Tuesday, 17 May, 2022
HomeOpinionCPI(M)’s shabby treatment of Somnath Chatterjee marked the beginning of its fall

CPI(M)’s shabby treatment of Somnath Chatterjee marked the beginning of its fall

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If the Congress wants to take on the BJP, it must never do what the CPI(M) has been a past master of.

Anushila Basu, Somnath Chatterjee’s daughter, refused to allow the red Marxist flag drape her father’s body on his last journey Monday, in Kolkata. This was because 10 years ago, Somnath da was expelled by “that man” when he put the Constitution over the diktat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

“That one man was responsible for what my father faced towards the end of his life,” Anushila said.

All it takes is 10 years, a certain lack of courtesy and large quantities of arrogance, to destroy a political party.

As Somnath da’s body lay in his south Kolkata home, that man, Prakash Karat, then-general secretary of the CPI(M) who led the charge to expel him in 2008, was nowhere to be found.


Also read: Somnath Chatterjee broke from family’s Hindutva bent to embrace Communism


Twenty-four hours later, Karat is still missing in action. There has been no comment from him, no expression of sorrow or grief – about the only comrade who made it to the post of the Lok Sabha speaker.

A statement by the CPI(M) Politburo is equally mealy-mouthed. It makes no mention of the fact that Somnathda was a doyen among the Indian Marxists. Even the CPI calls him a “comrade” while paying obeisance to his memory. But not the CPI(M).

Considering general secretary Sitaram Yechury and Somnath da shared a good relationship, one would think Yechury would have been able to showcase a better expression of homage.

In Communist parties, though, the Politburo matters. In the CPI(M) today, it is the Prakash Karat camp that dominates the Politburo.

In contrast, @narendramodi has paid his condolences at Somnath da’s demise. Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal chief minister, Trinamool Congress leader and the only person to have defeated him in an election (in 1984 from Jadavpur constituency), ordered a state funeral.

With the death of Somnath da, the end of an era is nigh. The CPI(M), of which he was a member for four decades before it expelled him, can hardly be called a political party today. It barely has nine MPs in the Lok Sabha and five in Rajya Sabha. It has lost power everywhere, except in Kerala.


Also read: CPI(M) flirting with Hindutva in Kerala is proof of its downfall


Only 10 years ago, A.K.G. Bhawan, the CPI(M) headquarters in Delhi, was crowded with reporters, like bees on a honey pot, trying to understand Marxist realpolitik. Today, the story has moved on, not only because Narendra Modi and the BJP have rampaged through national politics, but because the Left wilfully isolated itself from centrist parties like the Congress, thinking it was better than everyone else.

The truth is that the decline and fall of the Left in India can be traced to that no-trust vote in July 2008 when “that man” Karat decided to not only withdraw from the UPA because the Manmohan Singh government decided to go ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal, but punish all those who stood in the way.

On such momentous occasions, history turns.

The mild-mannered and soft-spoken Karat can hardly be called a cultish figure. Nor is he an orator. The last time he won an election was when he was president of Jawaharlal Nehru University in the early 1970s.

But beneath that obvious charm is a man of steel. Unfortunately, the title of general secretary in 2005 gave Karat the presumption of extraordinariness. He believed he was head and shoulders above everyone else. Karat was a contrast to his predecessor Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the hail-fellow-well-met leader, who cobbled together the UPA in 2004 and practically wrote its common minimum programme.

Karat was so furious with Manmohan Singh for going ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal that he thought nothing of allying with the BJP to force a no-confidence vote against the Congress-led UPA. When Somnathda refused to resign as Speaker and vote against the UPA, Karat decided to make him pay for it.

Even Yechury, who became general secretary in 2015, couldn’t shield his friend. So, when some old-timers suggested that Somnath da be inducted back into the party, the Karat-heavy CPI(M) Politburo insisted that he apply for membership as rules could not be bent for one man.

That letter never came. The rigidity of personality meant that the CPI(M) was willing to break, but it would not bend.

Small wonder the CPI(M) has shrunk so much in the last 10 years that it has become a ghost of its former robust self. When elections were held in 2009, a year after Somnath da was expelled and it pulled support from the UPA, the CPI(M) came crashing down from 43 MPs to 16 MPs in the Lok Sabha.

Two years later, in 2011, the unthinkable happened when Mamata swept West Bengal from under the CPI(M)’s feet. In 2014, the CPI(M) performed even worse, reducing itself to a mere nine MPs in the Lok Sabha.

Moral of the story? In politics, reaching out to those you may not agree with is the norm, isolation is death.

For last week’s election of the deputy chairman to the Rajya Sabha, for example, Congress president Rahul Gandhi didn’t even call potential friends and allies, like AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal or PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti. Of course, the opposition lost, even though it had the numbers.


Also read: ‘Rahul Gandhi can hug PM Modi, but can’t call Kejriwal’: AAP blames Congress for RS loss


If the Congress wants to take on the BJP, it must never do what the CPI(M) has been a past master of. It must learn to bend, to be humble, words the Left has obviously forgotten. In its enthusiasm to underwrite the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, the proletariat seems to have been forgotten.

Fact is, no one loves a dictator.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Prakash Karat is out to wantonly destroy his party which was, a decade ago, a formidable political force. His mindless action to withdraw from the UPA has led to CPI(M)’s irrelevance in Indian polity today. One wonders why the CPI(M) top brass tolerates his sectarian presence in the politbureau. In the last decade, the CPI(M) has vacated its space to BJP in Tripura and West Bengal. In Kerala, it is doubtful if the party could withstand the onslaughts of the RSS/BJP for long. The party, if it wants to be the bastion of liberal left in the country, should sack the villainous Karat from all posts in the party, and revamp its image by building coalitions with other political parties opposed to the BJP.

  2. The party should have made amends to Prof Somnath Chatterjee. It had almost a decade to do so. 2. The Left may not be a strong political force any longer. However, it has a social conscience, often raises issues that matter to the poor. The recent peaceful march of farmers from Nasik to Bombay was one such instance.

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