The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Karat begins with high hopes

New Delhi, April 12: Prakash Karat, the new general secretary of the CPM, has a tough job on his hands.

The party's 18th congress that concluded yesterday has stated as its objective a 'rapid expansion' outside the traditional strongholds ' Bengal and Kerala. 'We will have to go among the people in a big way,' Karat said.

The party is zeroing in on the Hindi heartland -' particularly Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The CPM has been pushed to the political periphery here as the weaker sections ' the backward castes, minorities and Dalits ' are now loyal to the caste-based Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

When and if the CPM starts working in earnest among the people, it will come into conflict with these parties.

At present, the Left parties try to brighten their diminishing electoral fortunes by tying up with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar.

'Our mandate now is to go beyond electoral alliances,' said politburo member Sitaram Yechury.

The CPM has also said it will focus on land reforms which, it believes, are the key to changing agrarian relations.

If the party tries to build a movement on this issue, it will once again come into conflict with the Samjwadis and the RJD which have a vested interest in maintaining status quo.

For the CPM, building a base in the heartland will virtually be like starting from scratch. It will have to put together an effective organisational network which will be able to take up issues and mobilise people.

There is also the tricky question of caste. How will the party, which has so long ignored caste identities, take up issues like caste oppression and discrimination'

The new political resolution says the CPM will take up social issues, which will include issues of caste discrimination.

The persisting faction strife in Kerala is another headache. The party said at the congress: 'The new central committee and the politburo will try to resolve the differences in the Kerala unit.'

But the central leadership in Delhi has been unsuccessfully trying to untangle the knots in Kerala for a long time. Karat, who comes from that state, will have to use his skills to keep the unit together.

Karat will also have to step in where Surjeet has left off in coalition politics. The former general secretary enjoyed acceptability among all shades of secular parties. Surjeet also had the confidence of 10 Janpath. Karat has made a beginning, attending meetings with the Prime Minister and the finance minister.

It is clear that the CPM will continue to support the UPA government. Karat has said the Bengal and Kerala Assembly elections, where it is pitted against the Congress, will not come in the way of its support.

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