The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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56-Karat chief & wife give party shine

New Delhi, April 11: The CPM today ushered in a younger leadership by naming Prakash Karat its general secretary and inducting four new members into the politburo, three of whom are in their late fifties.

One of them is Brinda Karat, the first woman member of the party's highest decision-making body. Also for the first time, there will be a wife-husband team ' Brinda and Prakash ' in the politburo.

The 18th party congress ended with 56-year-old Karat taking over from Harkishen Singh Surjeet, 89. Surjeet has led the party since 1995.

But the party turned down Surjeet and Basu's request to relieve them from the politburo. Basu, 91, had made repeated requests citing ill health. They will continue in the politburo as well as the central committee ' the second layer in the CPM hierarchy ' as they had to give in once again to the collective will of the two bodies.

After taking charge, the new general secretary set a daunting goal for the party and himself. 'The CPM is the third largest party in Parliament and the biggest contingent of the Left Front. But we are not satisfied. We want to make the CPM a strong all-India force,' Karat said.

While there has been much speculation ever since it became known that Karat would take over about his ability to deal with political partners, mainly the Congress, in the seamless manner in which Surjeet used to operate, the new party chief's first public pronouncement summed up the CPM's crisis and his challenge.

Outside Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, the party does not matter. Its importance in today's national politics is circumstantial rather than stemming from its own growth.

If this forms the larger backdrop, the immediate task of coping with coalition politics may actually be simpler, though Karat has little experience.

As he put it: 'For the CPM it is not an issue of a generational change. For us it is the leadership, not the personality, which matters.'

Prakash Karat at the party congress after his election.

Surjeet has done most of the job of coordinating with allies and Sitaram Yechury, also a politburo member, much of the rest. Basu has helped whenever required. All three will be around to interact with Sonia Gandhi's Congress, particularly.

'Basu and Surjeet wanted to be relieved of their responsibilities. We discussed and refused to accept the requests,' Karat said.

An insistent Basu suggested that he and Surjeet could be kept in the central committee and not the politburo. 'We said it is not possible. After that Basu suggested that they could be associated as special invitees. But even that we turned down,' Karat added.

The circumstances of this rejection are happier than they were in 1996 when the party shot down the proposal of sharing power in Delhi Basu and Surjeet had supported.

The average age of the new 17-member politburo is 63. Although three of the new members ' Brinda, K. Varadarajan and B.V. Raghavulu ' are in their late 50s, Citu leader Chittabrata Mazumdar's appearance as the fourth does not quite signify turning to youth.

Mazumdar is in his late sixties and his induction in the politburo could be bad news for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee since the labour movement veteran has been a steadfast objector to the Bengal chief minister's reform measures. Reform-resistance could be strong in this politburo, led by Karat himself.

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