Rising sun in CPM's cloudy sky

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  • Published 20.01.12

Calcutta, Jan. 19: The CPM may still be finding it difficult to create a new generation of leaders while settling into its role as an Opposition party after an uninterrupted 34-year stint in power.

But Surjya Kanta Mishra, the party MLA who accepted the leader of the Opposition’s chair though not ungrudgingly, appears to have emerged as the new leader of the CPM, having got into the skin of the character that his party asked him to enact eight months ago. And probably, his emergence could be an answer to the CPM’s worries.

Mishra has been taking on chief minister Mamata Banerjee at the slightest of slips, leading Left Front legislature teams to Raj Bhavan to complain about the Trinamul Congress’s “constitutional impropriety’’ in conducting the business of the Assembly.

His media conference in Delhi with “well-prepared’’ documents to nail the ruling party on issues ranging from law and order, farmer suicides, unrest in the hills, the situation in Jungle Mahal to alleged eviction of bargadars was praised by even some Congress leaders in the capital, a source said.

Mishra seems to have become the party spokesperson now as he takes potshots at the government from his Assembly chamber regardless of whether the House is in session or not.

“Our party is happy with Surjya’s performance. He is managing his new role well. His media conferences as leader of the Opposition speak about his ability… he is targeting the government on specific issues. Surjya is collected and composed. Both Buddhada (Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) and Bimanda (Biman Bose) have praised him for playing the role of Opposition leader well. He has emerged as our new leader,’’ a CPM state secretariat member said.

Mishra has not solely been critical. He is trying to project himself as a “responsible’’ Opposition leader who’s willing to co-operate with the government, a party leader said.

From being a low-profile leader who was hardly ever seen mingling with party colleagues in public, let alone the Opposition and the media, Mishra is now grabbing eyeballs as Opposition leader.

Spotted by CPM state secretary Bose in the seventies, Mishra, a doctor, was made the West Midnapore zilla parishad sabhadhipati in the late eighties. Later, he held the land reforms, panchayat and health portfolios as minister during the Left regime. According to a source, Bhattacharjee used to describe him in party circles as an “asset of my government’’.

“After the Left’s defeat in the Assembly polls, our party insisted that Mishra be made Opposition leader because of his administrative skills and grasp of political developments,’’ a source said.

All these factors and Mishra’s growing stature in the party have prompted a section in the CPM to speculate whether he would be “rewarded” with a berth in the politburo at the April party congress in Kerala.

He is one of the senior-most state secretariat members and a central committee leader of the party. After former Citu president M.K. Pandhe’s death, a slot has opened up in the politburo and Mishra might make it to the highest decision-making body of the CPM, being the leader of the Opposition now, a party old-timer said.

“Shyamal Chakraborty is the state Citu president now. So he has a chance of getting a politburo berth. But he is yesterday’s leader, Surjya belongs to the current crop and has adequate ministerial and organisational experience,’’ a CPM state committee member said.

Bhattacharjee’s gradual withdrawal from too much of party work and his absence from politburo and central committee meetings outside Calcutta apparently on health grounds has also fuelled speculation on Mishra’s elevation.

“Bhattacharjee became a politburo member after being appointed chief minister in November 2000. But we are told that he doesn’t want to continue. In that case, he could be made a special invitee… Mishra might replace him,’’ the CPM source said.

But all said, Mishra appears to be scoring by default.

Gautam Deb was the CPM’s pre-poll poster boy. His flamboyant moves to attack Mamata had drawn cheers at election gatherings and the party was veering around to the view that Deb could become the second-in-command to Bhattacharjee in case of a Left win. Or else, he could be the leader of the Opposition in the event of a defeat. But Deb lost miserably, his vitriolic attacks not going down well with the people.

Bhattacharjee’s “near exit’’ from the larger political picture and the fact that he is no longer a legislator are reasons enough for Mishra to score points inside and outside the Assembly, a CPM central committee leader said over phone from Delhi.

“Buddhada has withdrawn silently. Nirupam Sen is involved in our party’s theoretical and academic work. Gautam is no longer a proposition. So, Surjya is getting prominence,’’ he added.