Soon one of the most effective performers in Parliament will disappear from our national legislature and both the Rajya Sabha and our democracy will be the poorer. I speak of Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the CPI (M), whose second term in the upper House ends this month. In not permitting him to serve another his party may have upheld its internal principles but it’s let down the bigger and more important interests of this country.
The CPI (M) has a convention that no person can serve more than two terms as a Rajya Sabha MP. More importantly, as general secretary, it was said that Yechury’s parliamentary responsibility detracted from his duties as head of the party. That, after all, in the eyes of the CPI (M), is his primary task. So, for both these reasons, it was decided that Yechury will not get a third term.
The problem – and the CPI (M) knows this extremely well – is that this deprives the opposition of one of its most forceful voices just when it’s badly needed. Whether it was on demonetisation, aadhar, the situation in JNU and Hyderabad universities, cow vigilantism, surgical strikes or relations with our neighbours, Sitaram Yechury was able to not just confront the government but often embarrass it.
Now, when the BJP has more Rajya Sabha MPs than Congress and when the NDA and its friends are no longer heavily outnumbered by the combined opposition, Yechury will be missing. This is particularly dismaying. Who, in his absence, will counter and check the forceful and often convincing performance of Arun Jaitley? On occasion, Kapil Sibal, P Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sharad Yadav and Jairam Ramesh can, but there’s no MP who’s done it as often, as effectively and on so many subjects as Yechury.
What makes this development even more inexplicable is that Yechury is the only person from the CPI (M) who could have been elected from Bengal. This is because the Congress publicly committed its support. But that’s not available for any other person from the CPI (M). So the party knew this was not just a special gesture made by its opponents to retain Yechury in the upper House but, if it was not accepted, the CPI (M)’s numbers would diminish. Now that is exactly what will happen.
So what does this suggest about the outcome the Communists have inflicted on themselves? Was it really impossible for Yechury to function both as general secretary and an MP? After all, he’s done it without any credible complaints since April 2015. To me this seems more like an excuse than good cause for denying Yechury. In fact, I suspect the real reason is his rivals in the party saw this as an opportune moment to cut him to size. Petty personal squabbles have triumphed over the CPI (M)’s interests and undermined the country’s.
I call this cutting your nose to spite your face. However, I would go further. This is also a gift to the BJP and it brings the prime minister a critical step closer to his goal of an opposition mukt Bharat.
Sadly, it’s too late to reverse the situation but, by the same token, the moment has come for the CPI (M) to ask critical questions of itself. In 1996, when the party denied Jyoti Basu the prime ministership, he called it an “historic blunder”. The treatment of Sitaram Yechury is undoubtedly another.