"The leaders did not accept my proposal when I asked Mishra to be brought as a leader with whom we could jump into the election fray" - Abdur Rezzak Mollah, expelled CPI(M) leader
Hours after being named secretary of the West Bengal CPI(M), Surya Kanta Mishra said he found hardly anything to feel happy about his elevation. The current state of the party is not pleasing even for its new chief, although Mishra has now become the second person, after the legendary Jyoti Basu, to hold simultaneously the posts of party secretary and leader of the opposition in the assembly. But, when Basu held both the posts, there was no dearth of leaders in the CPI(M), a far cry from the crisis the party faces today.
Most of the senior leaders in the party are physically unfit to take up new responsibilities, while the younger ones are incapable of running the show. Left without alternatives, Mishra has been elevated to the top post.
The search for the new secretary began in 2011 when the outgoing secretary Biman Bose expressed his desire to quit following the party's rout in the assembly elections. He was then told that he would be allowed to leave after the state conference. That promise has been upheld. Mishra is the most accepted leader in the party. A physician, he was never part of any group, although former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had a soft corner for him. Expelled leader Abdur Rezzak Mollah, too, had proposed Mishra's name long back. “The leaders did not accept my proposal when I asked Mishra to be brought as a leader with whom we could jump into the election fray,” said Mollah.
Despite his acceptability, Mishra's selection was not easy. The CPI(M) was initially doubtful about giving Mishra twin responsibilities. But there was no one else in the assembly who could replace him as leader of the opposition. Articulate and knowledgeable, Mishra has been indispensable in the assembly. The party then thought of appointing veteran leader Gautam Deb as secretary. But an ailing Deb, who recently underwent neurosurgery in Kerala, could not take up the post, which required extensive travel. Deb reportedly opted out and offered Mishra his support.
The challenges facing Mishra are monumental. He is a stickler for rules, but while leading the main opposition party, one might have to break the rules. "How could we ask someone who had been a minister for long to break law and get arrested? It is not that easy," said a senior leader.
For Mishra, the challenge is to bring back other CPI(M) leaders to the field. A few days after taking charge, Mishra rushed to Ranaghat where robbers looted a convent school and raped an elderly nun. Mishra said it was an instance of organised crime, which the local police had failed to detect. He warned the government of statewide protests if the police did not arrest the rapist robbers. The government, however, responded with an inquiry and a raid on Bhagabati Devi Nari Kalyan Samiti, an NGO run by Mishra's wife, Usha, demonstrating it was ready for confrontation.
Mishra is gearing up for a fight. "The role of the police is shameful. Such an organised crime took place, but they could not do anything, although the school authorities had reported to the police about the threat. The chief minister is heading a state which is number one in rape," he said.
Although the CPI(M) gave Mishra the top job, it failed to bring about other significant changes on its agenda. The state conference elected 24 new members to the state committee of whom 18 are in their 30s. A number of senior leaders have been, however, retained and the party missed a chance for an overall change. Clearly, some of the leaders did not want that to happen. Two members from North 24 Parganas declared at the conference that they would not participate in the party congress next month. Mishra will have to work with such disgruntled leaders to contain the ruling Trinamool Congress and a fast rising BJP. Mishra said the CPI(M)'s slogan under him would be, “Stop the BJP in Delhi and the Trinamool Congress in the state.”
It seems Mishra has identified one area which requires urgent attention. He said the CPI(M) would launch a massive protest against the Saradha scam accused. A year has passed since the scam rocked the state, and the CPI(M) has been unable to reap any benefit. Mishra seems to be getting ready to address this challenge.
But, as Bose realised years ago, being secretary without an army of active cadres is of no use. So, after making up his mind to give up his post, Bose started raising the issue at every level in the party. “It is shameful that the seniors in the party are holding on to their chairs. They will not remove themselves unless they are dead,” Bose once said. But despite his call, many leaders refused to vacate their posts.
The challenge for Mishra is to complete the task launched by Bose. If the party is to survive its present crisis, Mishra will have to build the third generation of CPI(M) leaders in West Bengal, something which does not exist today.
Intensive care required
* Upcoming municipal elections to 93 local bodies, including the Kolkata Municipal Corporation
* Legislative assembly elections scheduled to be held in 2016
* Handling the generational shift in the party
* Stopping the party cadre from crossing over to the Trinamool and the BJP
* Getting his wife's name cleared from the charge of misappropriation of funds her NGO received from the government
Born in 1949, Surya Kanta Mishra is a trained physician.
Took his MBBS from SCB Medical College, Cuttack, Odisha.
Joined the CPI(M) in 1973.
In early 1990s, became a member of the CPI(M) state committee.
Was close to senior leader Anil Biswas. When Biswas became secretary of the party, Mishra's fortunes rose quickly.
Became a confidant of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Handled health, panchayats and rural development portfolios.
Was one of the few ministers who won in the 2011 assembly elections. He was elected leader of the opposition.
Elevated to the CPI(M) Polit Bureau in 2012.
Became party state secretary in 2015.