Kolkata: What is it that made the CPI(M) deny Rajya Sabha nomination to party boss, general secretary Sitaram Yechury? The Congress whose votes were crucial for a CPM candidate’s entry into the Upper House of Parliament wanted Yechury. So did a large number of Left leaders who have been feeling the absence of an articulate, powerful voice in Parliament.
But that was not to be. The CPI(M) Politburo, its highest decision-making body, opted for Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, citing the party convention of not nominating a leader to the Rajya Sabha a third time.
Of course, the old rivalry between Yechury and his predecessor, Prakash Karat, also played a role as the latter opposed his successor’s nomination proposal vehemently, according to party sources.
Bhattacharya was finally elected unopposed. But few outside West Bengal were familiar with Bhattacharya’s name until he tripped his party boss to become a Rajya Sabha member.
In the state, however, Bhattacharya, the former Kolkata Mayor, has a reputation of being a suave communist and a sharp lawyer.
Court crusader who never lost touch with party cadre
Bhattacharya is somewhat of a political novice.
He has only won a municipal election, which resulted in him serving as the Kolkata mayor from 2005 to 2010. He has never been elected as an MLA or MP.
Bhattacharya contested the 2019 general elections as the CPI(M) candidate from the Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat but finished a distant third. The Trinamool Congress’ Mimi Chakraborty won by a massive margin of almost three lakh votes while the BJP’s Anupam Hajra finished second.
Bhattacharya has also not been a part of the CPM’s apex bodies such as the central committee or the Politburo. But he has never lost his connect with the ground.
The former mayor has a reputation of having worked tirelessly for the party, always campaigning for his comrades and relentlessly fighting cases against the ruling Trinamool Congress.
It’s his accomplished career as a lawyer that appears to have swung the Rajya Sabha nomination in his favour. Known for his oratory skills, Bhattacharya has wide experience in both the Supreme Court and Calcutta High Court.
He is often credited for ensuring a CBI investigation into the ‘chit-fund’ scam in Bengal and also in the Narada sting operation case. He was the counsel for the Opposition, the Congress and the CPI(M), in both the cases.
Talking to The Print, the former mayor said he would try to do justice to the nomination. “I have always been fighting for the people in the courts,” Bhattacharya said. “This is a new forum. The party has reposed faith in me; I will try to do justice.”
About superseding Yechury, he added, ““I only know that my party reached a consensus over my nomination as a candidate. We do not question the party’s decision. I am sure the senior members reached a consensus after much debate and deliberation.”
Yechury-Karat factional feud out in open yet again
The Yechury-Karat feud is the CPI(M)’s worst kept secret. And Bhattacharya’s nomination only reinforces the perception that the two leaders are yet to bury the hatchet.
For one, Yechury was keen on the nomination. The Congress had backed him while the CPI(M)’s West Bengal unit had proposed his name from the state. The Politburo, however, has gone with Bhattacharya.
“From Bengal, we have no member in Parliament. So we wanted Sitaram Yechury to be there,” said a senior member of the central committee. “The Bengal state committee proposed his name but the party has decided otherwise.”
The state Congress is, however, in no doubt why Yechury lost out.
“We wanted Sitaram Yechury when we decided to support the Left candidate. But they did not agree. Prakash Karat does not want Yechury to be in Parliament,” Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the Congress party in Parliament told The Print.
“They have their Politburo and it rules. But we agreed when Bikash Bhattacharya’s name was proposed. He was never a hardcore active member. He is reasonable, secular and liberal.”
The CPI(M) has been citing its rules for denying Yechury a third term in the Rajya Sabha. “We have certain rules in the party. And it says that anyone who has served two terms in the RS would not be nominated again. I too served two terms and then the party gave me other roles,” Nilotpal Basu, a Politburo member said.
“Sitaram Yechury is the general secretary and he has a larger role to play nationally. He was not general secretary when he was in the RS.
“People outside of our party system might feel that the CPI(M) lacks democracy but it is not true,” Basu added. “I have been here for 45 years, 15 of which were in the central committee. I can say all decisions are taken after extensive debate and deliberations. Bikash Bhattacharya emerged as the only consensus candidate. The Congress was also consulted.”
Some party members also said that Yechury’s ‘proximity to the Congress’ may have cost him the nomination.
“It is going to be a third time for him and it is against the convention. Moreover, the party’s general secretary cannot be selected with Congress support. This was decided earlier,” said Hannan Mollah, another senior Politburo member. “We had to put forward a name acceptable to the Congress and they didn’t object to Bikash Bhattacharya’s nomination.”