What’s Left, Comrade Yechury?

Page 1 of 1

A new general secretary for the shrinking CPM. Can he make it relevant?

One of the amendments suggested to the political resolution presented by outgoing CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat in Visakhapatnam at the 21st Party Congress of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), typically a triennial national conclave, was to incorporate the right to work without fear of party honchos. Under the title ‘Tasks’ in the ‘Draft Political Resolution’, a delegate proposed the insertion of a paragraph to fight authoritarianism within the party, thus putting the spotlight on the tyrannical tactics employed by some Marxist bosses in the party stronghold of Kerala to quell dissent.

In the light of such a stiff party culture, Sitaram Yechury, the newly elected top official of the CPM, deserves praise for his determination to campaign democratically for a post for which he was a contender as early as 2005, the year his predecessor and rival Prakash Karat took over. When it came to picking a new leader at the conclave, colleagues from West Bengal threw their weight behind the 62-year-old, chain-smoking, affable leader who wore his knowledge of Bengali like a gold medallion. The Chennai-born Andhraite was ready to batten down the hatches and face a storm of protests against his elevation as general secretary from the CPM’s influential Kerala unit, which favoured the 77-year-old S Ramachandran Pillai.

Biman Bose, former CPM state secretary of West Bengal, where the once-dominant Left party has been shrinking rapidly since its resounding defeat of 2011 at the hands of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and thanks to the BJP’s emergence as an electoral force, would later recall that he had to fight tooth-and-nail opposition from the formidable Kerala unit to ensure that Yechury would be the CPM’s new general secretary. His logic: only a person who knew Bengali could help revive the dwindling fortunes of the Marxists who had ruled the state for 34 straight years after their 1977 win and had sent the party’s largest number of representatives to the Lok Sabha, until Banerjee wrecked the fortress. In the Politburo, the CPM’s 16- member top decision-making unit, Bose also argued that only a relatively young leader could attract the country’s youth and middle-class that see the party as an outdated political entity without any connect with their concerns and aspirations. The CPM rarely features in their consideration set as a party to entrust with power.

The amendment against the dictatorial ways of party leaders—moved by P Krishnaprasad from Kerala and aimed at his state unit steered by the likes of former state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and the current one, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan— was, however, rejected. His amendment had said, ‘The party shall fight authorit arian tendencies and [will] always [be] vigilant against [an] environment of fear psychosis within the party and consciously cultivate working class democracy to its full potential… the party will be always vigilant against, expose and rebuff the misuse of the principles of democratic centralism to shield individualistic, sectarian interests …’ Democratic centralism is the cornerstone of a Leninist party like the CPM. Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union and originator of the communist party apparatus, had proposed that party members discuss and debate issues freely but finally uphold the majority decision; the late Soviet leader had explained the whole concept with the expression, ‘freedom of discussion and unity of action’.

Yechury has finally had Kerala’s party bigwigs, known for arm-twisting intra- party opponents and thwarting freedom of discussion, accept ‘unity of action’— as seen in his ascent to the top of the biggest constituent of the Left, the CPM, which was formed after a split in the Communist Party of India in 1964. The party, though, has seen its electoral strength slide over the past few elections as it failed to mobilise cadres, lead agitations and stem corruption in states where it is a force to reckon with.

Ambitious and obsessed, Yechury was prepared to break tradition and press for a vote in the central committee of the party—its second-highest echelon—to secure the top post in the face of resistance from Malayalee leaders who also happen to be the party’s key fundraisers. Now, having run such a campaign on his own terms (with the help of friends), the question is: can the St Stephen’s and Jawaharlal Nehru University alumnus be the rainmaker for a party that is struggling to ride out its bad times? Can he shed his famed laziness, love the good life less, and plunge into the task of leading mass movements? (See Yechury’s interview, ‘Arresting the party’s decline is my biggest challenge’, on page 31.)

So far, Yechury’s main grumble was that Karat had not kept him in the loop on crucial matters, even while holding parleys with allies, and instead relied on his loyalist Pillai and wife Brinda Karat. Since Karat’s 2005 ascension and Brinda’s induction into the Politburo that year, the otherwise unflappable Yechury had turned bitter and grumpy, referring to the trio of Karat, Brinda and Pillai as “Saheb, Biwi aur Ghulam” (King, Queen and Knave) and venting his sorrow through crass jokes he cracked even for rookie reporters. What perhaps slipped his mind was that despite having spent little time in the dust and grime of grassroots politics like most communist leaders do, he had had a spectacular rise in the CPM until then. Quite like Karat’s.

