPI M) ultimately benefit if Karat’s line is adopted as the political-tactical line in the Hyderabad party Congress?

Postscript: In an interview published in Asian Age on January 2, 1997, Jyoti Basu replied to a question put forward by MJ Akbar on his party not letting him become the prime minister: “But is a political blunder. It is a historic blunder.” Ironically, Yechury and Karat were together in their opposition to the idea while Harkishan Singh Surjeet was left to wage a lone battle for Basu. What is with CPM and blunders and late realisations? On a lighter note, there is a joke doing the rounds that in a gas chamber in 2039, Karat and Yechury would still be arguing whether fascism has indeed descended on the country. #KhabarLive

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