POLITICS

With The Expulsion Of A Young Leader, The CPI(M) Is Back To Square One With An Old Problem

Mollah had warned the party about Banerjee in a letter — how the new breed of leaders wore expensive kurtas and spoke in the English.

18/09/2017 1:30 PM IST | Updated 18/09/2017 1:44 PM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Ritabrata Banerjee, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) with Biman Basu CPIM leader during a rally called by four left student organisations - SFI, AISF, AISB, PSU started from College square ended with a law violation movement at Dharmata, on April 2, 2015 in Kolkata.

For years, leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have debated over projecting a young face amidst growing demands within the party for providing opportunities to the youth: the average age of party members — especially its leadership — was too high.

This has been the main reason behind the meteoric rise of Ritabrata Banerjee, who was selected as the party's Rajya Sabha MP from West Bengal in February 2014. Banerjee was earlier heading the Students' Federation of India (SFI) — the CPI(M)'s students' wing — nationally.

There was much debate within the party whether the city-bred, city-based Banerjee was a good choice for a CPI(M) MP.

There was much debate within the party whether the city-bred, city-based Banerjee was a good choice for a CPI(M) MP, or whether a young trade union leader or someone from the party's farmers' body (Krishak Sabha), who had more experience with the issues and concerns of rural areas, would be a better choice.

The CPI(M) had lost much support in the rural areas due to the Singur and Nandigram episodes and many felt projecting a rural leader at that point was more essential.

In 2014, the party's West Bengal secretariat could not come to a unanimous conclusion after discussion for several hours, and had thus left it to the politburo members of West Bengal to make a decision.

Banerjee was selected by the four politburo members from West Bengal at that time — Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Nirupam Sen, Surjya Kanta Mishra and Biman Bose. This decision was later ratified by all the politburo members. Bhattacharjee had had his way — his blue eyed boy, Banerjee, was finally chosen as the party's representative in the Rajya Sabha after much debate and deliberation.

Also Read: Kerala Marxists See Red Over Minister's Krishna Celebrations. But He's Not The First.

On Friday, 15 September, 2017, Banerjee was formally expelled from the party.

"As per Article 19 (13) of the party constitution, Ritabrata Banerjee has been expelled from the party for grave anti-party activities. The decision to expel him from the party was taken in a state secretariat meeting on September 13. The party's Politburo has approved this decision," the statement issued by CPM's West Bengal State Committee Secretary, Surjya Kanta Mishra, said.

A few days ago, Banerjee had openly criticised politburo members Prakash Karat, Brinda Karat and Mohammad Salim in a television interview. The press statement said that the decision to expel him was taken on the basis of the interview "where he had tried to malign the image of the party in the name of an interview."

Banerjee had been censured for indiscipline in February after several complaints against him had poured in. He was suspended by the West Bengal State Committee for three months (in June) and a three-member committee headed by Salim was formed to probe the allegations.

After Banerjee was asked to appear several times and the committee had finished its own investigations, a report was submitted to the state committee stating that prima facie evidence of some allegations had been found. He was given the scope to rectify the mistakes. Under the circumstances, Banerjee's interview had stunned the CPI(M).

In the interview, he had talked about alleged differences within two camps of the CPM, saying the Karat camp hadn't allowed Sitaram Yechury the chance to get elected to Rajya Sabha again due to vested interest. He also expressed his bitterness about Salim, who he said was out to ruin his career. He also admitted during the interview that he had secretly taped the conversation when he was called by the committee probing allegations against him, and threatened to leak them.

He also admitted during the interview that he had secretly taped the conversation when he was called by the committee probing allegations against him, and threatened to leak them.

This is not the first time a CPI(M) leader has been expelled from the party in West Bengal. Not too long ago, there was Abdur Rezzak Mollah, who has now joined the Trinamool Congress and is a minister in Mamata Banerjee's cabinet. Interestingly, while he was part of the CPI(M), Mollah had warned the party about Banerjee in a letter — how the new breed of leaders wore expensive kurtas, spoke in the English language and had no connect with the villagers.

