The re-election of Sitaram Yechury as CPI (M) general secretary for a second term and the endorsement of his political-tactical line at the party’s 22nd congress in Hyderabad reflect triumph of pragmatism over dogmatism. The triennial national convention saw the Marxist party shed some of its ideological rigidity and agree for an unprecedented modification of its draft political resolution to pave way for tactical understanding with secular parties including Congress in the coming elections. The fact that Yechury, a pragmatic and flexible leader known for his networking abilities across political spectrum, got another term of three years shows that winds of change are sweeping in an otherwise orthodox party apparatchik. The famous “historic blunder” comment, made by veteran Marxist leader late Jyoti Basu while referring to a lost opportunity to lead the United Front government at the Centre over two decades ago, appears to be still haunting his party. Suffering a steady erosion of support base and losing power in its traditional bastions, the CPI (M) finds itself at ideological crossroads and vertically divided over electoral tactics. In the battle of wits between the two camps—one that strongly opposes any truck with Congress and the other favours tactical understanding with the grand old party—it was Yechury’s camp that had a final say. Following pressure from his supporters, the party amended its draft political resolution to accommodate understanding with Congress as part of a larger goal to defeat BJP.
As Yechury embarks on a second term, a plethora of challenges confront him. He needs to revitalise the party smarting under a string of electoral losses including the recent drubbing in Tripura. The CPI (M) is now in power only in Kerala. He has an unenviable task of establishing an enduring connect with the aspirational middle class, a section perceived to be out of the ambit of the Left influence so far. It is a major challenge to attract the post-liberalisation generation into a party whose main agenda has been to fight neo-liberal economic policies. The Marxist party needs to do candid introspection on the reasons for its steady decline and re-invent itself to stay relevant. It has nine members in the present Lok Sabha, down from 16 in the previous House while its national vote share has shrunk from 5.33% in 2009 to 3.28% in 2014. A clear disconnect with aspirational middle class, continued peddling of the worn-out cold war era narrative fuelled solely by anti-Americanism, failure to recognise the role of the private enterprise in wealth creation and distribution, visceral hatred for the corporate world, blind opposition to adoption of new technologies and big ticket projects are some of the factors responsible for the left parties losing relevance over years.