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Surjeet joins bowout line

April 2: A generation change is knocking on the doors of the CPM, though the party is reluctant to let Jyoti Basu call it a day.

Harkishen Singh Surjeet has requested the CPM to relieve him from the post of general secretary, ending months of speculation.

If the CPM accepts the plea, the 87-year-old Surjeet, who has been at the helm of the party for four terms spanning a decade, will step down at the forthcoming party congress in Delhi.

The comparatively younger Prakash Karat ' in his late 50s ' is expected to take over the reins from Surjeet, whose health has become more and more frail in the last three years.

Highly-placed sources said the party has not yet made up its mind on Basu, who has expressed a desire to step down from the politburo on health grounds, but it is likely to accede to Surjeet's request.

The skills of Surjeet and Basu, both of whom share a good rapport with Sonia Gandhi, have been invaluable for the CPM in the age of coalition politics.

CPM leaders today mounted pressure on Basu to continue in the party's apex decision making body. Senior party leaders, including Surjeet, called up Basu from Delhi during the day to request him to reconsider the decision.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas and Left Front chairman Biman Bose were among the others who made the same request.

'I have been getting calls since morning to reconsider my decision to quit as politburo member. But I am now 91 and it is impossible for me to be actively associated with the politburo,' Basu said tonight.

Faced with overwhelming pressure, the former chief minister said he would leave for Delhi on April 4 to discuss the matter with party leaders.

'I know that the party wants me to carry on until I die. But I am aging and have been suffering from various old-age related problems for several months. They should consider my age and related ailments,' he added.

Several of his family members are learnt to have prevailed on Basu to quit as politburo member.

Basu, however, said he would work for the party and the people as long as 'my health permits'. 'Though I am not in a position to run to Delhi often, I can work from Bengal.'

Anil Biswas iterated that Basu should continue as politburo member. 'Though Basu is requesting us to allow him to resign, his leadership is still required at this critical juncture of Indian politics. We will request him to guide us. We believe that Basu will not let us down,' he said.

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