Monday, September 1, 2008

POWER & POLITICS / Mail Today, September 01, 2008

It is often said that you can judge a man by the company he keeps. In the CPI( M) and the BJP, increasingly senior leaders are being judged by the kind of people they are seen with. The two cadre- based parties are as different as chalk and cheese and both are going through a churning that makes nonsense of their claims of tight discipline down the line.
The spotlight these days is on West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Last week, the CPI( M) was squirming in embarrassment after BB said that, left to himself, he would organise protests against the frequent bandhs that turns normal life in his state into a nightmare. He was catering to his audience of the moment, which comprised captains of industry at a FICCI meeting in Kolkata. Coming as it did when the state had virtually been brought to a halt by Mamata Bannerjee over the Tata Nano factory in Singur, it left party leaders, well, Red faced. And that’s where the problems lie.
The people who are lining up behind Mamata Banerjee form the CPI( M) core constituency — the poor, the hungry, the dispossessed. Its leaders feel BB has compromised on the CPI( M)’ s basic credo. That outsiders and not the indoctrinated are dictating its political and social agenda. The fingers that point at BB these days accuse him of being a prisoner what is termed as the “ rattis brigade” — the chatteratti, the glitterati, the corporatti.
Only a fool would expect them to vote the Left, nevertheless they woo the comrades for the power they wield. BB is a willing target.
The fact that the CPI( M) had to issue a “ lifestyle guideline” at its Coimbatore Congress earlier this year is perhaps an admission from the highest levels that a lot is rotten. Its ministers and leaders will baulk at accepting invitations from cadres to address a rally but will grab an invitation to rub shoulders with the Page Three types. The dyed- in- the- wool comrades feel that such sustained familiarity, far from breeding contempt, influences policy making.
Initial reports that BB had been “ publicly censured” were denied by the Politburo which issued a statement that seemed to suggest the chief minister was “ given a public dressing down in private”. There are even demands that BB and other Marxist social butterflies be banned from attending bourgeois dos. But will that change the Marketeer in this Marxist? Jyoti Basu too turned reformer towards the end of his 25- year tenure, but his stature was such that he did have to attend CII meetings and collect certificates from industry titans to prove his reformist credentials.
BB’s style has been different and one which has ensured that the eyebrows of fellow comrades never drop. The Salim Group fiasco, his statements on the N- deal, the red carpets he rolled for US businessmen — all have been frowned upon by his senior colleagues.
Across the political aisle, the BJP is also grappling with similar problems. The much- touted discipline is distant memory with its MPs being indicted in the cash- for- questions scam, the lifestyles of some leaders coming in for scrutiny and the party’s image touching rock bottom when eight of its MPs defied the whip in the trust motion in Parliament on July 22. The temptations are hard to resist. The surprise is that it took the Marxists so long.

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