April 14: The CPM’s candidate for the Tamluk Lok Sabha seat and several other East Midnapore leaders are praising expelled former strongman Lakshman Seth while campaigning, prompting many to wonder if the party has calculated the trade-off between the potential gains and losses from such a move.
Seth, a former Tamluk MP who was expelled last month for anti-party activities, used to hold sway over the constituency, which includes the Haldia industrial town, till a few years ago.
But since 2009, when he lost the Tamluk Lok Sabha seat to Trinamul’s Subhendu Adhikari, the ruling party has gained considerably in the area, banking on the “anti-Seth sentiment”.
“I don’t know why the party leaders are mentioning a discredited leader like Seth while campaigning,” a CPM leader in Calcutta wondered.
The East Midnapore unit of the CPM, however, said praising Seth was a strategy to “appease” the followers of the expelled leader and “persuade” them to join the campaign for the Lok Sabha polls.
“Many Seth loyalists are unhappy about his expulsion. We apprehend that they may become inactive before the polls and may not support our candidate. So if we speak well about Seth, it may pacify many of his followers and prompt them to work for our candidate,” a prominent CPM leader in East Midnapore said.
The leader refused comment when asked if the CPM had worked out the benefits and damage that could arise out of making references to Seth, who has embarrassed the party on several occasions since his alleged involvement in the Nandigram fiasco.
The CPM’s Tamluk candidate, Ibrahim Ali, said Seth was a “father figure” to him and other leaders in the area. He added that it was because of Seth that many industrial units had come up in Haldia.
“Many development projects took place when Lakshmanda was the Tamluk MP. He had done a lot of good work as Haldia Development Authority chairman. So he is a father figure to us. We can’t deny that. He may no longer be with the party but his blessings are with us,” said Ali, in his mid-twenties.
Prasanta Pradhan, the CPM’s stand-in secretary in East Midnapore, said Seth still had a “good support base” in the district. “If our candidate does not shower praises on Lakshman while campaigning, it would be difficult for the party to face the election. Many supporters of Lakshman are likely to be rejuvenated if they hear our candidate speaking well about the expelled leader,” he said.
Seth’s “clout” in Haldia, Tamluk, Mahisadal and Sutahata, particularly with Citu workers, is another reason why the party was using the leader’s name while campaigning.
A CPM state secretariat member said that since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, in which the party lost both the seats (Tamluk and Contai) in the district, Seth had failed to make any organisational impact in East Midnapore and that invoking his name could boomerang during the polls this year.
“Lakshman was known for his strong-arm tactics and high-handedness. It was during his tenure as Haldia Development Authority chairman that the land acquisition notice was put up in Nandigram, which led to the agitation. The episode cost our party dear and was one of the main reasons for the Left’s exit from power. Our party will suffer more if his name is brought up during campaigns,” a source in Alimuddin Street said.
The East Midnapore unit of the CPM failed to make a turnaround after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls despite the fact that Seth had lorded over it for more than two decades. The party lost all 16 seats in the district in the 2011 Assembly elections, once again indicating that Seth’s stock was falling.
After the Trinamul government came to power, Seth was named an accused in the 2007 Nandigram recapture case and jailed. The CPM had been conducting an inquiry into allegations of financial irregularities against an NGO run by him. Before his ouster, Seth had been criticising the leadership and had shared the dais with another expelled leader, Abdur Rezzak Mollah.
“If this is Seth’s profile, it would hardly add to the vote kitty of the CPM if our candidate goes around praising him in Tamluk. Rather, it will backfire,” a CPM leader said.