Several party leaders that Open spoke to at the party congress venue soon after Karat’s succession contend that since Yechury now has the CPM’s reins, he can no longer afford to blame Karat or anybody else for the party’s faults in the future. In the past, he has often targeted Karat’s policies for contributing to its faltering electoral appeal—in the past 10 years, its Lok Sabha numbers have fallen from 43 to nine, and in West Bengal the party is in dire straits, staring at the possibility of being reduced to third position after the Trinamool Congress and resurgent BJP there. Yechury was upset that Karat went alone to hold discussions in 2008 with BSP leader Mayawati even though the CPM had close ties with the Samajwadi Party, BSP’s main rival in Uttar Pradesh. But, like Karat, Yechury too hasn’t done much justice to his organisational responsibilities. The student and youth feeder wings of the party have flagged under Yechury’s watch. While he is still in charge of the Students Federation of India (SFI), his Politburo colleague MA Baby has now been entrusted with youth affairs.

Born to a Telugu Brahmin family, young Sitaram had to relocate to cities within the state as his father, an engineer with the state transport corporation, had a transferable job. The family shifted to Delhi when his father was hired to set up a central health transport corporation modelled on one in Andhra Pradesh. Sitaram attended the President’s Estate School and was a promising student. Later, he opted to study economics against the wishes of his family and joined St Stephen’s, where he excelled in studies doing his BA. After a brief period at Delhi School of Economics, which he wasn’t particularly fond of, he shifted to JNU, a hotbed for Leftist student politics. It was there that he had his first brush with politics. Notably, during the Emergency, he stopped a fellow university student, then known as Maneka Anand (later Gandhi), from entering class. He was arrested and sent to jail. His rise later was perhaps destined to detach him from reality, considering how leaders typically rise in a communist party—from its branch committee to its local committee, and then area committee, district panel, state panel, state secretariat and then to the central committee. In 1979, Yechury became a joint secretary of the SFI, and following in the footsteps of Karat, he became the student wing’s president in 1984 (after MA Baby). The same year, he was named a special invitee to the central committee, to which he was nominated as a member—along with Karat and Pillai—shortly after. In 1992, all of them, by then central secretariat members, joined the Politburo. For Pillai, who had risen through the ranks, it had taken close to 30 years to make it to the central panel; it took Yechury barely a decade.

“One might say it is his brilliance (or that of Karat) that took him to the higher echelons of the party in such a short period. There have been much brighter comrades who were sidelined by [the second CPM general secretary] EMS Namboodiripad because he always feared leaders who were both intellectually capable and had popular support,” says a Politburo member who asks not to be named. He emphasises that EMS wasn’t insecure about the likes of Yechury and Karat who had no “popular base”.

“We all had doubts about his ideological commitment because he had often appeared to me as a careerist politician even at a time when party cadres were selfless and largely averse to being climbers,” says a central committee member who had been in student politics when Yechury was a senior leader. A senior Politburo member, however, notes that it is unfair to judge ‘Sita’, as he is popularly known among his comrades, as a careerist. “He had an offer from PV Narasimha Rao [also a Telugu Brahmin] to join his cabinet in the early 90s, but he declined it,” avers this leader. “How dare a Congress leader make such an offer to a Marxist leader? Maybe Rao knew he has always been a careerist,” says the central committee member. Several reports had appeared about Rao making an ‘offer’ to Yechury through his father and Yechury turning it down. But soon, in 1996, he was to play a major role— along with P Chidarmbaram—in drafting the Common Minimum Programme of the United Front Government.

For a polyglot, Yechury is witty, charming and canny—the list of adjectives could be longer. He has an impressive persona, so suave for a Marxist politi- cian that one might forgive him his preposterous remarks and gaffes. The media- savvy Yechury wrote a glowing piece about Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, following a visit to Romania where he had met the tyrant who used toilets made of gold. A few weeks later, Ceausescu was ousted in a democratic uprising. The CPM leader also embarrassed himself when he appeared on Doordarshan to welcome the aborted coup of Gennady Yanayev—he of the drunken composure and trembling hands—in August 1991 against Mikhail Gorbachev.

