The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is finally turning to youth power, deciding to field candidates below the age of 40 years in most seats in the West Bengal assembly elections.
The decision is a departure from its age-old policy of relying heavily on ageing veterans to rule the roost, and a much sought-for attempt to reinvigorate the party’s wearied election machinery.
The CPI(M) state committee in a two-day brainstorming session in Kolkata, that ended on Monday, decided to try and reserve 60 per cent seats for the ‘Young Turks,” a senior party leader told The Federal.
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The push for generation shift came from the party general secretary Sitaram Yechury himself who reportedly had argued in the meeting that as a “futurist party” the CPI (M) needed to pass on the baton to the next generation.
The party sources said the decision was long overdue and that it had been discussed at various party-fora since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections debacles.
“This is not a Bengal-specific problem. Even our central committee last year deliberated on the matter and had mooted the need to put an age ceiling for inducting members in policy making bodies,” said the CPI (M) leader, who attended the just concluded state committee meeting.
The alarm bells in the CPI(M) state unit started ringing when its internal assessment last year found out that youth were increasingly getting disenchanted with the party.
According to CPI (M) sources only 7.68 per cent of its 1,60,485 members in the state are in their early 30s. What is more worrying for the party is that the number has been gradually decreasing. In 2019, 9.09 per cent of its 1,68,042 members were under the age of 31. The number was 13.5 per cent ahead of assembly elections in 2016, when the party had set a target to raise the share of members in the 30s to 20 per cent by 2018.
The target, however, could not be achieved due to the party’s reluctance to age out veteran leaders from important party positions.
This despite the fact that almost all the student unions of various universities have been dominated by left oriented members and leaders.
The average age of the CPI (M) politburo is 69, with 82-year-old Ramachandran Pillai from Kerala being the oldest member and 63-year-old Mohammed Salim from West Bengal the youngest.
The last time the party infused young blood in its leadership structure was in 1985 when Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury, both in their 30s, were inducted in the party’s central committee.
Now that the party has decided to give nominations mostly to young candidates, the challenge, the party sources said, is to get the popular young face to step into the shoes of old guards as there are a very few young leaders in various-level of party organisations.
“We will have to rope in leaders from the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the country’s largest student outfit,” said the CPI (M) leader.
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Many veteran leaders, including former minister Kanti Ganguly reportedly criticised the party for failing to take political advantage of the current burning issues like farmers protests, growing unemployment and labour unrests due to lack of vigour in the organisations.
The two-day meeting, meanwhile, unanimously endorsed the party’s tactical line of treating the BJP and the Trinamool Congress as equal enemy.