At Party Congress in Visakhapatnam, CPM Looks For its New General Secretary

Senior CPM leader Sitaram Yechury meeting children on his arrival at the airport in Visakhapatnam on Monday. (Press Trust of India)

Visakhapatnam: As Prakash Karat got off from the car and walked towards the main venue of the 21st congress of the CPM in Visakhapatnam, a group of enthusiastic delegates stopped him for a photograph.

Mr Karat obliged and the delegates quickly passed around their cellphones to freeze the frame. But there were no selfie moments. Oh yes, they were communists and believed in the collective. Yet, at the most keenly followed question here, both among the delegates and the media, is about who will succeed Mr Karat?

Sitaram Yechury almost seemed as the natural successor and the only contender before this party conference. But that's not the case. His colleague in the party's Politburo, S Ramachandran Pillai, is the other serious contender.

Mr Yechury has the support of his comrades from West Bengal, a state he represents in Rajya Sabha. But Pillai is being backed by Pinarayi Vijayan, the powerful state chief in Kerala where the Left is hopeful of a comeback next year.

Mr Yechury's supporters argue that he also can appeal to sections beyond its traditional supporters, especially the youth.  At 62, he is 15 years younger than Mr Pillai. And as a prominent public figure, Mr Yechury may be able to improve the profile of his party, something he has successfully done in Rajya Sabha. And like his mentor Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Mr Yechury has a good personal rapport across the political spectrum.

But Mr Pillai's supporters have their own argument. They say that he is someone who has risen through the ranks - from a district secretary to being a Politburo member and unlike Mr Yechury, Mr Pillai knows the functioning of the party at all levels and that's crucial to undertake a course correction. Mr Pillai may not have age on his side but is considered a unifying figure.

Asked to comment on his prospects of becoming the next General Secretary, Mr Yechury said: "The collective wisdom of the party will prevail."

But it's clear that such wisdom will have to factor in who can carry out the task of Left revival better and expand the party beyond its traditional comfort zones of Kerala, Tripura and Bengal.
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