However, Mollah's and Banerjee's expulsions are two different things. Mollah is in his seventies, and is a seven-time MLA at the end of his career. On the other hand, Banerjee's ambitions possibly stood in the way of the party's stand that the image of the CPI(M) is much bigger than any of its leaders.

Even a leader like Jyoti Basu wasn't allowed by the party to become Prime Minister in 1996, something that he later famously described as a historic blunder.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Ritabrata Banerjee, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) with Biman Basu CPIM leader during a rally called by four left student organisations - SFI, AISF, AISB, PSU started from College square ended with a law violation movement at Dharmata, on April 2, 2015 in Kolkata.

The party's strictures have included adhering to its strong constitution, abiding by strict discipline, simple lifestyle, spending more time among the masses. A lot of these are now being debated by the young members of the party, and the older leaders are finding them difficult to answer.

However, this has not been the main reason behind the clash between Banerjee and some senior leaders of the party. When his so-called expensive watch and pen became the subject of heated debate on social media and within the party, several senior leaders had stood by him.

Interestingly, while he was part of the CPI(M), Mollah had warned the party about Banerjee in a letter — how the new breed of leaders wear expensive kurtas, speak in the English language and have no connect with the villagers.

Neither is this to suggest that the allegations against Banerjee could have been taken lightly. In fact, some of the allegations are very serious, though, these had not been disclosed by the party for months. On Sunday, 17 September, Mishra issued a press statement mentioning the allegations:

*continuous leakage of internal party matters and discussions to the media

*moral degeneration in relation to women

*serious inconsistencies between his income and expenditure

*lavish lifestyle incompatible with the member of the party

According to some members, the way Banerjee has maligned the party through media interviews is unprecedented.

What is most significant is the way the CPI(M) has suffered a jolt as far as its plans to project the young were concerned. The party has about 49.33 per cent of its members from the age bracket 32 to 50 years, 27.91 per cent are aged between 51 and 70 years. Only a mere 13.66% are aged between 26 and 31 years. There are still 2.74 per cent that are above 70 years and a mere 6.36 per cent that are up to 25 years old (figures from the plenum report of 2015 December). While this does not mean the "leaders" cannot be young, it is an indication of how the average age of party members is still very high.

The CPI(M) leaders would also need to ponder what took them so long to take action and why it should have been because of a television interview.

According to party insiders, CPM state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra had said in an internal meeting that Banerjee is treating expulsion as a prize, so let's give him the prize.

The party had been giving Banerjee several chances, but not taking any firm action against him. He was the one who chose to give the interview and was even asked during the conversation if he was deliberately saying such explosive things as that may lead the party to sack him. Did Banerjee want to be expelled because it would make it easier for him to move on?

According to party insiders, CPM state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra had said in an internal meeting that Banerjee is treating expulsion as a prize, so let's give him the prize.

Are the CPI(M)'s strictures too staunch for the party's own good? For, the party granted him the prize when he wanted it, the leaders were not flexible enough to judge when the time was more appropriate to take a step that would be treated by the alleged "offender" as a "punishment".

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
(L-R) CPI-M state secretary Dr. Surjya Kanta Mishra, Left Front chairman Biman Bose and Sitaram Yechury, Prakash Karat and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee during the state committee meeting of CPI(M) at Alimuddin Street, on June 11, 2016 in Kolkata, India.

Banerjee meanwhile, is said to have sent feelers to both Trinamool Congress and the BJP. The grapevine has it that he had met both West Bengal BJP secretary Dilip Ghosh and BJP national secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya in the recent past. He has also threatened to lodge complaint with the police against some CPI(M) leaders for allegedly accessing his bank statement without his consent.

His tenure as an MP continues till 2020, and even if he is no longer with the CPI(M), the party cannot replace him with someone else in the MP seat.

Whatever the road in politics Banerjee chooses from here on, is a different matter. But will the CPI(M) be able to project ambitious young leaders any more without leading to more clashes? That is the question everyone will be looking to get an answer for.

More On This Topic

SPONSORED BY THE LIVE, LOVE, LAUGH FOUNDATION