Yechury has his work cut out this term

Nitya Chakraborty

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he re-election of Sitaram Yechury as general secretary of the CPI(M) at the just-ended 22nd party congress assumes special significance in the present period of political turmoil when all Opposition parties, including the Congress, are feeling the need for all-out unity of anti-BJP parties to drive out the saffron forces from the seat of power at the Centre after the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

Till Sunday, CPI(M) general secretary Yechury was hamhanded in dealing with the crucial issue of uniting the Opposition forces against the BJP as the ties between the CPI(M) and the Congress were at the centre of a controversy within the party and Yechury, despite his own preference, could not act speedily to facilitate the process of anti-BJP unity. This was due to the opposition of the politburo members, who still wanted to have no truck with the Congress.

After the political resolution was approved with amendments on the lines of Yechury, the way is cleared for building an anti-BJP unity in the coming state Assembly elections, culminating in the Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2019. The Left will again be back in the mainstream of the Indian politics and, as in 1996 and again in 2004, the Left will play a crucial role in trying to keep the BJP out of power.

Yechury has now got a free hand in dealing with unity issues, including ties with the Congress. The Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, was anxiously waiting for this moment since all the parties felt that the CPI(M), inspite of its low number of Lok Sabha seats, could impart a solid ideological strength to the Opposition ‘front’ and Sitaram, as in earlier years, could play a leading role in cementing a common minimum programme (CMP) of the Opposition parties. This would give the ‘front’ a pro-people character as the 1996 CMP which he helped prepare with P Chidambaram.

But Yechury is running against time. He can start work right now and the objective should be to ensure one-to-one fights in the state Assembly elections so that anti-BJP votes are not divided. This means the Congress can be supported in seats in which it is the strongest against the BJP without any Left candidate splitting the votes. This approach can start from the Karnataka Assembly polls, although it is a tad late. The Karnataka Assembly elections are crucial and the BJP has to be defeated convincingly for the anti-BJP wave to continue into the Assembly elections in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

In Karnataka, the Congress is contesting all the seats and so is the JD(S), led by Deve Gowda. The best course would have been to have an understanding between the Congress and the JD(S). That would have beaten the BJP decisively. But that may not happen because of the state-level rivalry between the Congress and JD(S). But efforts can be made to make it possible in at least 40 seats out of the 224 in the Karnataka Assembly.

Rahul Gandhi is in favour of an alliance with the SP and BSP in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The CPI and CPI(M) can also have some understanding in a few seats where they have solid bases. The Congress president, as leader of the main Opposition party, can be magnanimous in ensuring that the anti-BJP front covers all Opposition parties, including the smaller ones.

For Yechury, the second-most important task is to prepare a road map for the unification of the two communist parties. There is no basis for the CPI(M) and the CPI to remain as separate entities as there has been a sea change in the international situation which precipitated the split in undivided CPI in 1964. The 1962 India-China War and the call of the Chinese Communist Party for a parallel line through its letter of June 14, 1963, had contributed to the split.

The CPI(M) leadership has been talking of communist unity, but no concrete move has been made yet. The CPI is ready for communist party unity and this will be indicated at the coming Kollam party congress. This is the right time for both parties to follow up with all earnestness the Left unity issue, the beginning of which will be the unification of the CPI and CPI(M). This may take time, but the process should start right this year. Yechury and Sudhakar Reddy of the CPI must take the initiative.

There is a saying that, after a lowest ebb, one can only go up. The Left parties had 61 seats in Lok Sabha in the 2004 elections. It went down to 24 in 2009 and to 10 in 2014. Despite becoming general secretary of the CPI(M) in 2015, Yechury could not show his leadership skills because of the restraint put on him by the politburo. Those fetters are gone and the time has come for Yechury to show his skills in navigating the tortuous process of Opposition unity to the successful landing on the tarmac after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

(The writer is a political commentator)