Yechury is far more coherent and incisive, especially in his writings and parliamentary debates, than Pillai. “Yechury doesn’t even see Pillai as an equal. He has a great sense of superiority and that explains his insistence on being the general secretary,” says a CPM leader from West Bengal once seen as close to Karat. That merit-consciousness was there for all to see around Visakhapatnam, where no party hoardings had Pillai’s picture despite his being in charge of the organisation, a coveted responsibility. The banners mostly had pictures of Karat, Yechury and Brinda, besides huge hoardings from where Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Lenin and Stalin watched over the packed RK Beach, the venue of the public conference marking the conclusion of the six-day meet. “You might want to say the writing on the walls of Vizag was clear: that Pillai was nowhere in the picture,” jokes Anjaneyalu, a student leader who had come from 1,000 km away, Anantpur district of the state—a place that he describes as one that gets the second- lowest rainfall in India after Jaisalmer.

Yechury was clearly the man of the moment at Visakhapatnam. He spoke in multiple languages, including Telugu, inspiring regional pride—he is the second general secretary of the CPM from Andhra Pradesh, a state that had once been a CPM bastion, before it lost out to regional parties over what experts call ‘pure politics’ pursued by the state’s CPM leaders like its founder-general secretary P Sundarayya. Sundarayya abhorred the idea of aligning with secular national parties and stepped down in the mid-70s after his proposal of a sort of ‘Left alone’ front was rejected by the party majority. It was the Jalandhar party congress of 1978 that put forth the concept of a national alliance with secular parties, a proposal first floated in the communist world in the 1930s by Bulgarian communist Georgi Dimitrov in the form of a ‘popular front’, an anti-fascist coalition that he envisaged would go beyond working-class groups and draw centrists and social democrats into its fold.

The political-tactical line adopted at this year’s conclave marks a departure from the stance taken by the CPM in 1978. The party will not work towards forming a ‘third front’, a grouping of non- Congress, non-BJP parties with which it had associated for long. The contention is that the Left Front, the biggest constituent being the CPM, has lost its ‘credibility’ by associating with parties, regional or otherwise, that have embraced liberalisation and have earned a bad name for being corrupt.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and professor of International Studies at Trinity College, also the author of No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism, doesn’t see anything wrong with the CPM’s decision to distance itself from any so-called third front. “Really, this is a matter less of the Left or the CPI-M and more of the Third Front. The character of the Third Front has changed dramatically since the 1990s, with its constituents making their peace with liberalisation. Only if the Third Front takes on a more social democratic character could it be an ally for the Left,” he says. In this, he echoes the views of Left leaders at the party conclave who are wont to spout high-decibel rhetoric on the Leftist victory in Greece, or gains in Japan and parts of Latin America, before they touch upon the Indian situation.

Afghanistanism, the habit of focusing on global issues while ignoring local issues, runs deep among communists. Incidentally, one of the suggested amendments to a paragraph (1.29 of the ‘Draft Political Resolution’) was that Pope Francis’ efforts to dispel irrational thinking and exploitation of labour be included in the document. Karat responded to this, saying while the party is aware of the Pope’s work, it didn’t want to specifically state so in the political resolution. He did not highlight that the Vatican was only devising new ruses to cope with the steady decline of its prominence and fall in the number of new converts to appear pro-worker and anti-inequality while continuing to be financed by big corporates, which, according to Leftists all over the world, are oppressors of the proletariat.

However, there were a few sensible interventions as well. In his reaction to the new political-tactical line that is averse to forging ties with entities such as the Janata Parivar, economist Prabhat Patnaik, who attended the meet, said the Left party should not foreclose all options, especially at a time there was what he termed a ‘deep disquiet’ against the Narendra Modi-led BJP Government at the Centre. According to him, there could be political opportunities in the future that the Left would have to clinch. Karat responded saying when such situations arise, the party may consider appropriate action. In that context, Yechury has adopted a far more flexible stance in contrast with Karat’s anti-Congress obstinacy, which culminated in the withdrawal of outside support to UPA-I in 2008 over the Indo-US Nuclear Deal (comrades from West Bengal still blame Karat for their woes, ignoring the role of their own excesses in their decline and fall).

