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Too soon for word on pullout
- CPM united on ideology, divided on next step

Calcutta, Sept. 29: To withdraw or not is still an unresolved issue for the CPM.

If, after two days of intense debate, first at the politburo and then at the central committee, the CPM has not answered the all-important question of if — and when — it will withdraw support to the UPA government over the nuclear deal, it is because the jury is still out on the party’s “tactical” line.

This may largely be because of the insistence of Jyoti Basu and his supporters in the senior leadership that the tactical line is what should ultimately matter. All indications suggest that there are no clear winners or losers yet in the debate on whether withdrawal of support to the government is the correct tactic.

That is also the impression that external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee got when he spoke to at least three politburo members over the phone from New York after yesterday’s meeting. “We still have a long way to go,” one of them said.

If Basu had told Mukherjee earlier that the party “would not compromise” on the nuclear deal, the former was obviously reiterating the ideological line without making any commitment on the tactical line.

Unlike parties such as the Congress and the BJP, communist parties are known to constantly juggle between the ideological or strategic and the tactical or practical lines. The reiteration of the strategic line for the CPM does not necessarily indicate what its tactical line will be.

One thing is thus for sure. Seventy-odd members of the central committee are not in Calcutta to debate the party’s opposition to the nuclear deal. They had done this before at the central committee meeting in New Delhi a month ago. Anti-imperialism is too ingrained in the CPM’s ideology to require a debate. Nor is the politburo’s or the central committee’s endorsement of the opposition to the deal necessarily a victory for Prakash Karat. Leaders like Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Sitaram Yechury, who are known to differ with Karat on the tactical line, are just as uncompromising in their opposition to imperialism.

Obviously, the party mandarins have assembled to discuss primarily the tactical question of what to do if the government goes ahead with the deal.

Not a single politburo or central committee member was prepared to even hint whether withdrawal of support to the government or a timeframe for it had been finalised. In fact, the party maintains that neither Karat nor any other leader has spoken of withdrawal. All he had said was that there would be a “political crisis” or “grave political consequences” if the nuclear deal was operationalised.

Why is the party not coming clean on the question of withdrawal' The simple answer is that it is not unanimous on the wisdom of that course of action. This ambivalence is also reflected in the party leaders’ repeated assertion that it does not want a mid-term election. Even Karat said so in Chandigarh a couple of days back.

A possible scenario, some CPM sources said, would be like this. At the end of its meeting the central committee echoes Karat’s no-compromise line on the nuclear deal, but makes no commitment on withdrawing support to the government. Instead, the party plans new mass campaigns to continue the protests it had organised all over the country throughout September.

The time for the next step comes when the UPA-Left committee, headed by Mukherjee, meets on October 5. The Left may walk out of the committee and the joint mechanism to protest the government’s — and the Congress’s — refusal to bend on the deal. The confrontation may take several other forms.

But what if government still tries to operationalise the deal by going to the IAEA in the third week of October' That situation may force the party to take a final call on the withdrawal of support to the government. But leaders like Basu are hopeful that a compromise formula may be found to avert the final showdown.

If that hope does not materialise and the CPM finds itself with no other option, another central committee meeting may have to finally decide on the Left’s final parting of ways with the UPA. The central committee meeting in Calcutta may do no more than repeat the strategic line and keep the tactical issue hanging.

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