Calcutta, March 27: The CPM today expelled Lakshman Seth amid questions on what the party gained by giving the disgruntled leader a long rope since the summer of 2007, when Nandigram erupted and Bengal’s political landscape changed.
Seth, who had been sidelined in the party in the past two years, had praised Mamata Banerjee in an interview with ABP Ananda yesterday and said he would have no relationship with the CPM after March 31, the deadline for renewing party membership.
A media release by the CPM accused former MP Seth of “grave anti-party activities” and “tarnishing the party’s image in public”. “The state secretariat has decided to summarily expel him from the party under the party constitution’s clause 19, sub-clause 13,” the release said.
For a beleaguered party trying to stage a turnaround before the Lok Sabha polls by focusing on criticising Mamata, Seth’s praise for the chief minister had come as a setback. “There could not have been any other response. The party did the right thing,” a CPM state secretariat member said this evening.
The leader, however, tried to hide the embarrassment caused by the leader by saying the former Tamluk MP’s followers had begun deserting him for his “anti-party stand”. The state secretariat member added Seth’s expulsion would not have any impact on the party’s organisation in East Midnapore.
CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb, who oversees the East Midnapore party unit, today went to Tamluk to take stock of the developments following Seth’s remarks yesterday.
“Our leaders and cadres are with the party, not with any particular person who is maligning the organisation in East Midnapore and singing praises of the chief minister. There’s not much to worry,” Deb told reporters.
The assessment, however, had been different even a few weeks ago.
The CPM had dithered on taking action against Seth because of his clout in the party’s East Midnapore unit.
Even though Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was in favour of stern action against Seth, sources said, after suspected supporters of the former MP heckled leaders who had gone to East Midnapore to probe charges of financial irregularities against an NGO headed by Seth, no action was taken.
Seth had dealt another blow to the party by hitting out at the leadership, including Bhattacharjee, at a programme organised by rebel CPM MLA Abdur Rezzak Mollah.
Although Rezzak was expelled, the CPM leadership chose to go slow on Seth as it did not want any trouble in the party’s East Midnapore unit.
“See what the party has got in return. Seth has embarrassed us again. The question is, what did the party gain by giving Seth so many chances?” a CPM leader asked.
Seth, a former Citu leader who used to rule the roost in Haldia, lost the 2009 Lok Sabha elections to Trinamul’s Subhendu Adhikari. In the 2011 Assembly polls, the CPM failed to win any of the 16 seats in East Midnapore. The performance did not improve in the panchayat polls last year as the party won just six of the 60 zilla parishad seats in the district.
Seth’s trusted lieutenants had spearheaded the campaign for the panchayat polls as he could not enter the district because of a Supreme Court restraining order in connection with the 2007 Nandigram recapture case.
“Our leaders were under the impression that Seth still had influence in East Midnapore. But now, leaders think his expulsion will not have any impact. This means the earlier assessment was incorrect,” a CPM leader said.
But except for dropping him from the state committee in February 2012 on former chief minister Bhattacharjee’s insistence, the party did not take any action against Seth even in the aftermath of the Nandigram fiasco. The then Seth-headed Haldia Development Authority had issued a land acquisition notice that sparked the Nandigram agitation, which culminated in the police firing in which 14 persons were killed.
“Finally, action has been taken against Seth. It may be the end of the road for him, but it is also true that the leadership allowed him to continue damaging the party’s image,” a CPM leader said.
The CPM sources said the initial plan was to wait and watch as the leadership apprehended repercussions if action was taken against Seth before the Lok Sabha polls.
“The leadership felt it would be better to take steps against Lakshman only if the district committee recommended it. In that case, it would have been easier for the state committee to approve it and send it to the central committee for endorsement,” the CPM leader said.
But as Seth’s loyalists in the district committee were against any action on Seth, the matter had been unofficially shelved.