The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Seniority edge for Benoy

Calcutta, Aug. 17: Benoy Konar, the veteran peasant leader, appears to be under consideration for induction into the CPM politburo, the party’s highest policy-making body.

If seniority — a factor that is playing heavily on the leadership’s mind — proves the clincher, Konar has the edge over industry minister Nirupam Sen, considered a strong contender for the slot left vacant by Anil Biswas’s untimely death.

Konar, in his seventies, is now a member of the CPM’s central committee.

The politburo is expected to announce the new nominee after a session slated for September 12 and 13 in Calcutta

“We are meeting in Calcutta this time primarily for Jyoti Basu who had not been able to attend the past few meetings because of health concerns,” a senior leader said. “A decision may have to be taken at next month’s meeting on the vacancy from Bengal. Konar’s name is under consideration, let’s see how things work out.”

Basu and a section of the leadership have suggested that Konar’s seniority in the organisation, his contribution to the CPM and his grasp of party affairs should be recognised.

Another factor weighing in Konar’s favour is his acknowledgement of the need for industrialisation. The peasant leader now advocates the use of farmland, if unavoidable, for setting up industry – a priority for the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government.

In a way, the ongoing exercise represents a poetic twist of history. In 1996, Konar and several others had participated in an organisational vote to torpedo a momentous proposal that had brought the CPM tantalisingly close to heading India’s first communist-led government.

The naysayers also robbed Basu of a chance to become the first communist Prime Minister. Ten years down the line, Basu is trying to ensure that Konar makes it to the politburo.

Konar was not initially keen on taking on the bigger responsibility but is learnt to have been persuaded to drop his objection.

Industry minister Sen, the No. 2 in the Bhattacharjee cabinet, too, has the stature, experience and the backing from the leadership to make it to the politburo. Like Konar, Sen also hails from Burdwan — an agrarian bastion of the CPM — and is a central committee member.

If Sen misses out this time, another chance could be thrown up by an event no one in the CPM wants to discuss in public: the formal retirement of Basu.

Basu, the emeritus figure in the politburo, has been pressing the leadership to relieve him, but each time the party has dissuaded him. If Basu puts his foot down, the party’s options will be limited, though leaders like state secretary Biman Bose would like him to continue to maintain the power balance.

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