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Sarkar was a dark horse
Subir Bhaumik
Sarkar was a dark horse
PHOTO : Prakash Karat,Mnaik Sarkar at CPI-M 21st Congress in Visakhaatnam. TIWN Pic April 18

At one stage during the CPI(M) party congress at Visakhapatnam, Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar was considered as a 'compromise candidate' for the party's all-powerful general secretary. The Kerala comrades were strongly supporting 77-year old S.R. Pillai who was outgoing general secretary Prakash Karat's candidate to replace him. The Bengal comrades and many others were firmly backing 62-year old Sitaram Yechury, the talented and affable moderate face of the CPI(M).

At one stage , it appeared the general secretary will not be a consensus decision as Karat appeared determined to push for Pillai and Yechury appeared equally determined to challenge it by asking for a vote. Party insiders say they were bracing for a bruising battle that would show up the sharp divisions within the CPI(M).
It is at that stage that some delegates at the party congress, who were keen to avoid 'divisiveness' came up suggesting a third candidate for the general secretary position -- Manik Sarkar. Sarkar was included in the list of speakers at the party rally on the last day of the congress that would follow the election or nomination of the general secretary and its approval by the Central Committee.  The fact that the Karat camp was already beginning to wilt under Yechury's determined pressure became evident when S.R. Pillai's name was not included the list of speakers at that final rally.
Manik Sarkar was seen as a .compromise candidate' because he is not only known to be close to Prakash Karat but is also acceptable to the Bengal comrades . But the Bengal leaders like Biman Bose were in no mood for compromise. They wanted their candidate -- none other than Yechury -- who is in the Rajya Sabha from Bengal -- to be accepted as the general secretary. Later Biman Bose told a party leader and a delegate at the party congress that " I had to fight hard to get him there", meaning getting Sitaram accepted as general secretary. 
It is no secret now that the Bengal comrades hold Karat responsible for a string of tactical errors like threatening to bring down the Manmohan government on the Indo-US nuclear issue that led to estrangement between the Congress and Left and the Congress-Trinamool alliance that finally brought down the Left Front in Bengal in 2011. Karat blames the Bengal party for its 'internal weaknesses' for its failure to hold ground against a resurgent Trinamool. Yechury who has circulated a parellel document challenging the draft political-organisation report filed by Karat  has blamed the outgoing secretary for 'severe lapses'  that has marginalised the CPI(M) and Left parties in parliament and brought down their strength severely. That struck resonance with the Bengal comrades and many others from both North and South . 
The final spectacle of Karat proposing Yechury's name as general secretary threw a lid on a week of unconcealed bitterness when Yechury was seen taking stairs when he found Brinda Karat waiting for the lift at the hotel where the CPI(M) Politburo members were staying. They were arriving by separate cars and not seen talking to each other. When Manik Sarkar's name was floated around by the Karat camp as ' a consensus general secretary' , those supporting Yechury were furious and backed by them, the affable Yechury appeared determined to take the issue to vote. Realising that he was getting dragged into a battle that was not his own and realising perhaps it would be impossible to remain Tripura Chief Minister if he became party general secretary, Manik Sarkar pulled out of the face-off and refused to oblige Karat , despite their apparent bonhomie.
The realist that he is, Sarkar would have clearly seen the writing on the wall -- a vote would have seen the rout of the Karat loyalists. , Party insiders say he was one of the top leaders who convinced Karat to avoid a showdown with Yechury and let him be general secretary. So Sarkar emerges from this whole face-off with his position intact and not undermined as a Karat camp-follower but as someone who played a key role in avoiding divisiveness in the party and helping leaders reach a consensus. That also helps him strike a new chord with the incoming general secretary Yechury much as it helps him retain his links with outgoing one. 
Sitaram Yechury has said he will have to consider whether he can retain his Rajya Sabha seat. He has told journalists at the party conference that under normal circumstances he should resign his RS seat that he feels necessary for doing justice to his party work as general secretary. But Yechury also realises that the Left's parliamentary presence is at an all-time low .Regardless of whether Yechury steps down from RS or not, he will be much more busy with organisational issues. Tripura MP Jiten Chaudhury , whose parliament performance is improving with the day, will have a major opportumity cut out for him.  The CPI(M) has not had a tribal leader in the politburo -- by the time the next party congress is held, it may begin to consider the importance of having one.
(Mr. Subir Bhaumik is a veteran journalist, former BBC correspondant and author of  two well acclaimed books ‘Insurgent Crossfire’ and ‘Troubled Periphery’ ) send your appreciation and comments pl. send email to or  or post online below.
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