B.V. Raghavulu, senior politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from Andhra Pradesh, is emerging as a strong contender to replace Prakash Karat as the general secretary of the party. Karat is supposed to relinquish his post at the 21st party congress, which is scheduled to be held at Visakhapatnam from 14 to 19 April. Politburo members Sitaram Yechury and S. Ramachandran Pillai are two other contenders for the post. Although Raghavulu ranks below Yechury and Pillai in the party hierarchy, his image of a man connected to the grassroots is working in his favour.
A large section of the 87-member Central Committee, which will choose the general secretary, has started getting restive over the CPM's poor electoral performance nationwide. They blame this on poor decision-making by the party's central leaders based out of Delhi. As many as three CC members, who spoke to The Sunday Guardian on this issue, preferred not to be quoted but signalled that discontent was boiling against CPM's diminishing presence in national politics. There is growing unhappiness among the CC members from dominant Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu against some Delhi based comrades including Karat and Yechury. They think that the party is losing touch with its roots. In normal course, Yechury, a high profile Politburo and Rajya Sabha member should have had better chances of succeeding Karat. "But Yechury's ultra-suave image is a minus point for him," a Central Committee member told The Sunday Guardian.
According to the CC members, Ramachandran Pillai's proximity to Karat is a disadvantage. Also, his elevation might result in open faction fights in Kerala, where the group led by V.S. Achuthanandan will not be happy with Pillai's elevation. The 78-year-old Pillai's two-term membership of the Rajya Sabha is also held in some "contempt" by the militant section of the CC. "Both Yechury and Pillai have this Rajya Sabha stigma, whereas Raghavulu never was never a lawmaker," a CC member from AP pointed out.
Sixty-two-year-old Raghavulu belongs to a farmer's family from Prakasam district in Andhra Pradesh and briefly dabbled in students' and trade union movements before becoming the state secretary of combined AP in 1997 and a part of the Politburo later. He remained the state secretary until the unit was divided into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in 2014.
Raghavulu is known for his aggressive street politics. He has led and participated in many struggles including one against the hike in power tariff by the Telugu Desam government in 2001-02. This man-of-action image is weighing in his favour now to become general secretary.
Raghavulu has also prepared a document on the CPM's continuous poor show, but has not found fault with the leadership. His paper, along with two more documents, will come up for discussion at the Visakhapatnam congress. Sources said that Raghavulu called for CPM working closely with "secular and democratic" forces to keep "communal" forces at bay.
In terms of membership, the two Telugu states of AP and Telangana occupy the fifth place below Bengal, Kerala, Tripura and Tamil Nadu.
Chukka Ramaiah, a long-time associate of the CPM and a former MLC, told this newspaper, "In my view, Raghavulu is best suited to the post of general secretary at a time when the BJP is spreading fast and wide. He is young, hard working and close to the core values of the CPM, which has lost its base over the years."
Another CC member and former CPM Legislature Party leader, Paturi Ramaiah told this newspaper, "We don't know what will happen at the congress, but Raghavulu is a frontrunner. We will place our views before the congress."