November 9, 2009

Old names, new faces on CPM canvass trail

OCT 30,2009
Calcutta, Oct. 29: Some of the CPM’s biggest names are out on the streets for the November 7 bypoll campaign.

There’s Biswas and Chakraborty, synonymous for years with the party organisation and labour arm Citu. Then there’s Deb, a name unmistakably familiar in the city’s northern fringes.

This minute they are marching under the hot afternoon sun, the next they are sipping tea at a roadside stall with their comrades.

So Hazra resident Ibha Basu, 78, could hardly be blamed when her eyes widened with surprise at the sight.

Except that Biswas is a young woman of 28, Chakraborty is “in my late 20s” and Deb is 21. They are the daughters of Anil Biswas and Shyamal Chakraborty, and the son of housing minister Gautam Deb.

“Shob to bachcha chheley meye, era ki notun neta netri (they’re all kids, are they the new leaders)?” is what Ibha asked as she saw Ajanta and Usashie lead 400-odd young campaigners in Mamata Banerjee’s citadel, Alipore.
“Youths form an important part of my campaign strategy,” said Kaustav Chatterjee, 30, Alipore candidate and state secretary of party students’ wing SFI.

Shaken by the poribortoner hawa (winds of change), the CPM has decided to present a youthful face in the 10 bypolls, fielding younger candidates and campaigners.

So, Ajanta, 28, an active member of the West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association, and Usashie, a budding actress who has been paired opposite Prosenjit in Houseful, are canvassing door to door in Alipore.

Saptarshi Deb is campaigning in Belgachhia East for Romola Chakraborty.

“Most people join Left politics when they are students. It’s been the same for me, my father and several senior leaders of our party,” said Ajanta, who was an SFI leader when she was a student of history in Presidency College.

Many of today’s politburo members began their rise up the party organisation since their student days. Prakash Karat was an understudy of A.K. Gopalan while Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose were Promode Das Gupta acolytes.

But with the winds of change blowing across Bengal, the young could no longer be restricted to backroom operations, a CPM veteran explained. The party needed to experiment by fielding them in the election battle.

“At least a third of our candidates in almost every election now will be from the younger sections,” Rabin Deb said. Of the 10 Left Front bypoll candidates, six are in their early 30s and many star campaigners are young.

Even some of the planners are: Ritabrata Banerjee, 30, the SFI’s all-India general secretary, is preparing the blueprint for Kaustav’s campaign.

In a constituency voting Opposition since1982, Kaustav’s chances against Trinamul’s Firad (Bobby) Hakim appear slim. But Usashie is not short of enthusiasm.

“Kaustav is a young candidate and I like him on a personal level. I want to see an honest MLA in the Assembly and that’s why I am here,” she said after a rally at Chetla Park.

As Usashie chatted with young comrades over tea at a stall, standing in the shadow of a hammer-sickle-and-star flag, several bystanders recognised her. “She’s an actress,” some whispered.

So, is dynasty politics gaining ground in the CPM? No, claim the Gen Y campaigners, who wear Fabindia kurtas or shirts paired with Levi’s denims and branded shoes, and communicate through slick mobile phones, Gtalk and Facebook.

“I’m not doing this because I’m someone’s son. I’m just doing my bit for something I believe in,” Saptarshi said.

“Family doesn’t matter,” agreed Ajanta, “it’s how much we have worked for the party and the people that is important.”

Usashie, a postgraduate in economics from Calcutta University, had a slightly different answer. She was aware of the expectations from her because of her family background, but appeared to keep some distance between herself and her party: “I am clear to myself that I don’t want to parrot the party line alone…. I want to retain my right to criticise the party.”

In contrast, Ajanta made it clear that party ideology and discipline, which she learnt from her father, meant everything to her.

Other than Kaustav, the CPM has fielded two young candidates, Mohammad Esaruddin Mandal from Sujapur and Dhanapati Roy from Rajganj, while the Forward Bloc has nominated young Ali Imran Ramz from Goalpokhor. Two RSP candidates, Binay Bhushan Karketta from Alipurduar and Philip Khalko from Kalchini, are in their early 30s too.

Little signs of the poriborton are evident everywhere in Kaustav’s camp. An SFI leader in his early 20s is using his smartphone to update his Facebook status with Che Guevara’s message: “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are my comrade.”

With inputs from Chandreyee Chatterjee

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