The CPI-M will elect a new general secretary replacing Prakash Karat who steps down after three terms.
The appointment of the Communist Party of India-Marxist's new general secretary comes at the end of the party's five-day 21st National Congress in Visakhapatnam where it is reviewing the CPI-M's performance over the last 25 years.
The front-runners are Politburo members Sitaram Yechury and S Ramachandran Pillai.
In his speech at the CPI-M National Congress on Thursday, April 16, Karat -- under whose tenure the party lost West Bengal and suffered its worst electoral losses in recent years -- said: 'There is no need to explain to the Communists about the menace posed by the neo-liberal-communal agenda. The question is how do we go about fighting back this offensive? How do we build broad-based resistance? How to fight the communal forces on the ground?'
'The Left can do so only by building powerful movements of the basic classes -- the workers, the peasants, the agricultural workers and the urban poor. By mobilising the vast mass of the oppressed -- women, Dalits, adivasis and minorities. Only the Left can provide the core of the resistance to the neo-liberal onslaught and develop it into a mass movement.'
Karat's comments could be read as an endorsement of the septuagenarian SRP, as Pillai is usually referred to.
Pillai, who is considered number two in the CPI-M Politburo, has headed the All India Kisan Sabha -- the party's farmers wing -- since 1999.
What could go against the veteran Marxist -- who reportedly has the support of the CPI-M's Kerala faction -- is his age. At 77, he is 14 years older than Yechury, who is also Karat's biggest rival in the party.
Yechury as party general secretary would reverse the Karat line and likely form alliances with like-minded parties to restore the CPI-M's relevance in national politics.
A graduate of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the articulate and personable Yechury has many friends cutting across party lines and is someone the Congress leadership could work with.