The best and the brightest do not necessarily win leadership races in communist parties. Factional intrigues matter more than merit in such choices. But the elevation of Surjya Kanta Mishra to the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) suggests that some things in the party are changing. The party has recognized his work as the leader of the Opposition in West Bengal. He has been tireless in criticizing Mamata Banerjeeís government for what he considers its lapses. But he has also been careful not to allow his tactics to resemble street politics. Even in his own party, rabble-rousers and shouting brigades often steal the show. The fact that a low-key personality like Mr Mishra has been inducted in the highest policymaking body of the CPI(M) could signal a change of strategy for the party in Bengal. It is no coincidence that Mr Mishra replaces Mohammed Amin, the veteran leader of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions in the politburo. In a party known for its bureaucratic style of functioning, another leader of Citu, the CPI(M)ís trade union wing, was expected to fill the vacancy caused by Mr Aminís departure from the politburo. Shyamal Chakraborty, president of the Bengal unit of Citu, would have been the obvious choice.
However, the partyís decision to choose Mr Mishra and not Mr Chakraborty has more to it than its preference for one individual over another. This could possibly be a reflection of the changing attitudes in the party to the role of Citu. The reconstituted politburo has no Citu leader in it from Bengal. Given the importance of the Bengal unit in the CPI(M), the omission cannot but be significant. It is possible that the partyís leadership in Bengal is anxious to live down Cituís image as an irresponsible outfit. During the CPI(M)ís long reign in the state, Citu has been one of its enemies within. Cituís militant, obstructive ways forced the closure of many industrial units and the exit of many others from the state. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the former chief minister, made no secret of his disapproval of Cituís militancy. In fact, he started a battle within the party to try and curb Cituís powers. Since the party lost power in Bengal, Citu has been rapidly losing its support among the industrial workers. It is difficult to predict how far the CPI(M) would go to rein Citu in. But a marginalized Citu is good for Bengalís economic interests.