On 9 May 2015, seven years after the Left parties had withdrawn support from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on the Indo-US nuclear deal, Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI[M]), acknowledged that the party had made an error with the timing of the step and the manner in which it framed the issue. “In hindsight, we have said we could not make it a people’s issue (in the elections). It should have been a people’s issue like price rise and the UPA abandoning the ‘aam aadmi’ perspective,” said Yechury. This candid admission from the newly elected general secretary is one of the many ways in which the CPI(M) seems to be taking a departure from its earlier mode of functioning, under Yechury’s leadership.
As the media focuses on Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal, notable changes in the CPI(M)—which continues to remain the only party other than the Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to have a sizeable presence in at least two major states—have largely gone untracked.
However, a closer look at the party after Yechury’s appointment would reveal that there are significant changes underway, and these could have a crucial impact on the larger political landscape in India.
The most visible aspect of these modifications has been the shift in the party’s style of communication, as seen through Yechury’s willing acknowledgement of the CPI(M)’s mistake with the nuclear issue. It is a measure of the importance Yechury appears to accord to the media. His predecessor, Prakash Karat, seldom spoke to journalists and when he did, it was always at his party office. For those of us who reported on the CPI(M), it was always Yechury who was accessible and gave sound bites and stories to reporters.
Other changes may not be as easily spotted, but are consequential nonetheless. In March this year, Yechury successfully orchestrated an amendment to the president’s motion of thanks that had omitted “failure to curb corruption” and “bring back black money,” by rallying the entire opposition in the Rajya Sabha at the just concluded budget session of the Parliament.