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Bengal CPM’s desperate cry

Gurudas Dasgupta, AB Bardhan and Sitaram Yechury after the meeting in Delhi on Thursday. Picture by Prem Singh

1996: The Bengal CPM undid the hopes of a Bengali and a party comrade becoming the Prime Minister.

2012: The same party has made amends by supporting a Bengali — but a Congressman — for the country’s President.

Then, a majority of CPM central committee members from Bengal had joined hands with Prakash Karat to stop Jyoti Basu from becoming Prime Minister.

This time, Alimuddin Street stood united against Karat and his men who are opposed to the party supporting Pranab Mukherjee.

Karat stuck to his position but appeared not to have pushed it too hard to try and foil the Bengal leaders’ line. He seemed to have accepted that, despite his ideological objection to supporting a Congress nominee for President, the arguments of the CPM’s mother unit were convincing enough politically.

According to a senior CPM leader, Alimuddin Street is faced with a completely different scenario in Bengal after an uninterrupted 34-year stint in power, and that drove the comrades here to press for support for the Congress’s presidential candidate.

This, despite the Kozhikode party congress decision to “relentlessly’’ fight against the UPA government’s neo-liberal policies and try and defeat the Congress.

The Bengal CPM faces the practical challenge of defending itself against the Trinamul Congress. Widening the rift that has developed between Trinamul and the Congress over the presidential nominee can come in handy for the CPM, though that alone cannot be enough to pull the communists out of their troubles.

“For the Bengal party, there was just one option — taking advantage of the Congress-TMC rift and widening the divide. We are in the Opposition now. So, the longer the distance between the enemies’ ranks — that is, the Congress and Trinamul — the more we can expect to gain politically and electorally,’’ a CPM central committee leader said.

“We were given this option on a platter when Pranabbabu sought our support. Why not take it? That’s why Alimuddin Street stood firm in its stand to back Pranabbabu during today’s politburo meeting,” the leader added.

A politburo member from Bengal was quoted as saying at today’s meeting: “We should not block his (Mukherjee’s) candidature, particularly when Mamata is opposing him.”

The politburo members from Bengal who attended today’s meeting were Biman Bose, Nirupam Sen and Surjya Kanta Mishra while the opinion of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who was at Alimuddin Street, was taken over the phone from Delhi, a source said.

The Bengal unit’s stand found support from Tripura and Tamil Nadu politburo members but not from their Kerala comrades, the source added. The Kerala unit’s compulsion was that the Congress was its immediate rival in the state where the political atmosphere has been vitiated by a recent murder over which the CPM has come under fire.

The Bengal unit’s stand is rooted in the backdrop of the electoral reverses the CPM suffered after the Congress and Trinamul fought the 2009 Lok Sabha and 2011 Assembly polls by stitching up an alliance.

Karat and others feel that inherent problems within the Left and the way the front government functioned were the principal reasons for the poll debacles. But sections of the CPM’s Bengal unit insist that the withdrawal of support to the UPA drove the Congress into Trinamul’s arms and sealed the fate of the Left government.

“We lost because of the alliance. Our Bengal party has understood this. That’s why they pressed for Pranabbabu to deepen the wedge between Trinamul and the Congress in our state,’’ a CPM state secretariat member said.

The question being asked within the CPM now is whether the presidential elections can be considered a curtain raiser to the 2014 parliamentary polls because of the possibility of a realignment of forces; whether the CPM, and broadly the Left, will go back to its 2004 position of supporting the Congress, citing its inability to go with the BJP.

“A post-poll understanding with the Congress can’t be ruled out, particularly if the Congress-Trinamul alliance breaks. But as of now, we are not looking at any pre-election tie-up,’’ a CPM leader said.