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CPM's icon Basu takes a battering from hardliners - The Indian Express

Vijay Simha ()
17 February 1997

Title : CPM's icon Basu takes a battering from hardliners
Author : Vijay Simha
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : February 17, 1997

Hardliners in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) took control
of proceedings in the party's central committee meeting which ended
today, accusing West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu of violating
party principles and wanting the CPI(M) to distance itself from the
United Front.

At least more than one of the six sessions of the central committee
meeting was stormy and Basu was severely criticised for suggesting
that his chances of becoming Prime Minister last year were
sabotaged by people who didn't Eke him. Almost simultaneously, the
CPI(M) hawks stressed that the party heighten its Opposition to the
UF's economic policies.

In effect this was the most dramatic development in the CPI(M) over
the last few months and matters came to a head in the central
committee which is deeply divided. Sources said senior CPI(M)
Politburo member Prakash Karat led the attack on Basu and held him
guilty of going against the known principle of collective
responsibility in the party.

The CPI(M) central committee, the party's top decision-making body,
was meeting for the first time after Basu aired his famous remark
that the party had made a historic, political blunder in staying
away from the ruling United Front ministry.

Basu's authorised biography, by Surabhi Banerjee, was then released
a few weeks later in which it was suggested that Basu's chances of
becoming Prime Minister were spiked by people opposed to him
personally and by ideologically rigid personalities in the central

Karat, who heads the hardline faction in the CPI(M), was upset that
such a view should have been propagated by a veteran like Basu.
Earlier views were repeated that the CPI(M) could not possibly have
joined a multi-party ministry without dominating policy-making.

Basu was asked why his biography went even ahead of his interview
and attacked the party leaders personally. The biography has
already landed itself in a controversy because of several factual
errors and also its status. Basu was questioned whether he had
actually authorised all that went into the book and what role he
had in its publication.

It was probably the biggest personality clash in the CPI(M) in many
years and for the first time, an icon like Basu was specifically
targeted in a closed-door party meeting. Thus far, by his sheer
personality, Basu has towered above the CPI(M) but it appears that
Karat and his allies were in a belligerent mood.

At the moment, the hawks have a clear edge over the doves in the
CPI(M) and this has been reflected on sundry occasions since the
United Front Government came to power. It is not clear exactly
what Basu said in his defense and the party was reportedly loathe
to come out in the open in his support.

CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, an ardent Basu
supporter, didn't have much of a role in the furious debate and it
was Karat and Andhra Pradesh members of the central committee, who
dominated the discussion. Some West Bengal members opposed to Basu
also joined in the criticism of the State Chief Minister.

Central Committee members like Kerala Chief Minister E K Nayanar,
CITU president E Balanandan, R Umanath, L B Gangadhar Rao and Benoy
Chowdhury have been opposed to Basu for a while now and it made the
criticism easier, sources said.

Apart from this, the central committee's view was that the UF's
economic policies were very much on the lines of the previous
Narasimha Rao Government and had to be opposed tooth and nail.
Since the CPI(M) had held Rao and Manmohan Singh guilty of the
country's financial woes, it was felt that the party could hardly
reverse it stand now.

What transpired was a feeling that the CPI(M) continue to distance
itself from the UF in an attempt to retain its own credibility.
What form the distancing would take was not precisely defined. The
CPI(M) has members in the UF's Steering Committee and its Standing
Committee. It also has sympathisers in the Union Cabinet like
welfare minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia.

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