Observers have their own take. Professor Vijay Prashad does not see any- thing wrong with the Left not aligning with secular parties. Professor Sumantra Bose of London School of Economics views the new tactical line as an outdated concept, as it assumes that the Congress is on par with the BJP as a national force, which it is not. “Assuming Yechury might want to align with Congress, this will be difficult in Kerala and Tripura, where the two parties are still the principal adversaries. In West Bengal, the Congress barely exists—it has a significant vote share and organisation in only two or three of the state’s 20 districts—so the extent to which it can help the CPM make a comeback in West Bengal is limited. Also, there is no certainty that the remnant Congress voters in West Bengal (9 percent in the 2014 Lok Sabha election) will accept an alliance with the CPM. So Yechury’s room for strategic manoeuvre is quite limited,” says Bose, author of Transforming India: Challenges to the World’s Largest Democracy.

What should worry Yechury most is the reversal in West Bengal, whose party leaders have stood by him like a rock in his moment of professional crisis. He may be happy to see his friend and West Bengal politician Mohammed Salim inducted in Visakhapatnam into the Politburo, but the party’s prospects of regaining lost glory in the state look bleak—and that in turn would hurt it at the national level. Notes Kolkata-born Professor Bose: “Tripura is too tiny, and in Kerala the CPM has never achieved the kind of commanding dominance it enjoyed for so long in West Bengal. Besides, West Bengal has more than double the number of Lok Sabha seats—42 to Kerala’s 20. In West Bengal, the CPM’s prospects look bleak as of now. It is struggling to be a viable opposition, and any possibility of recovering its supremacy looks remote at present.” In practical terms, says Professor Bose, he doesn’t see much hope of renewed national relevance of the CPM. “And the other ‘Left’ parties are bit-players that trail in the wake of the CPM. So if the leader of the pack is weak, there is little possibility of resurgence of a ‘Left’ alliance,” he explains. While Yechury may be less dogmatic— and possibly less dictatorial— than Karat, he adds, “He faces an uphill struggle, above all due to the party’s poor prospects in West Bengal.”

Since 1991, the Indian Left has had to confront two decisive challenges—the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the emergence of liberalisation, Professor Prashad points out. It has taken a long while for the Left to find its bearings in this new landscape, he believes. He argues that the 21st Congress of the CPM is part of this long-range trajectory of seeking a new tactical and political assessment for this new phase. “The Government’s anti-working-class politics approach has pushed the Left to be creative, as have the deep and long-term attacks on people’s dignity (on gender and caste lines). The Left has come into its own as far as seeing these social issues as essential parts of a socialist movement,” he contends. The professor of International Studies at Trinity College may sound more like an apparatchik when he dwells on the benefits of CPM keeping its strategy of ‘People’s Democratic Revolution’ alive, but he sees some reason there. “The Left, as Rosa Luxemburg put it, has to fight for the ‘final aim’, and not merely for reforms. Reforms are essential but they are incapable of transforming the lives of 700 million Indians who live in deprivation (that’s half the population). The Left must always fight for reforms, but it has to keep the ‘final aim’ in mind. You can give that ‘final aim’ any name. People’s Democratic Revolution is one of them,” he says.

If laughter is easily evoked by that, much was said at the party summit that offers scope for amusement as well. For a party that elected a younger chief to attract youth and students, the majority of its 741 delegates at its highest- level body (under its constitution) were aged above 40. “It is not a majority. It is a brute majority,” a senior student leader who attended the meet tells me. Now that I have checked, I know the figure was just above 96 per cent, with former Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan being the oldest at 91 (there were rumours at the meet that he is actually 94, but managed to take advantage of his lack of an original birth certificate). Delegates aged below 40 were a mere 3.8 per cent. A glance through the credentials report of the CPM presented at the party congress provides its own moments. Delegates had to disclose their class origins, and the options included ‘working class’, ‘agricultural labourer’, ‘poor peasant’, ‘middle peasant’, ‘rich peasant’, ‘landlord’, ‘bourgeois’, ‘middle class’ and ‘petite bourgeois’. There were six delegates of petite bourgeoisie origin at the conclave, while there were 14 of a bourgeois background. “Yes, I had great fun filling out the form,” says a young CPM delegate from West Bengal. Interestingly, more than three-fourths of all delegates didn’t have any experience being ‘underground’ (the likes of Yechury would probably be in that category, since he was freed from jail two days after he stopped Maneka Gandhi from entering class).

