The CPM's once impregnable bastion in West Bengal began to crumble in 2011, after 34 years of uninterrupted rule. Now, the party seems to be struggling to rein in its members and make them follow the discipline that it has long held as the foundation on which it was built, and which it considers its main strength and appeal.
Ritabrata Banerjee, a CPM Rajya Sabha MP who has been seen wearing an Apple Watch and carrying a Montblanc Meisterstück (a line of expensive luxury pens from the brand) in public, caught some party members' attention. A row ensued when Banerjee allegedly wrote to the employer of CPM member Sumit Talukdar after he made some remarks about him in a private Facebook group. Talukdar later lodged a complaint with CPM state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra, informing him about the entire episode.
This incident has brought to light the deep rift that seems to exist between members of the CPM, and what the party has been struggling to brush under the carpet for several years now. While some believe that there is no harm in enjoying some material comforts, there are others that feel it is a sign of degrading moral and ethical standards that will damage the party's image in the eyes of supporters.
Perhaps this is not just a question that the CPM is struggling to handle. It is a much bigger question of how political parties must negotiate projecting themselves before the poor and middle classes.
Perhaps this is not just a question that the CPM is struggling to handle. It is a much bigger question of how political parties must negotiate projecting themselves before the poor and middle classes that form the majority in this country.
In fact, in the 2016 party plenum, the CPM adopted several resolutions it has taken at the 2015 plenum held in Kolkata.
Some of the observations and resolutions at the plenum were:
- There are instances of complaints about the lifestyle, corrupt practices and persistent violations of Communist norms on the part of certain comrades. The atmosphere created by liberalisation policies and the practices of bourgeois political parties are influencing a section of comrades.
- The majority of the district committees have reported some comrades appear to possess disproportionate assets.
- Some states report that there are complaints against certain party members and leaders who have allegedly established connections with real estate promoters and liquor contractors, and are helping them.
- There are also complaints against party members about their lavish lifestyle. They are allegedly spending beyond their known sources of income. Conspicuous expenditures include building large houses, throwing opulent weddings for their children and and organising festivities on a lavish scale.
- There are also complaints about the misuse of positions in the party for self gain. Some state committees have reported instances of reluctance or hesitation to investigate such cases which involve persons in leadership positions or those who are influential in the party.
- The nature of wrongs committed by them include violations of party decisions, corruption, financial misappropriation, doing real estate business, moral turpitude, working against party decisions in elections, contesting elections against the party, anti-party activities, factionalism, not participating in strikes, joining with the enemies of the party, extreme drunkenness etc.
The same document observes that disciplinary actions in this connection were taken against the CPM's state committee, district committee and zonal/area committee members. It also says that "the rectification campaign should be conducted annually along with a membership renewal."
On 19 February, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said that the West Bengal state committee has already "disapproved" of the actions of Banerjee, and. When asked whether any "action" would be taken against him, Yechury said that the state committee would discuss the matter further. Sources said the matter will be discussed at the CPM's state committee meeting in Kolkata on 22 and 23 February.
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