That the communists as a political class are Luddites is something that's fairly well-known and well-documented, but not all its leaders eschew the good things of life. While EMS Namboodripad's austere lifestyle was admittedly the stuff of legends, it's not something unique to the communists. For example, industrialist Azim Premji still flies economy class.
This seemingly academic issue gained prominence following a three-month suspension handed down to CPM Rajya Sabha member Ritabrata Bannerjee for living it up and his "lavish lifestyle". While modesty and austerity are personal virtues, and CPM reportedly frowns on lavish lifestyles, nobody thought the party would actually make such a fetish out of it, that it would show the door to an articulate spokesperson and parliamentarian over this issue.
To each his own, it was thought. And even political parties must be allowed their quota of quirks and idiosyncrasies. But what could raise eyebrows is the duplicity being practiced by CPM; if Bannerjee is guilty of breaching party discipline, shouldn't its general secretary, who must be the first among equals, Sitaram Yechury, lead by example? Yechury is as famous for his articulation and never-say-die debating skills, as for his 'made in USA' state express cigarettes dangling from his mouth at an arrogant angle. His party then is guilty of indulging him — or worse still making an exception in the manner of you-show-me-the-man-I-will-show-you-the-rules. (Although one still doesn't know if Yechury is a neo-convert to the growing tribe of non-smokers).
Coming to the issue of modern gadgets, one wonders if any one political party can cavil at them. The communists opposed Rajiv Gandhi's railway reservation computerisation and banks' computerisation of records by taking to the streets. But today they must be looking sheepish for wearing the Luddites' philosophy on their sleeves. Their hypocrisy hardly needs any elaboration. Do they not use computers, smartphones and other modern day conveniences? Do they not allow hospitals to examine their bodies as well as those of their near and dear ones with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipments?
Political bosses show a remarkable proclivity for intolerance, especially if someone showing an independent streak could someday in the future pose threat to them. One wonders if Bannerjee has fallen foul of some CPM functionary by rubbing him/her on the wrong side or seen cozying upto the party's bête noire. One cannot be sure. But it could well be that his lavish lifestyle was only a ruse, the ostensible reason for his suspension.
By suspending Bannerjee, CPM displayed churlishness at its worst. Political parties generally seek to escape scrutiny for such acts by taking shelter under an "internal matter" excuse. But when an individual's lifestyle and scientific temper are talking points in a party, they must become part of the media discourse as well. And again, CPM is one of those secular parties that routinely champion the cause of freedom of expression and freedom to eat what one wants. Beef on one's dining table is kosher, it says. Yes, but shouldn't also be one's lifestyle?
CPM should take a wholesome relook into the list of taboos. Or at least it must apply them uniformly.
Updated Date: Jun 03, 2017 15:49 PM