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Can Yechury step into Surjeet's big shoes?

May 14, 2018 15:03 IST

Yechury could play the role Harkishan Singh Surjeet had played in 1996 and 2004 to unify the opposition, writes Archis Mohan.

IMAGE: Yechury’s troubles within his party, however, are far from over. Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo

Until a few years back, it was usual for the national headquarters of the Communist Party of India-Marxist at the AK Gopalan Bhavan in New Delhi to wear a deserted look by 5.30 in the evening.

The office would also come alive by 11 am.

Such discipline wasn’t just unusual for a national party, but the regimented timetable left party leaders disappointed when they would come visiting from across the country hoping for a freewheeling discussion with the party boss.


Sitaram Yechury, elected the party’s fifth general secretary at its Vishakhapatnam congress in April 2015, brought back to AKG Bhavan the temperament of a mainstream political party, a throwback to the days of Harkishan Singh Surjeet, who served as the party chief from 1992 to 2005, when party leaders could drop in unannounced but knew they would get a patient hearing.

Yechury, 65, has taken to not only start his day early, but can be found, whenever he is in Delhi, at the AKG Bhavan until late evening, catching up with party leaders over a smoke and a tall glass of black tea, or eating the frugal vegetarian lunch with them and the office staff in the office kitchen.

The CPI-M has suffered many electoral reverses since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

It currently has one of its poorest legislative presences in Parliament since it was formed in 1964 -- it lost the West Bengal assembly polls in 2016 emphatically and recently also lost its 25-year-old government in Tripura.

However, since 2015 the CPI-M has also been at times the only political formation fighting the Narendra Modi government on the ground and has become a lynchpin for people's movements on issues of farmers, tribals, Dalits, workers and minorities.

In the aftermath of the Dadri mob lynching in September 2015, Yechury galvanised litterateurs and academics to return their government awards in protest.

Under Yechury, the CPI-M was also the first major political party to express solidarity with the Dalit cause, and organised protests in New Delhi and elsewhere in the country against the increasing atrocities on the community.

The All India Kisan Sabha, its peasants’ union, has led several successful agitations in Rajasthan and Maharashtra, including the ‘long march’ by farmers from Nashik to Mumbai in March.

Along with Sharad Yadav and others, Yechury has also been a key organiser of conferences on 'saving India's composite culture'.

Yechury’s performance in the Rajya Sabha, that most opposition leaders, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, heed his advice, his friendships with leading politicians struck over the last three decades, and his understanding of the media have helped the CPI-M punch much above its weight on the national stage despite its dwindling legislative presence.

At the recently concluded party congress in Hyderabad, Yechury was re-elected the party chief for a three-year term in the face of opposition by the Prakash Karat camp. The support for Yechury was overwhelming among the party delegates, several of whom believe him to be best suited to fill the big shoes left by Surjeet and revive the party.

Yechury’s troubles within his party, however, are far from over.

But at a time when the opposition is looking at giving Modi-led BJP a 'one on one' fight in most seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Yechury, with his "intellectual property right" on ‘outside support’, with no personal ambitions of power and pelf, could play the role Surjeet had played in 1996 and 2004 to unify the opposition.

Archis Mohan in New Delhi