In fact, several of the delegates say that the CPM should have placed greater emphasis on organising mass movements in order to motivate the cadres that are demoralised after the fall of the Soviet Union and the succession of poll setbacks. “Our party had failed over the past two decades or more to lead any major agitation, be it an anti-Hindutva movement when the RSS launches a pro-Hindutva agitation like in the time of Babri Masjid, or any major struggle for the struggling peasants and farmers of this country. We can’t get away by doing lip service,” says one angrily. This young leader is certain that in the absence of mass movements, a communist party cannot expand. He is also dismissive of “Surjeet kind of experiments” (referring to political alliances cobbled up by the third general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet in 1996 and in 2004), which he feels won’t help the party improve its presence beyond the three states of West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. “Now, our leaders are busy pleasing the media. The Left will never be a darling of the media. It gains through mass movements. Electoral politics has a great upper- hand over the mass mobilisation capacity of our party. We can’t grow with leaders who yap away on TV and compete with other mainstream parties. We gain respect for what we do outside of TV studios. We also have to focus more on local issues and stop getting obsessed with Latin America and Greece,” he rages. Outside the venue, there were Che Guevara wristbands and miniature sickle-and-hammer souvenirs, apart from posters of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, on sale.

Agrees CPM watcher Achin Vanaik, former professor of International Relations and Global Politics at the University of Delhi: “The central issue is the lack of emphasis on struggle. What they do in terms of mass mobilisation will decide the future of any Left party. To revive themselves, they have to mobilise their cadres and create a committed and disciplined force.” He adds, “To my mind, they must pay more attention to being an active extra-parliamentary force.”

A senior party leader from Kerala is anxious that robbing state units of “alliance- making powers” and vesting such authority in the central leadership is a huge mistake. “Also, we would need to tie up with secular parties to gain an edge over the rival coalition. People who have not handled electoral politics at the grassroots will not understand this,” he rues, forced as he is to accept the conclave decision because he “must stick to Leninist principles” (of unity in action). Karat, he says, has never won either an assembly or a Lok Sabha election, and Yechury entered Parliament via the Rajya Sabha nomination route. Asked why getting elected has to be a benchmark for political maturity, this leader replies: “I am not saying that. Promode Dasgupta, the great West Bengal leader, has never contested an election, but he made others win, including Jyoti Basu. Knowledge of electoral politics doesn’t mean contesting elections alone, but managing elections and rallying crowds.” The likes of Yechury and Karat, whom the late CPM Kerala heavyweight and rebel MV Raghavan had referred to as “campus recruits”, can’t boast of such experience. “Power of the party has gone into the hands of a few elitists in Delhi and regional satraps are getting sidelined. It is another thing that the regional leaders are happy confining themselves to their states because being in Delhi is boredom for them,” says another young delegate, referring to the habit of central leaders who turn up at AKG Bhawan in Delhi’s Gole Market at 10 am and leave for home at 6 pm. “If they had been a bit more creative, they could have done what AAP had done in Delhi,” he adds.

Ironically, though the CPM agreed to review the tactical line of the past few decades, Karat flatly refused to entertain any talk of the ‘historic blunder’ of 1996 and the party’s decision in 2004 not to join the federal government—which according to a Politburo member had been a lost opportunity “in a country like India to at least let people know that there is a party called the CPM”. Surjeet had tried, unsuccessfully, to push Jyoti Basu for Prime Minister in 1996 and force his party to join the UPA Government of 2004. On one occasion, he left AKG Bhawan describing leaders like Karat and Yechury as ‘Naxalites’ who resisted his efforts. Surjeet refused to return to office for weeks in protest. Professor Prashad sees nothing wrong with what the young hardliners did, though. “I think that these are settled questions as far as the Left is concerned. There is a strong theory that suggests that the Left should not be made to carry the bucket of dirty water for bourgeois parties. If the Left has no significant power, it will not be able to drive an alternative policy direction. This was clear in 1996 and even more so in 2004.” When this is pointed out to a leader from Tripura, he says, “Too much emphasis on theory had taken Andhra Pradesh under the leadership of the indefatigable Sundarayya nowhere, while coalition [politics] helped the party come to power in bigger states like Kerala and West Bengal.” But this leader hastens to add that he hopes “the ideological rigidity” of the past decade may ‘loosen’ a bit now that Yechury is at the helm. Professor Prashad notes that Yechury is a well-loved person, and an articulate and honest leader. Without doubt, the twice- married Yechury is affable and friendly. “The challenges [for him] will be great, as they have been. Amongst the mass organisations of the CPM, pay attention to the rise in membership in AIDWA [the women’s wing], which has been very creative in its work among the working class. I think its theory of intersectoral organising might be valuable to the other fronts of the Indian Left,” he says.

