Even as the Communist Party of India-Marxist began its 18th party congress in the capital on Wednesday, confusing signals are emanating from the Marxist leadership on continuing the party's support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre.
The CPI-M, which has 44 members in the current Lok Sabha, supports the UPA government from outside. Without its support -- and the support of its allies, the Communist Party of India (10 MPs), the Revolutionary Socialist Party and Forward Bloc (3 MPs each) -- the Manmohan Singh government would be in serious trouble.
While a section of senior leaders led by CPI-M General Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet have cast doubts about the longevity of the Manmohan Singh government, younger party leaders insist the UPA coalition is safe and sound and will continue its five-year term.
At the core of the debate is an article Surjeet wrote in the latest issue of People's Democracy, the CPI-M weekly. In it, the 89-year-old party stalwart says 'the present national level correlation of forces cannot continue for long.'
Surjeet -- ironically, the man who helped the Congress cobble up the UPA last year -- now terms the CPI-M's current task as a support of the Manmohan government as 'tricky.'
'We need to devise suitable tactics to negotiate the situation so that the ruling alliance is not able to ride roughshod over people's interests nor is the BJP able to take advantage of the discontent,' the article says.
Surjeet explained the CPI-M dilemma by pointing out how the party was forced to support the passage of the Patents Bill in Parliament. A number of economic reforms being initiated by the Manmohan Singh government -- especially in the banking and labour sectors -- are also opposed by the CPI-M.
While many in the party agree with Surjeet, younger leaders like Sitaram Yechuri say there is no need for any alarm about the UPA government's longevity.
"Our support to the UPA government is based on the Common Minimum Programme, which we jointly drafted last year. It is natural we will oppose any policies that do not go well with us," CPI-M Politburo member Yechuri told rediff.com
He said what Surjeet emphasised in the article is that there needs to be "a correlation of class forces which we want in favour of the people from the government."
"We are going to evaluate the performance of this government in the last one year. We want to decide how many marks we should give the government, which we are supporting," Yechuri said.
Marxists like Yechuri insist there is danger to the UPA government from the Left and criticism of the government's policies does not mean withdrawal of the CPI-M's support to the coalition.
The CPI-M dilemma of continued support to the government will be discussed threadbare at the conclave. Marxist leaders from Kerala and West Bengal are eager the party congress takes an "intelligent decision" on support.
Kerala and Bengal -- the two CPI-M bastions in the country -- are heading for assembly elections next year.
"Elections are coming in these two crucial states where we have maximum support. In these states, our main opposition is the Congress party. So we want to chart out crucial decisions how our support to the Congress at the Centre should continue," V S Achuthanandan, the senior CPI-M leader from Kerala and Politburo member, told rediff.com
"We will continue to support the UPA. But we want to ensure that the party inserts more conditional clauses in our support. We cannot back the Congress government blindly forever," another Kerala leader asserted.