Many obituaries have so far been written on CPIM's tragic demise in West Bengal on 19 May but it took a two-day heated politburo meeting in New Delhi for the epitaph to finally emerge on Monday. And in line with time-honoured European tradition of finest commemorative black comedy, the press communiqué was ample proof that Marxist leaders have certainly not lost their sense of humour even during their unprecedented hour of crisis.
Pity that politburo meetings are closed-door affairs. The impoverished CPIM (both in terms of ideology and funding) otherwise could have earned a few extra bucks by selling tickets for a live telecast of the Punch and Judy show.
Former general secretary Prakash Karat went on the offensive and along with leaders from the centre and the party's Kerala and Tripura units — S Ramachandran Pillai, Pinarayi Vijayan, Brinda Karat, Subhasini Ali, M A Baby, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, Hannan Mollah, Manik Sarkar — tried to slam a dozen goals past the hapless Bengal leaders for going into a pre-poll tie-up with the Congress. But Biman Bose, Surjya Kanta Mishra and Mohammed Salim fought back admirably, led by some able goalkeeping from CPIM general secretary Sitaram Yechury — the man believed to be the driving force behind the alliance.
At final whistle, however, it seemed that Karat line has prevailed 10-1. The CPM Politburo, in all gravitas, announced in a statement that "electoral tactics evolved in West Bengal was not in consonance with the Central Committee decision based on the political-tactical line of the party, which states that there shall be no alliance or understanding with the Congress party."
And Times of India quoted a politburo member, as saying: "The mood in the meeting was very tense. In February, the party's central committee had said there cannot be any truck with Congress. It was not part of the press communiqué but known to the party. All it said was CPIM can ally with democratic forces. We do not consider Congress or BJP as democratic parties. They are parties of the ruling class."
Karat, who had made it clear soon after the electoral debacle that schmoozing with Congress in West Bengal was "their tactics" and it had no seal of approval from the central committee, seemed to have achieved a comprehensive 'victory' over Yechury on Monday. The clear message that went down the party rank and file was that CPM's Bengal unit is guilty of breaching the political-tactical line and by cuddling with a bourgeoisie party like the Congress, the leaders have defied the party's all-powerful central committee. For a doctrinal, regimented party like the CPIM, this is tantamount to treason.
Except that it isn't. Well may Karat camp issue a diktat against the Bengal unit asking it to refrain from having any truck with the Congress, leaders and grassroot workers in the state understand that tying up with the "bourgeoisie party" is the only they can still save the party of becoming just a signboard in a state where till 2011, it ruled uninterrupted for 34 years.
In keeping with this ground reality, CPIM's local leadership has already reached an informal understanding with the Congress that regardless of the 'party line', there will be an electoral alliance at least till the 2018 state panchayat elections in Malda where the Congress has traditionally been strong and has not allowed Trinamool Congress to win even a single seat despite a total rout everywhere else.
Towards that end, Malda district Congress chief Mausam Noor, former central minister and Congress MP Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury and other veteran leaders met CPM's district secretary Ambar Mitra and local committee member Dolon Chaki at the Malda DCC Office Hayat Bhawan just a couple of days after the Assembly election results were announced to thrash out the joint road ahead.
The implications are clear. When it comes to political survival, doctrines can take a walk. Despite the hot air emanating from AK Gopalan Bhavan in New Delhi and a stern message from the party politburo, local leaders in West Bengal are ready to go against the party line and engage with the Congress. The same holds true for the Grand Old Party as well whose central leaders including the high command are ready to bury the 'jote' to mend fences with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee leaving the local leaders deeply distressed.
For far too long, the CPM's top crust has crushed all grassroot concerns with iron hand in the name of 'democratic centralism'. There have been clarion calls for 'inner-party democracy' in plenums after plenums. Party leaders who are still in touch with ground reality have accused the theorizing apparatchiks in Delhi of running a 'rule of fear' and have issued repeated warnings that party structure will crumble if the leadership doesn't listen to feedback from the grassroots.
The reflection of this new mindset also became clear during the recently concluded meeting where despite the sound and fury from Karat camp, the Yechury faction managed to score a crucial away goal by forcing the politburo to stop short of formally restricting the Bengal CPIM from continuing its "joint struggle to restore democracy" in Mamata Banerjee's state.
As of now, "everything depends" on the central committee meeting in June where the Bengal unit has been asked to submit a report on the efficacy of the alliance.
If that sounds as if CPM has some sort of a game plan, it really doesn't. Even as it spoke of a final decision, general secretary Yechury told the media that there will still be “united struggles” and resistance with the Congress and other secular parties in Bengal against the violence unleashed by the TMC against the opposition.
The bitterly factionalised CPM that emerges from this soap opera is dangerously close to losing control over its party structure. The power struggle between the Karat and Yechury camps are now too evident to be papered over. The central committee, CPIM's highest decision-making body, is said to be packed more with Karat sympathisers. If it tries to impose doctrinal rigidity over the realpolitik of survival, the party may even face open revolt in West Bengal. The signboard, too, appears to be at risk.