SPECIAL REPORT: Communists in India

CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat durign a press conference in Delhi

Samir Kar Purkayastha says Communists in India need new leadership to recover politically

CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat durign a press conference in Delhi
CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat durign a press conference in Delhi

The Communist party of India – Marxists (CPI-M), the largest Left party in India, has decided to hold its 2015 party congress in Kolkata instead of Agartala, capital of the only state now ruled by the party. Tripura is far off, more difficult and expensive to reach, reasoned the party leaders while picking Kolkata. While the 1,000-odd delegates would miss out on a chance to see for themselves the workings of the party in a state where it has held on for years, the Kolkata congress may be seen as an opportunity to boost the morale of activists in West Bengal, where not a day passes without reports of desertion from the Marxist ranks.

But the CPI-M might do well to consider Tripura’s shy but hugely effective Chief Minister Manik Sarkar as its next party general secretary. Sarkar is not only all set to better Jyoti Basu’s record as chief minister but has an enviable track record in both governance and crisis management, which his comrades in West Bengal and Kerala lack.
Sarkar has turned Tripura into the best governed state in troubled northeast, first by crushing a vicious tribal insurgency that had stymied development projects and then by pushing many of those half-done projects with unusual vigour. Sarkar pursues a simple lifestyle as possibly the only homeless chief minister with a record of integrity as clean as his spotless white kurta-pyjama.
He is the only chief minister who, very few know, authorized hostile trans-border operations against separatist rebels then based in Bangladesh. Tripura Police used surrendered rebels and even Bangladeshi hired killers to strike at rebel hideouts inside Bangladesh, even in capital Dhaka. The state’s former police chief, G.M. Srivastava, who was the architect of these operations, was not only given a free hand by Sarkar but also told he should not worry about New Delhi.
Sarkar had the best of relations with then Home Minister L.K. Advani, despite political differences, and he was right to reason that Advani would not object to such tough action he would himself love central agencies to take against terrorists based in Pakistan.
So in a few years, the tribal insurgency that had claimed thousands of lives including those of serving ministers was crushed. Sheikh Hasina’s advent to power did the rest as her government cracked down hard on northeastern militants. But much before that, Tripura had put its worst days behind.
Sarkar immediately pushed to complete incomplete infrastructure projects held up by the raging insurgency. He managed Hasina’s consent to ship heavy equipment through the Chittagong port, without which the 726-MW gas-fired Palatana project would not be completed.
Now he has got Bangladesh to agree to allow shipment of 10,000 MT of foodgrains through Chittagong and that may go upto 35,000 MT per month soon. Once Palatana was complete, Sarkar pleaded and got the central government to agree to giving 100 MW or more of power to Bangladesh as a gesture of gratitude.
That helps because when Bangladesh Nitol-Niloy Motors starts manufacturing Tata’s Nano cars in a few months, its tyre factory will come up in rubber-rich and power-adundant Tripura, flagging the opportunity West Bengal has lost.
Planning Commission statistics indicate Tripura is ahead of other northeastern states in implementing most central government programmes, specially the human development schemes. Its per capita income, despite its land-locked remote location and limited resource base, is just a shade below West Bengal. So if success in winning elections and governance is an indicator, there is no better leader than Manik Sarkar to take charge of the CPI-M.
Sarkar’s experience, first as an understudy of the legendary Nripen Chakrabarty (chief minister of Tripura in 1980-88) and then as chief minister himself will surely help the party recover from the disarray. Showcasing Tripura’s achievements will help the party most in West Bengal.
It is under Chakrabarty that the party fought back to regain power in 1993 after losing the state polls to the Congress-TUJS alliance in 1988 — the experience of which Sarkar can bring to his flustered Bengal comrades,
The question of his replacement in Tripura also should not hold the party back. Tripura’s Left has a tradition of alternate Bengali and tribal chief ministers — Dasarath Debbarma followed by Nripen Chakrabarty to the top job during the Left’s second innings in power from 1993.
Now Tripura has a brilliant go-getting tribal leader Jitendra Chaudhury, who was the state’s industry and forest minister and is now the party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha. Befitting the party’s multi-ethnic power sharing traditions in Tripura, Chaudhury can take over and do as good a job as Sarkar if his track record as industry minister is anything to go by.
Surely the party’s ‘democratic centralism’ should not prevent a ‘small leader of a small state’, as Sarkar keeps describing himself, from doing his bit for a party going astray under the leadership of those who have made it to politburo from university coffee houses in 10-15 years with no real experience of either peasant or labour politics, let alone running a state government.

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