However, the problems lie elsewhere. Says Professor Bose: “This ideological framework [of a people’s democratic revolution] is hopelessly outdated. In adhering to this geriatric doctrine, the CPM has been and is condemning itself to marginality in 21st-century India. Can there be a rescue mission to save the CPM from itself? I doubt that either the will or the capacity exists. Yechury has neither the stature nor the imagination to undertake the drastic renovation of the CPM’s very nature as a party that is needed to escape that fate of being consigned to the margins of Indian politics.”

After his elevation, a smiling Yechury clenched his fist in vintage Stalinist style and greeted party delegates. Later, he had called the 21st party congress “a congress for the future of the party, India and Left unity”. Clearly, he is glad that he finally made it despite all the odds against him. Age is on his side.

On the night of 18 April, for a moment it looked as if he had missed his chance. At a marathon Politburo meeting, Karat had said that there were two contenders for the top post, hinting that Pillai had more support—assumed to be on the strength of Kerala delegates, since those from West Bengal and Tripura had already pitched openly for Yechury. Sensing that Yechury—who was hardly in his seat at the party congress and mostly interacting with delegates—would insist on votes being cast in the central committee and would go on to win, thanks to his charisma and popularity, Karat decided before leaving for his hotel from Visakhapatanam’s Port Auditorium that a contest was best avoided, according to a person close to the matter.

Perhaps Yechury was not aware of that decision, and so when he reached Daspalla Hotel in the city and saw the Karats, he looked away. On seeing Brinda wait for the lift, he took the stairs. The next morning, he skipped breakfast and went to the venue only to see that he was back in the reckoning. Karat soon announced his name as his successor, after prevailing upon Pillai and Politburo members from Kerala to reach a unanimous decision. It is said that Yechury ate his first meal of the day only after returning to the hotel in the afternoon. He had a dish of fish to soothe his nerves after a day of heated exchanges and suspense.

His campaign for the post had started much before the six-day meet began when he told reporters that the new general secretary should be well-versed in Hindi, hinting at Pillai’s lack of language skills. At the previous Kozhikode summit three years ago, he was visibly upset at the way he was treated: he was the last speaker at the public meet among senior leaders. The Kerala delegation was not fond of him for backing rebel leader and party veteran VS Achuthanandan despite his anti-party outbursts. In Visakhapatnam, Achuthanandan indulged himself in his typical style, congratulating Yechury even before the decision was taken.

It would help Yechury to recognise that beyond the theatre-of-the-absurd world of senile communists, there is money. Which is what a former Kerala minister and new central committee member, Elamaram Kareem, reminded the party meet on 18 April: he said that the central leadership had treated Kerala badly, despite the gains (as he put it) that the party organisation had made in the state by going slow on action against people who had violated party discipline, referring to VS, who had been locked in a bitter war of words and deeds with party strongman Pinarayi Vijayan. Kareem also said that no one should forget that for the Rs 8-plus crore Surjeet Bhavan coming up in Delhi, the Kerala unit alone offered the entire sum. With Yechury’s backers in West Bengal facing a likely defeat and Kerala’s opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) poised for a win in the next year’s Assembly polls (thanks to the state’s tradition of defeating the incumbent), the new general secretary might have to use all his powers of persuasion and charm to assuage the wounded pride of Kerala honchos who wanted Pillai as their all-India leader.

“In a Leninist setup, it is easy for the general secretary to get things done. Kerala leaders will fall in line,” argues a leader from West Bengal.

Yechury will do well to ignore such unbaked ideas. He may have to light many more Gold Flake cigarettes before he can grasp 21st century India, let alone the future.