Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Oct 12, 2017
CPI-M’s dilemma: Who is No. 1 enemy – BJP or Congress?

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is currently facing an existential crisis caught in a serious dilemma over what political line to follow in the face of the challenge from pseudo nationalist and fascist forces.

The CPI-M, whose political outreach has been shrinking fast for over a decade, is struggling to find ways that may result in revival of the party’s political fortunes.

In a bitter battle, there is a sharp division in the CPI-M over whether to oppose the BJP in alliance with “non-left and secular parties” or not.


The issue was discussed at length at the Polit Bureau (PB) meeting held on October 2 in the national capital. The CPI-M, that had its governments in States of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, has been engaged for some time now in an ideological debate on whether to change the party line on the issue in the changed context of threat to the country and the society from fascist forces.

Though the issue that confronts the country’s leading left party is having ideological overtones, there is a definite clash of personalities at the bottom of the entire question.

The group led by former party general secretary Prakash Karat vehemently opposed an understanding and cooperation with non-left and secular forces that includes the Congress party. The other group led by party general secretary Sitaram Yechury says that the party line adopted at the 2015 party congress should be changed in the background of the threat from fascist forces in the last three years.

There were two PB meetings to discuss the draft outline of the party’s “political-tactical line”. However, both meetings failed to reach a consensus. The second PB meeting decided to place the issue before the Central Committee, scheduled to take place from October 14 to 16.  The resolution will be taken up at the party congress, scheduled in next April.

Yechury has been consistently maintaining that the BJP has become a bigger threat since it came to power in 2014 and thereafter winning many assembly elections. Fascist forces have been on the march for last couple of years and danger to society and country has grown since the last party congress in 2015.

This view was opposed by a majority of the PB members, especially from Kerala, led by Prakash Karat and his wife Brinda Karat. These members have been trying to project that the Yechury group was trying to strike an alliance with the Congress that is CPI-M’s main political rival in Kerala.

While earlier, the Karat group was not even prepared to accept that the situation on the ground has changed in the context of the rise of the RSS-BJP in the country and fascist attacks on minorities and Dalits have grown, there has been a change since the last PB meeting as this group has admitted that conditions on the ground have changed indeed.

The Karat group has been maintaining that such an alliance does not help the party’s cause. And merely standing with the Congress or other political parties is not going to effectively counter the BJP.


This group has been painting Yechury as pro-Congress. And, the battle has become Karat versus Yechury. At the last Congress in 2015, Karat, then general secretary, was dead opposed to the elevation of Yehchury to the post of the general secretary but he could not prevent it.

It was during Karat’s tenure as the party general secretary that the CPI-M was defeated in the West Bengal Assembly elections after more than three decades of its rule and also the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in which it won just two seats. Even in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the CPI-M’s strength in the Lok Sabha had come down. It was during the Karat’s leadership that the CPI-M had withdrawn support from the Congress-led UPA government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the issue of the Indo-US Nuclear deal in July 2008.

Communist, Kerala, Satish Misra, left, CPM, Canvassing, Election

After that, the CPI-M’s tally in the Lok Sabha had come down. Karat, known for his rigid anti-Congress line, had also ensured that former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee was expelled from the party.

Earlier in 1996, Karat as the member of the PB was one of the prominent  members of the group that had  opposed the proposal of allowing the then West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu to be the prime minister of the country leading a coalition of left of the centre political parties named as the United Front.

The CPI-M and the left forces have been on the decline in the country for the last 15 years but the party is not ready to confront the changing political reality on the ground, according to an old party sympathiser.


He regrets that alarm bells are not ringing in the CPI-M’s headquarters in the Gopalan Bhavan in the capital even after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said in his annual address that the governments in West Bengal and Kerala were harbouring and supporting anti-national elements.

BJP president Amit Shah is currently undertaking a Janraksha Yatra (protect people) during which he is lashing out at the CPI-M, but the Kerala unit of the CPI-M is still not ready to see the writing on the wall. Many party leaders and workers have started to desert the party but the party’s anti-Congress stance is not changing.

It is highly unlikely that the party’s Central Committee would approve either of the positions put forward by the two groups. And the issue is likely to fall before the party congress next year for a solution.

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Satish Misra

Satish Misra

Satish Misra was Senior Fellow at ORF. He has been a journalist for many years. He has a PhD in International Affairs from Humboldt University ...

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