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Karat Gives in to Detractors; Cheek for a Cheek; Proving Their Track Record; Desperate Buddha Vibes; No Centre-State Harmony in Kashmir Song

Karat Gives in to Detractors

A row over fixing new dates for the 20th party congress of the CPM—originally scheduled for April 2011—has considerably eroded the authority of CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat inside the party.

At the central committee meeting held in Kolkata in the first week of February, Karat and his followers insisted that the party congress be convened before the scheduled date so that it did not coincide with the Assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala. However, politburo member Sitaram Yechury and the Bengal brigade wanted the congress deferred till the completion of Assembly polls, say sources.

As the two sides squared off, it was Karat who had to beat a hasty retreat, conceding the date proposed by his detractors, sources say.
The development is significant as on no occasion in the past has the general secretary of the CPM ever been so weak as to toe the line of his detractors, instead of forcing them to follow him.

The communiqué issued after the three-day central committee meeting says, ‘The Central Committee decided to hold the 20th Congress of the Party after the assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala due in May 2011. The schedule of the Party conferences will begin after this.’

According to a senior member of the CPM central committee, “Karat was trying to avoid a post-election party congress because there is a possibility of things becoming difficult for him in case the Left loses West Bengal (in the Assembly election).”

In fact, such was the weakening of Karat’s clout over the party that he was even forced to do what he has hated all through—almost offering an olive branch to the Congress. Echoing his Bengal comrades who have been desperately trying to drive a wedge into Congress’ alliance with Mamata’s Trinamool, Karat highlighted the mismatch between Mamata and Congress on various issues and not just the approach to Maoists. “On economic and development projects, Trinamool is taking an obstructionist position which the central Government normally cannot afford to take on political considerations. It is for the Congress to decide how far it will go along with such allies,” Karat told the media after the completion of the central committee meeting.

Sources, however, say the extended central committee meeting—which has been convened by the party in August this year to decide the CPM’s “political line to meet the current situation”—would well be another battleground in which Karat would try to regain his lost authority in the party. 


Cheek for a Cheek

Support is pouring in for Utsav Sharma, the 29-year-old design student who stabbed former Haryana police chief SPS Rathore, convicted in the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case. Posing as a video journalist, Utsav stabbed Rathore thrice in his face before a policeman overpowered him outside a Chandigarh court.

Though declared a dropout at Ahmedabad’s National Institiute of Design, where he has been a student of animation film design, Utsav’s fellow students and many others have urged the institute authorities to go soft on him. Known to be a chocolate addict, Utsav has won many group awards for his animation films. One of his films, Chai Break, received a special jury mention at Asifa India Awards, 2008. It is available on YouTube.

Utsav has been receiving treatment for depression, though his colleagues and professors remember him as a person with normal behaviour. He had come to Chandigarh apparently to make a film on the Ruchika case. When that plan changed into something else, nobody knows.


Proving Their Track Record

After Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi boarded Mumbai’s suburban train, many members of the opposition (BJP included) in Maharashtra have started talking about similar journeys. Uddhav Thackeray told a large gathering at Pune: “I did not have commandos when I travelled. I have even hung out of crowded trains.” Seniors in the Sena are amused. “Balasaheb’s speeches made many enemies, so Uddhav could not have taken a train ride…” says a senior Sena leader who fell out of favour with Uddhav. BJP leader Ram Naik, the original train riding politician, says that it was people like him who have made train journeys for other politicians a safe option. 


Desperate Buddha Vibes

The 10 per cent reservation in government jobs for backwards among Muslims announced by a beleaguered Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is nothing but a diabolically desperate act to arrest CPM’s fast eroding support base among minorities. Diabolic because, behind the benign smile he sported while announcing this sop, he could not have but known that this proposal was fraught with a number of legal dangers.

First of all, the income criterion: only those whose annual family income is under Rs 4.5 lakh, or Rs 37,500 a month, would be eligible for jobs under this quota. Pegging the income limit at such a high level is a devious ploy to get the proposal struck down, if not delayed indefinitely, by the Judiciary. When this happens, as seems inevitable given a similar ruling in Andhra Pradesh, the commissars can conveniently claim their grand design to improve the plight of Muslims was defeated by the ‘bourgeois’ Judiciary.

Second, as the state finance minister acknowledged, only about 10,000 of these ‘backward Muslims’, numbering 1.7 million, would get lowly government jobs in the next fiscal. And that would hardly dent the findings of the Rajinder Sachar Committee (which categorised Bengal in the ‘worst-performer’ category) in its report on the status of Muslims in India. Muslims make for more than a quarter of Bengal’s population but hold only a little over 4 per cent government jobs, mostly bottom-rung ones. Bhattacharjee and his party, having done nothing for Muslims—why, they’ve done nothing for Bengal’s entire populace all these 33 years—have resorted to what the opposition Trinamool Congress and various Muslim organisations have rightly termed a ‘political gimmick’.

Having berated Sachar all these months, Marxists have only now found the Ranganath Misra commission’s recommendations a convenient tool to try and woo Muslims back into their fold. Their mistake is that they’ve underestimated the intelligence of Muslims and the people of the state. Had the CPM been really interested in improving the plight of Muslims, it would have taken concrete steps many years ago instead of resorting to such devious devices with an eye on the 2011 Assembly polls. That central funds for welfare of minorities go unspent by the state every year is a telling testimony to Bhattacharjee’s concern for Muslims. Bengal’s Marxists would do well to remember Abraham Lincoln’s words about not being able to fool all the people all the time.


No Centre-State Harmony in Kashmir Song

The situation in the Kashmir Valley may have turned better but it is far from normal. A few days ago, the death of a teenage boy, due to a bullet allegedly fired by a paramilitary officer, sparked off violent protests at many places. The state government has promised an impartial enquiry but like the infamous Shopian case, people don’t expect much  of such investigations. After all, they say, how can one believe in an enquiry conducted by a government which awards a Padma Shri to controversial militiamen.

People had expectations from the Omar Abdullah government which recently completed one year in office. But he has not proven to be any different from his father or any other predecessor. As one of Open’s stories this week highlights, insurgency in the Valley has become a money-making apparatus for many. Schemers across the border are keen to rekindle separatism. There is money even in stone pelting. The young men of Kashmir are also restless. That is why they are resorting to what a senior Army officer termed as “confrontational terrorism” the other day. The state government has no strategy whatsoever to handle such a situation.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had recently proposed formulating a new surrender policy for youth in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir who are willing to return. Confronting that move, Union Health Minister and veteran Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad opposed the proposed policy, saying it may encourage infiltration. On no issue do New Delhi and the state government speak in unison. This is the least they can ensure as gunfire and massive protests threaten to rock the Valley.