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LEARNING TO ACT

Communist parties never tire of debating what is to be done. In the process, they often end up not doing the right thing at the right time. And they delude themselves by trying to hide their inaction and confusion in jaded partyspeak. For a change, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has done something different. By expelling its rebel leader, Abdur Rezzak Mollah, the party has acted in the only way it possibly could. It should have taken the step much earlier, but was obviously shackled by old ways of slow thinking. No organization, least of all a political party, can afford to ignore an open revolt against it by individuals or groups belonging to it. Unless the rebels leave the organization on their own, they must be shown the door. In Mr Mollah’s case, the only question was whether the party would act before he did. He perhaps wanted to wait until the Lok Sabha elections, in which the CPI(M) is expected to fare worse than before. How much Mr Mollah’s expulsion would damage the party’s prospects in the Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal is uncertain. But that consideration is irrelevant to the decision of expelling a leader after he and the party could clearly not go together.

Mr Mollah has raised his banner of revolt in the name of Muslims and Dalits, whose interests he now accuses the party of betraying. But he has to explain why he had not discovered this betrayal during 34 years of the Left’s rule in Bengal, especially since he himself had been a minister for nearly 29 of those years. For the CPI(M), though, the long-delayed action against Mr Mollah is a measure prompted by the rebel. There is so much more that the party needs to do to rid itself of its old ways. The worst threat that the party faces is not from occasional rebels such as Mr Mollah, but from its own outdated thinking and practices. One such threat is from the system by which mediocre people are promoted in the party because of their loyalty to mediocre leaders. The latest example of this was the choice of its student leader, Ritabrata Banerjee, for a Rajya Sabha seat from Bengal. If the party continues to attract and promote only unthinking loyalists, its stock can only go down further. In a democracy, political leaders have to be acceptable not only to the party’s cadre but also to the people. But the CPI(M) remains the only party in India in which many of the top leaders never face popular elections.